Library Letters Part 6: Unfair practices

So this week John Campbell on Checkpoint has been doing a story on how low paid workers on a wage have not been paid for all the work they do. I felt compelled to write in to them about the culture in Libraries whereby the library closing time is the the same as the employees finishing time.  This makes it impossible to ever go home at the time one is paid till.  Eg: Till needs be done, customers who come at last minute are served, computers need to be shut down etc. They were interested in my story and the interview I had with Zac Flemming might be broadcast this evening.

I wanted to write this post about why I felt the need to bring this issue up. There are many pressing concerns that I have about many other issues. It has been a year since I left my job in the Library and have slowly been recovering from the devastating effect the restructure had on me. However, as it is now coming out with the hundreds of people from different work places bringing this issue to the media I felt it necessary to point out that it is happening for local government employees as well.  To me this is a huge issue of the lowest paid workers being taken for granted and the absolute arrogance of employers. People need their jobs and over time a culture has developed whereby people are too afraid to speak out for fear of recriminations – with good reason too! So the employers get away with bullying and control over their workers. People understand without it being overtly said – although it HAS also been overtly said – that if you don’t like it you can use the door.

Personally I’ve had a gutsful! That’s why I am speaking up. The libraries are full of people who love their jobs and need their jobs, so working a bit extra here and there is just part and parcel. Its the culture. Its what you do to keep your job. I have never in my life begrudged working extra here and there precisely because I have always loved my jobs and therefor put 200% into them. NOW.. thats OK if,  and only if, it is somehow acknowledged, recognized or something is given back in return. I’m sure there are those for whom this is the case. There ARE good and fair employers out there. My problem here is that the extra mile is being taken for granted.. it is expected and as I said if you don’t do it you are looked upon as being somehow “difficult” or “not a team player” or a “trouble maker”.

In conclusion I think the part that makes me the maddest is how scared perfectly intelligent sane rational hard working people are of speaking out about unfair practices. And further to this how management takes advantage of this culture. They who sit on their lovely salaries are far away from the coal face and the reality of low paid workers.  Keeps alive an atmosphere of secrecy and fear. A never ending cycle. This is exactly how abuse happens in relationships.

Library Letters Part 4: Dear Mirla

Dear Mirla,

I wonder how you and your colleagues in senior management are getting on. Are you OK? Are you sleeping well at night? Are you worried at all about how your steady income will be affected by the FFF changes? No, I didn’t think so. I just thought I would let you know about some of the effects this is having on YOUR  hard working colleagues at the coal face – although it sticks in my craw to say colleagues – as there is nothing collegial about how staff are being treated.

These colleagues of yours, I would like to remind you, are the very people who have made the libraries the heart and soul of their communities. It is not you and your team of “change analysts and consultants” spewing out wordy documents full of FTE’s and number crunching equations. It is the staff at the coal face who have personal interactions with all sorts of people, helping them with issues to do with books but also a million and one other things.

I want to tell you, Mirla and co, about one memorable customer interaction.

A customer comes and sits down for a reference enquiry. As I am a trained counsellor one of my strengths is my ability to really listen even when there are many other things on my plate to do. We have always been taught to put the customer first, other jobs can wait. This customer tells me that she has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and she is looking to empower herself by finding as much literature to inform herself about her condition. We sit for a long time – maybe 3/4 hour. I don’t rush her. I order in a couple of relevant books and find some up to date articles and print them off for her. I also listen as she tells me a little about how she is doing. She thanks me at the end and asks how much that would be. I reply that it is $3.60 for the printing. She looks incredulous and says something like ” you know I’ve been to quite a few medical specialists who have charged hundreds of dollars but I didn’t get nearly as much as what you have given me”.  This is just one of a million examples of what staff are doing for customers.

Mirla, every single librarian, library assistant, casual, shelver will have many their own stories. I guess I gave you that personal example as I (foolishly and naively) have always expected that the way we treat our customers would be the way you – management would treat your staff ie with respect and compassion. How misguided I was.

What makes me so so sad about this process is that you now have these beautiful, hard working, compassionate people sick with worry, in tears and many times too intimidated by everything about this cruel process to stand up and fight. It broke my heart to see one of my colleagues the other day just a broken woman. I have watched her go from a proud, hard working, quiet, no nonsense person who more than anyone else I knew never complained, happily gave an excellent service to all customers, always kept abreast of changes and passed all knowledge onto everyone in the team. In short this is your ideal employee. She has gone from that to being depressed, hurt and angry finding it difficult to concentrate or enjoy anything else in her life.

So Mirla, really this letter is coming from my broken heart. Broken hearted that a group of people who work so hard and passionately could be treated in this way. You the creators and instigators of the flawed design and inhumane process of FFF SHOULD BE losing sleep with the knowledge of the huge toll this is having on your fellow workers.

Oh and one more thing while I’m writing to you. How condescending for you to say that those who have left do not want to be part of the future. I resigned from the job I love because I felt intimidated by the FFF process and because of the secrecy, lack of information and insecurity of not knowing if I had a job and what that job looks like and on what days, hours etc. I have worked extremely hard during my time at the library, I have also upskilled myself by learning Te Reo Maori for five years. I am definitely part of the future Mirla. It seems as though its you that can’t keep good people around due to this diabolical process.



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.