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DLF WG on Labor in Digital Libraries, Archives and Museums: Valuing Labor Subgroup

Meeting minutes: September 20, 2017

Note-taker: Melissa Chalmers. Names redacted.

Check-ins & Discussion

Librarians' status as faculty

  • [At one institution] put in place some infrastructure for supporting and promoting professional track faculty
    • Fight at document level of policy making
    • Need to make things explicit, e.g. need for mentorship
  • [At another institution] Went through process of clarifying librarian status as non-TT faculty.
    • Mentorship is something that hasn’t been part of process, expectation of providing mentors only now being discussed.
    • Recently: lay-offs, two staff and three librarian positions lost, so mentorship may not be on the agenda at the moment.
  • [At another institution] Finally on track to get new faculty policy approved and ratified
    • Pushback on peer review in the hiring process.
      • Large number of librarians in different types of jobs and lack of confidence that there’s a useful definition of librarian work that could assess across all the types of jobs.
    • Talk of limiting contract positions to 3 years, then making permanent.
      • Will be interesting, given the increasing reliance on contract labor for things like maintenance and repair.
      • To date little enforcement or standardization on contract limits because no ratified policy.
      • One department has 30 librarians whose contracts need to be renewed every year or two, their voices are not often heard.
  • [At another institution] We are all on annual contracts!
    • That’s why we are all vulnerable to system wide cuts.
    • Protected TT faculty, non-TT faculty vulnerable.
    • Colleague of 38 years said this is the first time where they did not renew contracts bc of budget issues.
    • Leadership trying to define system, consistencies across units (e.g. annual contracts, three year contracts, expectations of renewals).
    • Interested to hear comparison from other universities
    • Sounds like how they handle grant-funded positions, at end of which ask can we hire this person or do they have to find another position.

Workplace climate surveys & feedback mechanisms

  • Striking difference between faculty, staff in terms of satisfaction about transparency, equity, fairness, hierarchy (staff less satisfied)
  • Some people report not feeling sense of belonging, librarians of color have met with the dean, reaching out to staff too
  • Staff not feeling empowered, no feedback mechanism for supervisors; class environment, inconsistencies in supervision.
  • Need feedback mechanism for institutional culture, sense that currently not solving the right problem.
  • How to better create an equitable environment, empower the voices of our staff here?
  • In process of setting up meetings to create measures; librarians of color meeting, trying to provide feedback at the supervisor level
    • Generalized to all supervisors, not identifiable
    • Staff level employees of color are vulnerable, easily exposed.
    • Hoping to create widely available supervisor feedback mechanism, lower risks of reporting and create holistic assessment process.
    • Feedback can be tricky in general:
      • e.g. when there are one or a few faculty members
      • Challenges of generalizing feedback mechanisms in small departments where there is only one person in any given job

Student workers

  • Coordinator at a branch library gave feedback at library governance meeting on behalf of student workers
    • Called for greater awareness of student workers as laborers, elevate voices, respect time
    • Reaction was shock/surprise by audience
  • “Have a student worker do it” phrase
    • Hearing it more lately, what does that mean?
    • What are we saying about the work or the worker?
    • Someone has to do the grunt tasks, unless it can be automated or scripted away.
    • Can repetition be automated, or is it something that needs one on one engagement?
    • Reflection on student library worker experience: adding 0’s to film catalog entries, editing every single record individually -- probably there was a more efficient, external workflow available for that.
  • Creating digital collections
    • How do we treat or interact with graduate student workers?
    • Ethics of care/feminist framing
  • Student hiring process
    • Ended up interviewing the same people that everyone else did, as revealed while chatting with other units hiring student workers.
    • Should there be guidelines in place to avoid this?
    • What are the criteria here and why are we all interviewing the same people?
    • Are there particular kinds of work experience that are transferrable?
    • Are there other ways to encourage diversity, open mindedness in the hiring process?

How to make strategic efforts worthwhile to people in the trenches?

  • Meeting of library, library IT staff for strategic planning
    • Disconnect between what management wants to talk about and staff accomplishing specific tasks.
  • Long standing thoughts about the library profession as a whole & its veneration of a service ethic
    • Not trying to suggest service is the wrong term, but presents problems, especially when interacting with faculty, seems like it puts library workers at disadvantage for these interactions.
    • Trying to sort through thoughts on this, role of archivists and librarians particularly in academic (DH) projects.
    • What does it mean to be a service professional in the library and archives sector?
      • Who are we serving or working with?
      • How does “care work” get acknowledged by faculty, students, or administrators?
      • Trying to figure out an identifiable role for libraries (and librarians?) in the research process

What kind of labor is appropriate for different situations, level, benefits and challenges?

  • What should we be providing the person, what are the challenges we are facing, what cost to us?
  • Focusing on experiential learning opportunities
  • Example: Digital stewardship or digital library related work relevant for practicum students (120 hours)
    • Reasonable investment for us, but they're also getting something out of it.
    • Does this fit into what this group is doing? (Yes)

Readings & Resources

Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, “The Low Morale Experience of Academic Librarians: A Phenomenological Study,” Journal of Library Administration 57, no. 8 (2017): 846-878. doi:10.1080/01930826.2017.1368325

  • low morale of librarians, workplace culture, and the labor issues there

Todd Suomela, Florence Chee, Bettina Berendt and Geoffrey Rockwell, “GamerGate and Digital Humanities: Applying an Ethics of Care to Internet Research,” CSDH/SCHN 2017

Labor WG Zotero group/library

Academic Archivist/Librarian Reading Calendar by Eira Tansey

Labor-Related Sessions at 2017 DLF Forum

Valuing Labor panel accepted! Thank you, presenters & proposal editors

Labor WG working breakfast ☕

Other sessions related to valuing labor


Standing meeting on the 3rd Wednesday of each month.

Next meeting November 15.