Deskilled staff: Is that like deveined shrimp?

I walked out of Danse Danse Évolution and saw a couple of guys handing out flyers. Efficient library outreach! I thought. Nope. UNION!

Leaflet: The Library Board’s vision: Longer hours, without librarians and skilled full-time staff. Fewer reference desks. More deskilled part-time staff with few or no benefits

I must say, the library union isn’t doing a very good job of scaremongering.

Unions are great sometimes and lousy other times, and neither of those things some other times. That’s my opinion. It’s probably your opinion. Only right-wing assholes think unions are never a good idea, and not even union stalwarts think they always are. (Be honest.)

I talked to the guy who handed me this leaflet. When I told him I write this blog, he took a quarter-step back and started treating me like I was radioactive. “Yes,” he said warily. “I have heard about it.” Well, good – you shoulda.

The leaflet makes the claim that the TPL Board “wants to… stay open to midnight with no professional librarians and many more part-time staff [and] get rid of reference desks.” I have asked around and concluded this is wilful exaggeration, reiterated in a union blog post.

I was having a hard time imagining Jones, Todmorden, Davenport, and St. Lawrence all staying open till midnight. I was having that trouble because what may be in the cards is keeping the Reference Library and a very few district libraries open to midnight Mondays through Fridays.

Seriously: Every branch open till witching hour seven days a week? Yorkville and the Reference Library, exactly one block apart? The branches inside strip malls? The ones who have problems with crime and gun violence, like Shchuka and Silverthorn? Branches TPL keeps trying to close, like Queen Saulter? Please.

With a city-wide budget deficit of $300 mil next year? Please.

And if the union notes that most TPL staff are women (what exactly is wrong with that?), isn’t it axiomatic that this mostly-female staff will refuse to work till midnight out of safety concerns? (The leaflet and Web site identify their authors as “the women and men” – in that order – “of TPLWU Local 4948.”)

Then there’s the pesky problem of wording and what it reveals about the library’s biases in favour of those who made it through library-school boot camp. The leaflet warns us of “[m]ore deskilled part-time staff with few or no benefits.” Deskilled staff? Staff whose skills have been removed? Is that like deveined shrimp? Dealcoholized beer?

Do we already have too many of these deskilled people? Because who would want more of them, right?

It’s not like you need a master’s in library science (MLS) to check out a back issue of Maxim or a compact disc at 11:30 at night. (Such a task is distinct from the career-path jobs the union has mixed into this discussion.) I know for a fact that some librarians hate checking materials out, or hate doing only that for long periods of time (at, say, Lillian H. Smith). RFID self-checkout is not a bad deal all of the time even if it sucks in other ways.

Parts of Robarts Library at UofT are already open around the clock six days a week. I think it isn’t a huge stretch of the imagination for the biggest library system in the world, in the nation’s biggest city, to open a few branches late at night. The Reference Library, Gladstone, North York – sure. Maybe not all the district branches, since some of them are dumps, like Northern District. Maybe branches in priority neighbourhoods. Sure.

But if we’re talking about expanding hours, here’s my wishlist:

  • No branch open fewer than six days a week. Hence no Monday or Friday closings for Saulter and Todmorden.
  • Branches open Sundays do so year-round (as was said to be the case, but isn’t, at Malvern), even on the balmiest summer days when the Protestant ethic insists we be outside enjoying the nice weather and not cooped up inside like some nerd.
  • No branches close at 6:00. Stay open till 8:00 or 8:30 or don’t bother. (Even Gladstone closes at 6:00 on Fridays in the summer.)
  • No branches close early because it’s snowing out (my direct experience on two separate occasions).

The union might aid its cause by providing much less hyperbolic and much more detailed information to the public. Besides, most people aren’t gonna be scared off by the idea of a library that’s open late at night. Even the attempt at scaremongering isn’t working. Please try smarter.


7 thoughts on “Deskilled staff: Is that like deveined shrimp?

  1. Good post.

    I hope that there would be a balance between part-timers taking over the daily “administrative” tasks of check-in/-out and give the librarians time to tend to the library in the form of growing the collection and helping people find the information for which they came.

  2. If you click through to the union website you’ll see this must’ve been a bargaining ploy because there’s a Nov. 4 post celebrating a tentative agreement. Ending bargaining that’s been going on since April. The post you point to also urges readers to contact their councillors and the city librarian and ask for world-class libraries in their neighbourhoods. I too live closest to Jones and really don’t expect any of the many nearby branches to be world-class, as long as there’s a top-notch facility somewhere in the city that I can access in person or by inter-branch loan.
    (Jones has to have a good coat of paint before it can even be neighbourhood-class. And that’s saying a lot on that block.)

  3. Yes, I think you’re the one who’s always insinuating Jones is a dump. Well, lemme ask you something: Taken a look at Palmerston or St. Lawrence lately?

  4. Only a dump with regard to the municipal garbage bin, if you’re referring to a previous comment It’s OK inside, but then I only use it as a pickup point for reserves. Never been to the two you mention.

  5. I think the modernist rusticated-stone exterior has a lot going for it. Now, maybe the pagoda is a bit much.

    Just in general, I think your taste sucks.

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