"We were fat that was easily trimmed" was
how Amanda Hirst put it. Just as fall quarter was beginning, several
iSchool students experienced the grim reality of a recession in Seattle
by losing their student librarian jobs at Seattle Public Library.
Earlier this year, in August, SPL closed for a week
to save money. That, and a second closure scheduled for December,
will prevent the library system from having to lay off "30 employees"
PI) next year. The two week-long furloughs will be repeated in
2003. But all of these measures will not be enough to save the student
librarian program. SPL spokeswoman, Andra Addison, had this to say:
"It was a very tough decision for everyone, including the city
librarian, who teaches at the iSchool and hears firsthand from students
on how valuable a program it is. The program cut was made to avoid
further impacts to regular staff (librarians and other positions)."
Affected iSchool students reacted to the news with
surprise and disappointment. "It had been a great job. I actually
looked forward to going to work. It added a hands-on element to my
course-work," said student librarian Jenn Carter. She and more
than a dozen other student librarians will lose her job at the end
of the year.
Student librarian positions offer a source of real-world
experience to iSchool students. Participants provide citywide reference
desk coverage at SPL's branches and the main library while gaining
direct experience with genuine information seekers. Students also
work the circulation desk and participate in weeding, read-alouds,
computer literacy training, and other projects.
Notification of the layoffs was "fumbled a little,"
as Rachael Bohn put it. At issue was how the news was handed out.
Many students found out directly from their branch managers. Many
others found out beforehand through a student librarian listserv.
Once the information was available, it quickly spread. Human Resources
started informing students on a Monday; and the news "was up
on the listserv that day," said Bohn.
Professional SPL librarians were also upset by the
news. Many librarians enjoy hearing what's going on at the iSchool
and with the curriculum. "The librarians are always asking me
what I do in school. It gives them a feel for what people in the field
are learning," related Carter. Librarians will now be required
to work the reference desks more than previously.
One SPL branch manager, who spoke with the Silverfish
on condition of anonymity, commented that the student librarian program
is mutually beneficial to the students and the institution: "The
library has hired several student librarians on as professional staff
after completing their schooling. This allows us to 'test out' someone,
so to speak, and hire quality employees. This program also gives the
students priceless employment opportunities after graduation, not
just [at SPL], but anywhere."
Union rules require that professional librarians
be scheduled with student librarians on each of their shifts as a
backup. This relationship ensures that student librarians always have
a resource to turn to. It also ensures that a less expensive student
doesn't take the place of a more expensive professional. In the current
budget crisis, this was apparently targeted as a duplication of effort.
The budget picture is still dire at SPL. Five union
and seven nonunion staff members had until November 1 to find "alternative
positions." In other words, if they couldn't find new work within
SPL, the library and union would begin the "layoff/bumping"
process during the month of November. This means that, depending on
seniority, more employees may find out that they've been laid off.
Student librarians are not part of the union, and therefore had no
voice when it came to protecting their jobs.
"[The layoffs were] something we did reluctantly,"
Addison said. "Just as reluctantly as we proposed a $1 million
cut to the book budget, as well as other significant cuts (reducing
operating hours, shutting down another two-weeks with staff not being
paid, among other cuts)." When asked about the future of the
student librarian program, Addison said: "The student librarian
program is not being eliminated at SPL
student librarian positions
will be made available when funding is available (situation is still
unknown for 2004)
We encourage students to continue to stay
in contact with Human
Resources at SPL."
When asked about how they regarded Seattle Public
Library now, the verdict was mixed among the students interviewed.
Overwhelmingly, the work experience was judged to be very valuable.
(Roughly the same experience is available to students through the
iSchool's Directed Fieldwork Program, but without the salary.) "We're
not bitter," said Bohn. Other students expressed reservations
about returning to SPL upon graduation. "It hurts," said
Hirst. "I loved the job, everything about it."