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.

7 thoughts on “Library Letters Part 1: The restructure process

  1. What a great overview of a hideous situation. Thank you so much for saying what so many felt they could not say.

  2. Jim Gladwin says:

    Well said L !! Yours is a bravely defiant voice. Sadly, all too rare, in this era when neoliberalism drives workers to the depths of dog-eat-dog rivalry. All best to you. In solidarity.

  3. Matt says:

    Very on point.
    You forgot to mention how all libraries require a 40 hour position for “people leaders” who don’t need to work weekends.

    Spoke of rostered weekends however this is not happening for everyone. This was misleading for many people.

    Also that senior management positions were able to have 1 person do 2 positions over a long time and they were able to find a way to ensure the position filled 2 bodies. Which one could’ve sufficed to make the salary of another Library Assistant or 2

  4. jayne lewington says:

    I left libraries in 2016, my heart goes out to those still being chewed up by the system. Really it is hard to say who will be the lucky ones; those who secure a position within the regime or those who don’t.
    Please Mister Mayor save our libraries!

  5. Malcolm Deans says:

    All power to you Leonie. It is so great to read something real in response to the dehumanizing language of Human Resources consultants and senior management. PSA and TEU members in Dunedin put together a solidarity statement a few weeks ago now and sent it to Catherine Davidson. Here it is,

    “Solidarity with Auckland Libraries workers!

    PSA and TEU members at Dunedin Public Libraries and University of Otago libraries stand in solidarity with their colleagues and fellow workers at Auckland Libraries who are undergoing an incredibly divisive and unsettling restructuring process. We oppose Auckland Council’s plans to disestablish hundreds of roles and force workers to reapply for a diminished number of jobs. This restructuring is being cynically sold to the public as a future-proofing exercise whereas we recognise it for what it is – simple cost cutting.
    There appears to be insufficient recognition by Auckland Council of the vital social and educational role of public libraries in a democratic society. Libraries provide educational, informational and recreational resources which contribute to the development of literacy and critical thinking – vital components of today’s society.

    Reducing staffing across the board is no way to improve the delivery of essential library services. The skilled workforce at Auckland Libraries is its most important asset and the public recognise this. The Love Our Libraries campaign has been started by concerned Auckland residents who cherish their local libraries and recognise the wealth of experience and connections local library staff bring to their communities. They completely oppose the proposed cuts.
    There is a limit to the extent workers will tolerate employer expectations of flexibility. We oppose proposals that may reduce hours and offer no compensation for anti-social shift work. We call on Auckland Council to halt the restructuring process, stop the redundancies and re-engage with their workforce and union to repair the damage done.
    Dunedin, 24th March 2017”

  6. Steven Revins says:

    something similar happened at Birmingham City Council Libraries Service: one example the Central Library in the city centre was earmarked for closure many years ago, and the cash-strapped council did build a new £188million Library of Birmingham.
    The Central Library had a “Science Floor” with 17 workers but by the time the closure came there were only 3. For the new Library the unions “demand” that “the staffing levels remain the same” ie 3 for Science.

  7. John Smith says:

    I would urge Auckland Council, and those advising on this restructure, to look at other councils’ experience, where this has happened, and, more importantly, speak to the ratepayers in their towns and cities to see what they think of the services they are now receiving. Despite promises from councils that these restructures will not have a negative impact on service standards, I believe members of the public would disagree vehemently with this. The reduction of qualified staff, dramatically cut book budgets, and slashing of overall staffing levels is creating an entirely different kind of library, which is not providing the sort of literacy and lifelong learning experience that a populace should expect for their tax/rate dollars, particularly for children, in my city.

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