Thursday, July 23, 2015

New Challenges at the Urbana Free Library: A Statement by Employee Elisabeth Paulus

It's been a while since we've posted anything here: we hoped there wouldn't be a need. In the past year, though, concerns about Urbana Free Library staffing and management have grown. Since at least April, staff members have been present at monthly trustees' meetings in increasing numbers both for solidarity and to make their concerns known. 

Over the next couple of weeks, this blog will highlight some of the ongoing challenges at the Library. Today, though, we'll start with the text of a public statement, made at the July 21 trustees' meeting, by library employee Elisabeth Paulus.

"At our most recent circulation [circ] department meeting, Dawn, the head of circ, informed us that Celeste [Choate], our director, is asking for us to provide her with some highlights of the last year in our department so that she can present them to the Board. 
And we laughed. We laughed because in the last year, our hours in circ have been cut so dramatically that we cannot do our jobs to the best of our ability. And morale is so low at circ that 3 part-time clerks, with more than 20 years experience between them, have resigned. Their positions were not replaced.
Instead, 4 hourly clerks have been hired at circ. The problem with that is that hourly clerks don’t open the library like part-time clerks do, they don’t close the library, they don’t work at the information desk, which is staffed solely by circ clerks, they don’t make non-resident cards, they don’t work on as many special projects.  They can’t work enough hours to take on all those extra responsibilities that half-time staff are expected to take on.
Circ has anywhere from 3-5 clerks working on the first floor every minute the library is open. Clerks call in sick, or schedule vacation. And someone must fill those hours. But our director has informed us that her goal is to cut all part-time staff to only 20 hours a week without the ability to pick up hours. We aren’t allowed to pick up all the open shifts, and instead are forced to work short staffed. 
Our director says that the budget only allows for hourly staff to pick up hours, but none of our previous directors have made this distinction. And hourly clerks can’t run the department alone, can’t perform every task that circulation performs, which is so much more than just checking items in and out. Circ staff has expressed concern that our customer service is declining and workflow is backing up, with longer wait times for patrons in line and on the phone, and an increase in errors. I personally have expressed this concern to my department head, who has said she understands and has tried to speak to our director about this issue. I’ve spoken with our director about it. She has said numerous times that she doesn’t mind if patrons have to wait in line longer. We mind. And the patrons mind. 
Our director, when addressing the library’s financial concerns with us, says she can’t help but notice that staff salaries are the largest portion of our budget. And she has targeted part-time staff using a myriad of excuses…like the Affordable Health Care Act, which requires only that we provide a health plan that is affordable to our full-time staff. We already do. This isn’t an issue unless there is a plan to increase the cost of our health care. If part-time staff average more than 30 hours a week, we are considered full-time according to this act, but our health care is prorated with the more hours we work. And that makes our health care affordable, unless, again, there is a plan to change this policy, there is no reason to use the Affordable Health Care Act as an excuse to limit part-time staff. 
What our director does not address is that administration makes much more than any department. In fact, according to the budget approved by the Board at the June 25th meeting, the average annual salary for the executive and associate directors and the permanent dept heads is over $77,500. While it is budgeted to give the average circulation employee almost $13,500 a year. 
My point is this:  the circulation department, specifically part-time staff, is being singled out to bear the brunt of the library’s financial burdens. Just because patrons are using the new methods of check out that we have available, doesn’t mean that circ clerks have lost our value to this library. In fact, we have been given more responsibility, with half-time clerks working at the information desks on every floor of the library. Not to mention, that a circ clerk is the one who signs you up for your library card, explains the opportunities the library holds for you, answers your questions. We are the first face you see when you walk into the library, the first voice you hear when you call. We unlock the doors of the building each morning and announce the all-clear each night. 
And we are being forced out of this library. We are being forced to give poor service. We want to know that you value us, that you care. We want you to fight for us. But don’t ask for any highlights of the last year. There weren’t any. Not for us."