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Automate the library ~ cut some jobs?

02 Aug

I woke this morning to the following headline Students protest at library staff cuts in The Age. It appears that Melbourne University Library is moving towards more automated services and one of their spokespeople has been quoted as stating ”The proposed staffing restructure reflects the changes in library use that automation and digitisation have produced in research-intensive, comprehensive universities around the world,”. Furthermore, the article quotes “there had been a 45 per cent drop in ”across-counter loans” between 2008 and 2010, meaning ”staff need to shift from routine processing and lending activities to supporting students seeking help with research tasks and complex database access”. However, the staff are not being shifted to these areas of need, they are in fact being cut altogether.

With automation, as is the case in other industries, the people directly affected tend to be the lower skilled workers and in the case of Melbourne University libraries it is the library assistants and casuals that make up the count of about 30 positions to be cut. However, even if they employ 4.5 higher qualified staff, the question remains will this be enough to service the growing trend of library usage as indicated in other library service areas such as public libraries? Beyond this, why not transfer and retrain the library assistant positions to a similar classification as an Electronic Resources Assistant if this is the area of increased service need? The following job advert for an Electronic Resources Assistant gives an indication of what the job entails. Will the Melbourne University Library skimp in this area of service also?

While they point to a 45 % drop in across the counter loans, this may not be reflective as a statistic of library use overall. Many other library groups are reporting increased library use, as the following fact sheet from the ALA indicates and The Library Council of NSW  (2009) points out in The bookend scenarios: alternative futures for the Public Library Network in NSW, that there has been a “rapid growth in library usage in NSW over the past 5 years.”  Visiting the City Library for the past two weeks has corroborated this trend and the Sate Library of Victoria always seems a hive a activity at any time I visit.

We are definitely experiencing lean times economically and decisions such as the cuts to library services and staff are just another indicator of the mentality that cutting costs appears to be the solution. Well really?… Clearly this just leads to a loss or inadequate provision of essential services. Is this what we really want in the Information Age?

The following video is an interview with Marshall Breeding on Library Automation.

TWIL #43: Marshall Breeding (Library Automation) from Jaap van de Geer on Vimeo.

The article by Marshall Breeding Automation Marketplace 2011: The New Frontier from Library Journal provides further information specific to library automation.

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