Western Libraries Re-Organization

Kristin Hoffmann

Apprehensive, excited, frustrated, energized and confused – these are just a few of the reactions librarians have had to the recent Western library re-organization process. Since May 1, 2018, librarians and archivists with Western Libraries have seen their workplace radically restructured into five new units:

  • Content Management, Discovery and Access
  • Archives and Special Collections
  • Research and Scholarly Communication
  • Teaching and Learning
  • User Experience and Student Engagement

These units are commonly referred to as “functional,” because they are aligned with particular roles or functions carried out by library workers. Western Libraries used to operate according to a model referred to as “subject” or “liaison,” where library units are aligned with disciplinary areas at the university. Across Canada, many academic libraries are reviewing their organizational structure and there is a growing trend to adopt functional models. The University of Guelph Library was the first to move to a functional model, in 2009. Western Libraries is not alone in making this structural change; anecdotally, I hear about another library re-organization every few months.

This re-organization of the library according to its ‘functions’ means that each of us is working with a different group of colleagues in our unit. Most of us report to a new supervisor. Many of us have new sets of professional practice responsibilities and are no longer doing work we used to do. Some of us have physically moved to offices in different library buildings on campus. As described above, these changes have been met with varying reactions among members of the librarians and archivists bargaining unit.

One of the positive aspects of this re-organization has been the opportunity for individual librarians and archivists to further their careers and take on positions and responsibilities that had not been previously available to them at Western. The re-organization created four new positions for Western Libraries: Digitization and Digital Preservation Librarian; Special Collections Librarian; Teaching and Learning Librarian, E-Learning; and User Experience Librarian. These positions were filled by internal competition, which opened the possibility for any librarian or archivist working in Western Libraries to apply for one of these positions. Similarly, four new Unit Heads were hired through internal competition.

The processes for these internal hires, and for all our members’ reassignments, were jointly agreed to by UWOFA and the administration in a new Letter of Understanding – Organizational Renewal Initiative which is now part of the Librarians and Archivists Collective Agreement. UWOFA was active in protecting the interests of librarians and archivists throughout the planning process, advocating for flexibility and choice. This effective advocacy was another positive aspect of the re-organization.

But the re-organization has raised some serious concerns and challenges as well. Increasing workload is one challenge that many librarians and archivists have experienced since the re-organization took effect in May. Some of that increased workload is due to vacant librarian positions, and we are uncertain about when or if those positions will be filled. In addition, we have had to orient ourselves to new work while at the same time orient colleagues to work that they would be taking on. For example, as a Research and Scholarly Communication Librarian, I am no longer managing collections or instructing students, so I have been sharing files and insights with the librarians who are now doing that work, and I continued that work until they were fully prepared to take it on. In areas where expertise takes time to develop, such as advising students on carrying out systematic reviews, librarians maintained a significant workload from their previous role while working in their new unit.

A related challenge has been competing demands on our time between our professional practice, academic activity, and service. Academic activity and service together comprise 25% of our normal workload. However, while we have taken on new professional practice responsibilities, many librarians and archivists feel that these activities have required more than 75% of our workload.

Many Western Libraries committees have been terminated, and colleagues have needed to find other ways to fulfill service responsibilities. Recently, UWOFA's Librarians and Archivists Stewards Committee hosted a panel discussion aimed at helping colleagues find opportunities to perform service outside Western Libraries.

Many of us have expressed feeling increasingly disconnected from our colleagues in our daily work. An emphasis on working more closely with colleagues in our new units seems to have come at the cost of communication with colleagues in other units.

Low morale is an overall and insidious concern. I see this in myself and in colleagues when we express our fear that the re-organization may not allow us to provide the same quality of service, when we are disillusioned with processes that seem opaque and bureaucratic, and when we question whether administrators understand and value our work.

Planning this re-organization took several years, but we have not yet heard how the new structure will be evaluated. In the meantime, UWOFA continues to listen to the concerns of members in Western Libraries and work hard to protect our interests, and my colleagues and I continue to fulfil our duties while monitoring our ever-expanding workload. 

Kristin Hoffmann is a Research and Scholarly Communication Librarian