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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 2009

Librarians Confront Threat to Profession

Toni Samek from the University of Alberta delivers the keynote address at CAUT’s librarians conference in Ottawa Oct. 23.
Toni Samek from the University of Alberta delivers the keynote address at CAUT’s librarians conference in Ottawa Oct. 23.
Academic librarians from Canadian universities and colleges gathered in Ottawa last month for CAUT’s biennial conference for the profession. The focus of discussion was advancing the status of their profession and protecting the academic and intellectual freedom rights critical to their work.

The conference heard from CAUT president Penni Stewart, who called the event timing “auspicious,” noting that academic librarians are under attack across the country.

“While advances in digital technology are revolutionizing the sharing and storage of information, these advances are being used to deskill and deprofessionalize the work of academic librarians,” she said.

Francesca Holyoke, chair of CAUT’s Librarians Committee, said the attack is driven partly by a mistaken belief that “a Google search is the equivalent of a fully-staffed and resourced library, and it’s abetted by our head librarians’ willingness to acquiesce to whatever cost-cutting schemes their administrations cook up.”

But the failure to protect the crucial mission of libraries extends beyond the administrative leadership within the academic community. Traditional representative organizations such as the Canadian Library Association and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries have been silent in response to the onslaught on the profession they represent, the conference heard.

The two keynote speakers, Toni Samek from the University of Alberta and CAUT executive director James Turk, provided a comprehensive overview of the critical role libraries and librarians play in society, the political and econo­mic factors driving the anti-librarian agenda and examples of resistance that can protect librarianship.

Laurentian University librarian Sylvie Lafortune, Fanshawe College librarian Suzanne O’Neill and Meg Ryan, who is the coordinator of public services at Mount Saint Vincent University Library, stressed the principle of maximum worker autonomy in the context of expanding librarian responsibilities for information technology, teaching and research.

The conference agenda also had sessions devoted to bargaining skills and strategies, including a simulated negotiation exercise led by CAUT assistant executive director Neil Tudiver, and an analysis of salary data demonstrating that the dramatic variation in librarian pay between institutions was due in significant part to the emphasis academic staff associations choose to place on salary parity for librarians.

Another workshop, led by CAUT assistant executive director Peter Simpson, covered collective agreement clause drafting in tandem with an exercise on academic freedom language.

Next Date
CAUT will host the next librarians conference October 2011 in Ottawa.