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Libary User Services – Counter Proposal

Published: 19th March, 2021

stack of books with words "not borrowed since 2016? University executives seem to believe such books are redundant!"

Colleagues at risk of redundancy have been encouraged to offer counter proposals to the business cases against them. In several of the eight targeted units and departments, at-risk staff have done just that, spending many hours. Here is the Counter Proposal created by our colleagues in the library. It’s a redacted version, in which direct quotations and feedback that might identify individuals have been removed. 

Library colleagues’ counter proposal is 13,000 words long. It includes four alternative options that might save jobs and preserve standards in our library – all are attentive to staffing and service levels, organisational structures and so on. It contains a wealth of detailed information on the internal workings of this essential element of research and learning scaffolding. The colleagues who produced this Counter Proposal have included financial information – something omitted from the University executive’s ‘case for change’. They have been attentive to every aspect of their work and the way this work appears to others. For example, whilst subscribing to a ‘through Customer Service Ethos’, they propose changing the job title Customer Service Advisor to Student Information and Library Services Adviser – the word ‘customer’ detracts from their own professionalism and perpetuates a detrimental portrayal of students’ identity.

As well, as offering detailed counter proposals, the document lays out, in excruciating detail, the reasons why the University Executive Board’s Case for Change, if realised, will lead to an inferior service for all library users, as well being detrimental to the health and wellbeing of those library staff who are not made redundant. The Executive Board’s case is ill-thought-out. More worryingly, the architect or architects of the Executive Board do not understand the nature and function of a modern library – or, even worse, simply don’t care. 

It ignores, for instance, the existence of important collections – the Majut collection is one – that cannot be digitised.[1]

The statistic that 55% of the books in the library have not been borrowed since 2016 both ignores the fact that many users consult books without borrowing them and reveals a profound ignorance of the nature of scholarship and the research process – or, as above, a complete lack of care. Is this the model the University’s executives have in mind: nothing but the latest textbooks, stretching as far as the eye can see? 

Whatever the titles of the books in the library’s collection, the author of the Executive Board’s case for change is also ignorant of the most seemingly basic functions of library staff. Books are only usefully available to users if they are on the shelves where the catalogue says they are. Library colleagues’ counter proposal points out how timely shelving of books – 100% within one hour throughout 2019 – simply won’t be possible under the executives’ plans. 

Moreover, the apparent obsession with ‘digital’ ignores the fact that managing electronic collections and advising users require considerable time and expertise. 

The response to feedback and the Counter Proposal has been cursory. Senior managers claimed that nine working days was enough time for them to fully consider all points raised in the original 58-page document, in addition to feedback raised in 40+ individual consultation meetings. The same statistic keeps being reiterated by the Executive Board: “55% of books have not been borrowed since 2016”. Is this the only library-related statistic that the author of this business case is familiar with? Hinging the future of a crucial University service on one single, skewed and misunderstood statistic is ludicrous, but clearly something that is worth ring-fencing 35 members of staff for redundancy.

[1] Dr Hans Majut, b. 1892, was a German-Jewish dentist. Persecuted by the Nazi regime he committed suicide in 1937. His papers were compiled and donated by his brother Dr Rudolf Majut, who fled Germany in 1939. Rudolf settled in Leicester in 1941: he worked for both the Vaughan College and Leicester University before his death in 1981.