Sam Trosow, strike by librarians + archivists of UWO (resolved Sept. 23/11)
Western Librarians and Archivists Ratify Collective Agreement
September 23rd, 2011
Unionized members of the UWO Faculty Association Librarians and Archivists bargaining unit voted 36 to 7, or 84% in favour of the deal.
A tentative contract agreement was reached Tuesday, September 20, following a 13-day strike that began September 8.
"I'm pleased to see that the membership has endorsed the deal," said Bryce Traister, UWOFA President. "I'm proud of the resilience they demonstrated during this strike."
The 51 unionized librarians and archivists at Western have been without a contract since June 30, 2011.
----- Forwarded Message -----
From: "Samuel E Trosow"
Sent: Thursday, September 15, 2011 6:15:16 AM
Subject: UWO Librarians & Archivists on strike
I hope you are all following the situation here at the University of Western Ontario where the Librarians and Archivists (L&As) are now officially on strike. If not, here is some background info, with some questions about the nature of professional reference services and how the library community outside of Western can help.
Here at Western, both the Faculty and the L&As are in the same association (UWOFA, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association) but we have two separate bargaining units (there are over 1,000 members of the faculty unit and about 50 members of the L&A unit). Last year, the faculty were within a few hours of hitting the picket lines, but there was a last minute settlement which averted the strike. Two years ago, the L&As also came close to a strike, but it too was averted at the last minute - - but they only agreed to a short contract. So here we are again.
The strike started last week and there was a picket line by at the two main entrances to campus and the city bus drivers are not crossing the line and are dropping riders off outside the gates. While classes are going on, we are without our librarians. Meanwhile, the administration is is trying to minimize what it means not to have librarians on the job.
So here is a question for the list......
Where do you draw the line between those reference services that are part of the jurisdiction of professional librarians (hence the work of the bargaining unit) and 'directional' or other non-professional questions? And where do you draw the line between typical (albeit hardball) management tactics and the unwarranted and harmful derogation of academic librarianship itself?
The Western admin is saying in its release...
" Highly subject specific, in-depth reference services are not available "
So what about 'somewhat' subject oriented reference services? Or what about the even more puzzling reference questions where the patron does not accurately "announce" the precise subject specialty that might be needed to service the query? What about reference services that are not necessarily "in depth" but are initial inquiries that could go in a variety of directions. What about reluctant or less formulated inquiries from patrons who have some pressing information needs but have not yet sharpened their query into a "subject specific request" that will lead to "in-depth reference services." Don't most patrons come to a reference desk without what the western admin characterizes as highly subject specific, in depth reference needs (even in an academic library)? There was an even more troublesome communication from the administration of the law faculty (where I also teach) that said:
"All services to students will carry on as usual."
I am not exaggerating, that's what they said. But, one wonders . . . if all services can carry on as usual without the professional library staff, why do we need a professional library staff? If anyone thinks this is not an issue in the minds of cost-cutting managers, then remember the notorious piece in AL several years back that asked “What if you ran your library like a bookstore?” (American Libraries, 29 (3) (March 1998)) .
Libraries without librarians (and archives without archivists) is hardly business as usual.
While it is not surprising that management will try to minimize the impact of a work stoppage in the context of a labour dispute, I think the UWO admin is going over the top in its denigration of the role of professional library services. In my view, they damage the credibility of the institution and it will have negative repercussions long after this particular labour issue is settled. When you consider the actual cost to the university of resolving this dispute (remember there are only 50 or so members of the bargaining unit) it seems apparent that there is something else at play here. It is unfortunate that the UWO admin has decided that in order to gain some short-term advantage, they will issue statements that denigrate the role of librarians more generally. This is not a good strategy for what purports to be world-class research university.
What can members of the broader library community do to help?
Once again, we see a situation where librarianship is under attack. There needs to be a better and more coordinated response. If our associations are to remain relevant, they cannot ignore issues like what is unfolding at Western (or in Toronto as I have addressed in a previous posting).
There are a number of ways you can concretely support Western's Librarians and Archivists:
1) If you are in the London area, you can join the picket line at the Richmond Gates and Alumni Hall entrances to campus, they run between 7:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m. weekdays. They are information pickets only, cars are not being stopped and traffic is not being impeded. Even helping for a few minutes will lend much-needed support.
2) Send an email expressing your support of the Librarians and Archivists to President Amit Chakma ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) and Chair of the Board of Governor’s Frank Angelletti ( email@example.com ). Keep the pressure on by continuing to re-send the letter (or new letters) daily or weekly until the strike is over. A sample email could contain something like the following:
Dear President Amit Chakma and Western Board of Governors Chair Frank Angeletti:
I am (identify yourself and your capacity) writing to express my support for Western’s Librarians and Archivists in their fight for fair and equitable treatment. Western’s libraries earn the university respect across the province and the country yet its librarians are earning 20% percent less than their colleagues at universities across Ontario. This gap gives the impression that Western is not interested in providing access to “in-depth, subject-specific” knowledge to either its students or faculty. I urge you to return to the bargaining table and seek a just and fair settlement. (you might want to add something from your own perspective about the crucial role that librarians/archivists play and how libraries without librarians cannot be considered business as usual)
3) Follow the developments in the social media. "Like" the UWOFA Facebook page and follow UWOFA on Twitter. “Favourite” UWOFA's tweets and retweet them to your own network.
UWOFA's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/UWOFA
UWOFA's Twitter: UWOFA
After you email your letter to President Chakma and Board of Governor's Chair Angeletti, please also consider copying and pasting your letter to the official UWO Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/theuniversityofwesternontario
(you must click "like" to be able to post)
4) Write letters of support for the L&As to the London Free Press , the London Community News , the Western Gazette , and the Western News or to other papers.
I am also hoping that the CLA leadership will issue a statement in support, it's important that our professional associations support their members.
Samuel E. Trosow, Associate Professor
University of Western Ontario
Faculty of Information & Media Studies / Faculty of Law