Back to top

CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 1998

An Active Role for Librarians

As universities deal with decreasing budgets librarians are finding their institutions changing in alarming ways.

In some cases working conditions are being drastically affected because of decreased funding and reduced staff. Moreover, assaults on collective agreements are threatening many hard-won benefits.

These unsettling changes are forcing the librarians to realize the need to participate more fully in the governance decisions which affect the library and the university at large. They are becoming increasingly concerned that decisions are being made about issues which affect the library without any input from the librarians themselves.

Librarians who do have the right to participate in university governance are discovering they must make sure they are

properly represented on the committees to which they have access. In institutions where they are not eligible to sit on these committees, librarians are feeling increasingly isolated and marginalized.

Even though the chief librarian may be an ex-officio member of a governance committee, this representation is very different from the voice provided by rank and file librarians elected from the library as a separate constituency.

As full academic partners with the faculty, librarians should have the right to participate in committee discussions and decision-making at all levels of the university structure.

Although concerned and interested, many librarians find the governance role a difficult one to achieve. Traditionally librarians have not tended to be concerned with making their voices heard outside the library.

Their proportionally small numbers have meant that, as a group, they have often been overlooked. Moreover, the collegial spirit that historically defines the academy often does not extend to include the library.

Librarians may well find themselves removed from the important decision-making level by the layers of managers and administrators that define the hierarchical structure which typically exists in academic libraries.

In addition, library councils which should allow all librarians to sit as peers and participate in policy discussions exist in very few places. Many librarians report that even where councils do exist they do not function well and are often merely forums for the administration.

Revising the structures that exist in a particular university to allow for elected librarian representation may be very difficult. The mandates of some committees are often defined in the university charter, meaning that an act of parliament is necessary for change. There may also be an unwillingness to revise established documents since opening them to revision may well jeopardize the existing structures.

The struggle to be recognized as fully participating academic partners with the faculty is a familiar one to many librarians. In some institutions it is a battle still being fought. Now librarians are realizing the importance of participating on committees that have traditionally been the sole domains of faculty and administration.

However, in these times of fiscal restraint it is vitally important that librarians play an active role in decision-making if they are not to become further isolated from the influential governance committees which set the agenda for the library and the university.

By Ruth Sheeran -- Member of CAUT's Librarians Committee and a librarian at the John Bassett Memorial Library at Bishop's University. This article represents the first of a two-part series on librarians and governance. Part II will be published in the May edition of the Bulletin.