Thoughts after the Harvard Libraries Twitter Panic
Maybe the Twitterverse overreacted to the town hall meetings concerning the next step in the Harvard restructuring project. After all, “It is inaccurate to say that all library staff will need to reapply for their positions,” according to a statement made to Library Journal by Kira Poplowski, the library’s director of communications.
Sifting through the tweets, Feral Librarian’s Chris Bourg has gleaned the information that while layoffs and voluntary staff reductions are imminent only in Shared Services areas like technical services, preservation, and access services, every library employee is being encouraged to complete a profile in the next month including a CV and other job search information, with this information to be taken into account in the continued restructuring. Workshops have been set up to help employees in creating these profiles.
I can understand why people are freaking out.
In an already saturated field facing near constant budget cuts, libraries have consistently been one of the sacrificial lambs. We’ve seen an increase in professional full time positions being eliminated and replaced with either part time or non-professional (or both) positions or simply not replaced at all. The current library job market is a joke for all those who believed the advertising of a field just waiting to burst with great opportunities as loads of professionals hit retirement age.
While it seems like only the Shared Services staff have to immediately deal with the bowel-clenching idea of applying for their own jobs or similar but changed positions, the prompt to all staff to fill out similar profiles encourages an atmosphere that has almost no chance to foster trust and employee buy-in of this reorganization scheme.
Asking people to preemptively fill out job application materials, even if you provide workshops to assist them in the task, is casting huge doubts about employment security on the entire staff, even those in relatively safe positions. It also strikes up a sense of competition between staff in similar positions.
If John starts working an extra two hours a day to make sure he processes X number of books a week, but Sarah has to leave to pick up her kids and only processes 80% of X a week, how does that translate to a resume or CV? Sarah may be the better cataloguer, working on more complex materials or difficult subject areas, but these things do not lend themselves to bullet points as readily as John’s readily quantifiable work. This example might be (somewhat) extreme, but I think it is definitely emblematic of the problems created by this approach to reorganization.
Yes, libraries should evolve to determine how to best meet the needs of their users, but all that really resonates from this Harvard Libraries reorganization is a sense of understandable anxiety and insecurity.
Edited to Add: While writing this response, the transcript of the sessions has been posted…and I still think this is an example of one of the worst possible ways to attempt to reorganize any type of organization, destroying inter-employee and institutional trust by implementing what appears to be a closed, top-down process.