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CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 1998

Librarians Grapple with Tough Issues

By Dorothy Milne
Status & Governance: realizing Academic Power - What Next? That was the theme of CAUT's Librarians' Conference held in St. John's, Newfoundland, during the first weekend in November.

The theme was developed in many ways as the assembled librarians grappled with the problems which reduced budgets, staffing cuts, rapid technological change and increasingly authoritarian work climates have imposed. The importance of strengthening (and in some cases initiating or restoring) collegial bodies in this climate became clear as a number of case histories were presented.

The hostility of the current political climate to the values of liberal education were noted, as was the role of academic librarians in building and maintaining the resources which support this educational role.

An active partnership of librarians and teaching faculty in senate and on other academic programming committees is now needed more than ever. Governments' demands for expansion of distance education without accompanying library resources is a current example of this need. Librarians need to be more visible on campus, and to explain library issues to the teaching faculty.

In the face of funding cutbacks, the imposition of inappropriate performance indicators, mergers and rationalizations, librarians also need to cooperate with colleagues in other libraries to form regional consortia which can cut costs of materials and services.

However, while greater involvement of librarians in campus-wide program planning and in regional consortia is now needed, staff downsizing and the consequent increases in workload make it difficult for librarians to carry out these planning and analytical tasks. New ways of supporting, mentoring and rewarding the librarians who take on these tasks are needed.

Coping strategies for these and a wide variety of other current problems in academic libraries were discussed.

Topics included: performance reviews and promotion criteria; the liability of libraries under phase three copyright legislation; faculty status; participation by librarians in faculty associations; the near invisibility of academic librarianship as a profession at library schools; retraining of librarians reassigned as a result of downsizing or outsourcing; preparing for the wave of retirements which will start in the next decade as the baby-boom generation retires; and morale problems and workplace stresses.

The predominant message which arose from discussion of stresses and morale problems in academic libraries today was that a balance has to be found between drawing a line in the sand (against ever increasing demands to provide higher levels of services with fewer staff) and making strategic concessions, when necessary, to retain some role in decision-making processes.

Academic librarians need to hone their political skills and to develop a long-term strategy for surviving these difficult times.

Dorothy Milne is head of collections development at Memorial University of Newfoundland library.