“The only thing in life that is permanent is change.” Someone said that. I’m not sure who, but I surely know that I didn’t think it up on my own. Regardless of who first uttered the truism, its truth remains unchanged, change after change after change. The only thing that we can ever really count on staying the same is the fact that things will always change.
I write this not because the summer season is coming to a close and new students are arriving at my university, but because new chapters are beginning here in the library where I work. I went on vacation a few weeks back aware that some restructuring would happen during my time away. I returned to learn the details – at least as many as we know so far – of the reorganization of services, roles, missions, and personnel. It’s not really a very easy time here at work right now. I’d be less than truthful if I said differently. The restructure means the loss of jobs for some, changing roles for others, and a very different way of thinking about the library for those of us still here. As my library director, Elaine Martin, stated in her presentation to the staff, we are now in a time where we will focus on 4 Rs:
- Reject outdated notions and ideas of what libraries are.
- Rethink how we do things – EVERYthing, if need be.
- Redo our modes of operation, focusing on those areas that are now our priorities.
- Rejuvenate our careers, our mission, and our professional goals as we move forward into a very new world.
If you’ve been a follower of this blog over the past year, you know that my thoughts and beliefs about my profession and the work that we do fall pretty much in line with these “Rs” that my director is calling the staff to focus on now. I’ve been saying for a long time that I believe our ways of doing many things in the library have left us outdated and irrelevant. We need to change and, as was noted by my director, not in small ways. We’ve been tweaking for years. We’ve been cutting out nickels and dimes as needed. But now… now we need to do something much bigger, much more radical, and much more progressive. And for all of the talk that I’ve talked over the years, when the change really hits, it’s not always so easy.
How did we get to this place? Anyone who works in academic and/or health sciences libraries surely knows the answer to this question. At my own institution, we’re facing a $20 million deficit that results in 5% across the board cuts to all departments. The sequestration at the Federal level affects us via major cuts to NIH-funded research. We’ve also lost money from the state government. Our clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care, faces their own financial crisis and this, of course, has repercussions on us. Couple these revenue losses with unceasing (and way too often, unfounded) astronomical increases in journal subscription costs and key clinical resources and… well, this is where we are. It’s where many of us are.
At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that people use libraries very differently than they once did. In our setting, students, faculty, researchers, and clinicians do not need/want to check out materials. The resources that they need most are available to them online and if not, they pressure us to make them available that way. Fewer people come to the library needing library assistance. Note that this doesn’t mean that our gate count is down and/or that we’re a quiet, deserted enclave on campus. We are an incredibly busy place, but the reason that our patrons come here is not necessarily related to the fact that librarians and/or library staff are here. By and large, they come to use the non-human resources that we provide. Yes, THAT is a frightening thought when you’re a human resource. And yes, it is a driving factor in the changes we’re now making.
For a number of years, library administrators have been able to refine and retune services, dropping many things that were at one time standard operations in favor of more efficient and less costly alternatives. However, there comes a point when there is nothing left to cut in these areas. There’s very little left to “stop doing” so that we can focus on new things. There comes the time when some really big changes have to happen. There comes that time when the cost of fixing your old car just doesn’t beat out buying a new one. Here in my Library, we reached this point. We’re trading in our old model for something new.
In short, a half-dozen colleagues that I have worked with for many years now, will not have jobs at the end of next week. To say that these are difficult decisions and that this is a difficult time in the library is an understatement. Neatly stated, the work is no longer there – circulation, cataloging, binding, interlibrary loan, and even ready reference – to financially justify employing full-time staff to manage it. It is really difficult to make an argument against these facts. But neat and tidy justifications are never such when people are involved. Despite the number of times that it is said, truthfully, that the decisions are not personal, they are. People are losing their jobs. This cannot not be personal. Everyone recognizes this.
I’m not sure what all of these changes will mean for me directly. Fact of the matter is, no one really knows. Not here in my library, nor in our profession as a whole. We’re a work in progress, this profession, and no one is quite sure how all of the new ideas and roles and work will play out. Still, I believe that more often than not, it’s a lack of risk taking that does a person – or an institution – in. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Another good quote from someone other than me.
There are an awful lot of BIG questions facing health sciences libraries today. Our changes highlight this fact. I have to say that the one question that keeps milling around in my head during this particular time is this – Does a librarian really need a library any more? While it’s pretty clear that our patrons certainly need library resources, do they still need the human resources of the library when they come here? I like my cubicle as a place to sit and work, but does it need to be here in the library? With a heightened emphasis and dedication upon embedding librarians in research projects and teams, in curriculum and classrooms, and in physical sites outside the library itself, are librarians themselves now another library resource that can be divorced from the library? I know that my library isn’t the first one to experiment with embedded models and thus it’s unlikely that I’m the first librarian to ever think about this question, but right now, it’s what I’m wondering. For me, it’s the biggest question that I wait to see answered in the coming months and years as we explore new ways of doing things here at my library.
Time will give me the answer to this question, as well as to others I have. And in the meantime, I’m remembering to tell myself that the changing day-to-day aspects of work that may cause some bumps and bruises and slight headaches along the way, these are but that – bumps, bruises and headaches, and simply part of my job. In times of change, it’s good time to remember to keep all things in perspective. (Note: I’m speaking only for myself and not minimizing the much bigger unknowns that some of my colleagues face. To do otherwise would be a very callous thing to do.)
Elaine Martin has graciously offered to make her presentation available for readers to view, in hopes that it provides clarification and further detail as to the changes made, as well as a reference for others in similar positions at this time. Additionally, in next week’s post, I will describe the new programs and models that we are launching during this transition, along with a presentation from Elaine on that topic. Stay tuned.