Library Letters Part 3: Losing the heart and soul

Going through the FFF Library restructure process has been like a grief process. I hear all the time the lament that “things will never be the same again” even for those who keep their jobs and also for customers. What is under estimated by senior management is that if it effects the staff then it WILL have a flow on effect to customers. This is because at the center of a library are people. Without people and relationships and community what is left?

It was the staff team that putting the heart and soul into my library. I had the good fortune to have worked with an amazing group of people. Library staff are underpaid for what they do so most people who do the work do it because they are passionate. There are the creatives – people who found things in op shops for programs, built amazing things and got family members involved. Much of this work was outside work hours and it helped to create magic. Our team worked well because we had people with different strengths. We had our own speciality interests and also helped each other out when needed. There was not a feeling of separateness between librarians or library assistants. Everyone pitched in and there was a feeling of more or less equality. How sad it is that something that works so well is being destroyed. We continually had good feedback from customers.

This is going to change. With the new organisational chart, positions have been carved up and new “specialist” positions created. Community librarian, events librarian, heritage librarian. I guess some people will get a nice new specialist position but of course they will likely need to spread themselves between a couple of libraries. I envision a split occurring between the “specialist” more senior positions and the library assistants and network library assistants who will have to work even harder to do the core work of serving customers, processing books, shelving. No one has mentioned the reduction in shelving hours. Who will pick up that slack? This group of people are already disadvantaged because having less hours and now they will have more work. Oh yeah! more for less – there you go.

Management constantly have said there are “opportunities” for staff with the new roles. Yes but only for some. It will not be a team effort any more as different people will be working at different places at different times. Customers wont have any certainty in seeing the people they have grown to know and trust over the years.

In short the heart and soul is being ripped out by FFF.



Library Letters Part 2: A personal perspective

My career at the Library began as a volunteer. What a wonderful way to integrate into the community. A win-win. The library gets help with manpower and volunteers have a sense of being an important part of their community.  I came to be a volunteer after a serious car accident which led to my being unable to continue with my previous career which was in the counselling/disability/mental health area. Truth is that I have found it hard to accept that I now have been the one needing help in these areas. Harder still has been the loss of confidence that I experienced.

I worked as a volunteer for about a year and loved every minute. With the amalgamation of the councils came some new processes, I secured temporary paid employment sorting the books to go to the other libraries. I did that for 6 months. Then I became a casual worker until I successfully got a part permanent role as a Library Assistant.

My contract was 2 days a week and when I could I would do extra hours. This suited me due to my ongoing health issues after the car accident. I made really good use of my time by deciding to learn Te reo Māori. See my Te Reo blog to read about my amazing journey.

Despite some ups and downs due to my health challenges I thrived and loved my Library work. I could utilize my counselling and advocacy skills and my strength of being patient with people and following through to the end with requests. Being slightly obsessive compulsive there is nothing I love more than shelving books, putting them in order, straightening, tidying. I also used my growing knowledge of Te reo Māori.

With the amalgamation there were some big changes happening. Centralizing human resources and other departments felt to me like a move away from a feeling of community. To me it seems like there is one set of principles and values for customers and another for staff. Lots of fabulous programs happening everywhere, happy customers, feedback always good – no, feedback always excellent! With the feedback about staff always the best. We loved hearing the feedback and it made us feel good but we never felt valued by management. In 6 years of employment I never met anyone from HR or is it People and Capability? I can’t keep up with the name changes. I never saw senior management or HR people visiting us in the library. Shouldn’t they do a shift of work out in a community library once in while to actually experience what we do?

Over time I found the culture more challenging. No-one dares speak up about anything for fear of losing their job! How ridiculous – this is across the board in our society. Also there is no support for vulnerable people. The strongest survive by “sucking it up” I never heard that term being used as much as when I worked in libraries.

Because I loved the job and was privileged to work with the most awesome bunch of both staff people and customers I hung in there. I tried my best to ignore the goings on in upper management. Till the FFF. I was dealing with quite a few personal challenges along the way but I knew this challenge was too big. I did try to talk to my branch managers and although they are supportive people who genuinely want the best for their staff, I don’t think they are trained well enough in people management. I also tried to talk to someone on the “change team” and they were actually quite dismissive. “we don’t know the answers to your question” This has has been the refrain throughout the process.

Knowing that my position and extra hours were going to be axed, not knowing what the new positions would look like, what hours, what days or where they would be. The unknown created too much anxiety in me. I need to know where I am and what I am doing so I can plan my time. The thought of going up against my colleagues was something that made me feel sick. Going to an interview to justify my existence without even knowing the details? – couldn’t stomach it. And maybe above all, the lack of respect I felt throughout the process.  Just FTE’s not people.

The conclusion: The survival guide is that you need to be able to put your blinkers on, spew out all the jargon and spin that they want hear. I’ve never been good at that –  There’s no room for vulnerable people – maybe that was part of the plan – to get rid of the weakest. Basically I have left a job I was bloody good at and had lots to offer.


Library Letters Part 1: The restructure process

Looking back in my diary I see it was as early as May 2016 that we started to hear murmurings about some big changes ahead. I remember this because I had annual leave at the beginning of June and I asked my colleagues to keep me posted as I did not want to miss any announcements. Little did I realize that almost ONE YEAR later the process is still going on and that it would get a hell of a lot worse!

At the beginning we heard that cuts needed to be made and therefore there would be a restructure and part of that would result in less POSITIONS (FTE’s ) at most Libraries. We also heard that it could involve people working across more Libraries. The “more for less” motto was alive and well from the get go. Being amazing, hard working flexible people that love our job we all groaned a bit and smiled and got on with the job.

Little by little we were fed messages from above. Most of them, to be honest, said absolutely nothing. They were I guess what you would call placating, big statements about how we were going to take Libraries into the new era (of digital) and they sounded like corporate speak. Every week or so we would receive such an email which meant the working party could start ticking boxes. This was known as consultation.

Most people I spoke to felt the formal feedback process was just a box ticking exercise as well. Nevertheless many of us spent days (our own time) writing our feedback. One of the questions was:

5F Please provide your feedback on the impact of the proposal on your position(s).

Well!!!! Throughout the whole process and even till today when the first round of positions have been sent out – there has NEVER been any detail about what the new positions will actually look like. Like which library, what days and how will the hours be spread out. There has never been any clarification about the “scheduling tool” How does it work etc. So in our feedback we were expected to comment without all the information. Yep: Box ticking.

Meanwhile the months rolled on. I must make mention here that since about the beginning of 2016 there had been been a hiring freeze so there had been quite a lot of natural attrition. Till now I would guess probably enough to make the savings needed – of course if you include the money that could have been saved not paying all the “change experts” and working groups etc.

Then the big proposed FFF document was released earlier this year.  This is the point when I resigned. (More about my personal experience in part 2.) This document had proposed organisational charts showing how many and of what type – librarian, library assistant, network library assistant – there would be across each local board area. More questions were raised. Try as we may the questions did not get answered. We had road shows, we had a visit from the area manager, the PSA. NO ONE!!!!!! seemed to be able to answer our specific questions – namely what is my position going to look like? How will it work? No one had answers.

Then came the voluntary redundancies; 70 something. We did hear that some were not so voluntary.

The stress grew, the tensions grew. Staff could see that they would be competing against their colleagues and friends for positions. They started to try to do what they could to have more strings to their bow so they could write it on their CV. So much for “working as a team” Morale was very low – now even lower. And still the secrecy – “don’t say anything to the public”.  We were reminded that we were still employed by Auckland Council and even if we are angry or distressed we needed to smile at the customers, fake it if necessary and not show what we are feeling and not say what we are thinking.

A CV writing workshop was organised (more $$$$) outsourced of course. People were literally told what to and not to write for better results. Only 2 pages, don’t forget digital competency digital competency digital competency! No cover letter. Breeding ROBOTS! Even your CV isn’t yours anymore.

Now the final draft with the positions has been released. For many the worst is realised : there are not enough positions that give enough hours for many to live on. My colleagues are besides themselves. They can’t live on 20 or 22 hours. It’s also causing terrible rifts and bad blood between previous friends as they scrap for the few available positions. And still… no-one knows what their position will look like.  This is as nasty a process as I’ve seen in my working life.

To apply for a position you have to answer a series of questions: The first question is “What does Our Promise to Auckland mean to you?” Words cannot express what I feel about this question. Answer: Just parrot back their words. The second question is “How can you DEMONSTRATE your WILLINGNESS to work in an AGILE and FLEXIBLE environment?” ANSWER: I’ll send my kids away, give up all extra curricular activities and despite the part time position not being enough to live on I won’t get another job, I’ll do anything at all so I can be available 24/7 at short notice with no overtime or allowances. Then “Why do you believe you are suitable for this position?” Answer: because I have been doing it for the last umpteem months/years. So I guess the job goes to whoever can best regurgitate the spin of the “Fit for the Future”. It’s become not about who you are as a person not about the amazing depth of experience you bring to your work, but how much you can parrot off what they want to hear. 

What sums up this process of restructure for me is a lack of respect for the hard working, lowest paid front line people. These are the people affected most. I don’t see senior management making any contribution whatsoever to the savings! I’m glad they have enough comfortable hours to make ends meet. They need to live in our shoes for a while.

Does NZ have a problem with anti-Māori racism?

April 2017

Does NZ have a problem with anti-Māori racism? This question was asked at the time that New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd has said he will not seek re-election after receiving abuse for campaigning for greater Māori representation in Taranaki. How sad.

What do I think? Yes we definitely have a problem. A complex problem that doesn’t have any easy answers. Like Andrew Judd although to a lesser extent I have experienced quite a bit of racist comments when I have spoken to people about my learning Te Reo. The most common comment I get is “why would you want to learn Te Reo? Some from people genuinely interested in what motivates me – but many with a kind of derogatory tone.

My experience in NZ is that racist attitudes are common, not only towards Māori but to Pacific peoples, Asians, Muslims, people with disabilities to name few. People are scared of the unknown, scared of difference. Anything not like me is somehow wrong. The majority of people will band together in their own groups where they feel safe. Is it a tribal thing that groups are formed of your “own people” and then the aim is to convert, have power over or even go to war with the other tribe? The fear that somehow they (the other tribes) will jeopardize your way of living, take something from you, kill you..

The answer is definitely to have conversations. But people need to be ready for that and we in NZ are not quite ready. Māori are still fighting for their identity, for their rights to their language, their land. Many are still angry from the wounds of colonization. This wounding and anger can be intimidating for Pākehā/Tauiwi and can result in some of the negative attitudes. People who have chosen not to look more deeply into the devastating consequences of colonization can have the  popular in NZ attitude ” just get over it!”  UNHELPFUL.  Anyone with any serious problem will know that someone telling them to “just get over it” will only make them feel misunderstood and more defensive.

So, my answer has been to learn Te reo Māori and to experience tikanga in an immersion setting. I believe it is the only way to really have that conversation. I acknowledge that Māori have had to learn the ways of Pākehā and to make the relationship more equal and to deepen my understanding I chose to do this learning. What I was not expecting was that what I received back was infinitely more than what I put in. I have learnt so much (see some of my earlier posts) , not only about Te Ao Māori but about myself and my attitudes and I have also delved deeper into trying to work out my own complicated whakapapa and who I am….  not there yet.