How the Cuts are Affecting Library Staff

library-cuts-webThis guest blog is from a part time library assistant of 10 years who works in the Midlands. Here they look at how the cuts have directly affected their library service and, in particular, the morale of the staff that deliver that service. Dawn of the Unread is open to any library staff who wish to share their experiences.

A few years ago an article appeared in a local newspaper lauding the city’s newly refurbished library. Quoted in the article were two users of the library, who remarked on how good the new layout was and how bright the new lighting. What both the article and the library users had failed to mention was that, however nice the library may now look, there were hardly any staff working in it.

One of the users is quoted as saying she had been coming to the library for a few years. If this is true, she must’ve noticed the massive reduction in staff. In 2007, there were 21 members of library staff, of which nine were full time and twelve were part time. When the 2011 article was published, there were 5 members of full time staff and 4 part time. Today, there are just two full time members of staff at the library, as well as a full time manager and eight part time staff.  There are no qualified librarians.

This is just the main library in my home. Thanks to cuts in funding, all of the other libraries across our city have lost working hours and staff. No libraries have been closed completely, something library management likes to focus on, but there is a distinct feeling amongst staff that it is only a matter of time before one or two are. Some already have very short opening hours.

On most days of the week, the branch libraries manage with just two staff. In 2012, the branch library managers were forced to reapply for their own jobs, and half of them were made redundant. The managers now oversee two libraries each and thus are essentially part time at each one. On any given day of the week, each library could be staffed by two people, often women alone and with no manager. This is a disaster waiting to explode.

While the branch libraries cope with only two staff at any one time, and the main library around six, the number of customers coming through the doors hasn’t dropped. With fewer opening hours, the intensity of the work is higher, the queues longer and the customers less patient. Add to this a populace that is being asked to conduct more and more of its daily life online in a country where financial struggles mean many cannot afford PCs and the internet at home, and you’ll go some way to understanding why library staff are suffering more stress than ever.

Our service has had three rounds of library cuts since the coalition government took office in 2010. It is worth noting that we are yet to see a member of library management lose their job. This is not to say that the management team haven’t felt concern for their jobs. On the contrary, some have gone into full self preservation mode.

Prior to 2010, the main library had a small team of library staff employed to deal with the more in depth enquiries posed by the public. This team were seen as a type of ‘elite’. In the first round of library cuts this elite team was deleted and its members all made redundant.

The role of the library assistants at this time was simple – they issued books, returned books, shelved books and joined new members. Anything deeper was passed to the elite team. When the elite team lost their jobs, their work was piled on to the library assistants. The library assistants were not given an increase in pay and were given very little training.

Explore the cuts in the opening chapter of Dawn of the Unread

Explore the cuts in the opening chapter of Dawn of the Unread

The changes caused stress for some staff members who had not been properly trained for their new responsibilities. They were now expected to offer ICT support, catalogue searches, book requests and an enquiry service – largely using technology they were unfamiliar with – on top of their previous work. If they weren’t happy about it, they could leave. Several took that option and were not replaced.

Another concern is the use of volunteers and the push for self-service machines. Due to the Data Protection Act volunteers aren’t allowed to deal with customer enquiries and so only do a minimum amount of work. It is only a matter of time before a change in law will allow volunteers to move further into the role currently done by paid library staff. Add self-service machines into the equation and it’s not difficult to guess whose job will be under threat when the next round of cuts come again.

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