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University News

SciLi cutbacks spark frustration among students, staff members

Changes include reduced librarian service hours, transfer of services, supplies to Rock

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The number of hours the front desk of the Friedman Study Center in the Sciences Library will be staffed will be reduced from 110 hours of librarian service per week to 70 hours per week.

Library staff and students are voicing concerns about a plan to reduce staffing and services at the Friedman Study Center in the Sciences Library. University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi announced the planned changes April 15 in an email to all undergraduates.

The changes

All course reserves, which are currently split between the SciLi and the Rockefeller Library, will now be located at the Rock, Hemmasi wrote in an email to The Herald. In addition, DVD collections, iClickers and other circulated equipment will also be moved to the Rock, she wrote.

There will also be changes to the hours when the Friedman Study Center’s front desk is staffed. Monday through Thursday the desk will be staffed from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., while Friday’s hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday’s hours will be 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday’s desk hours will be from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m., Hemmasi wrote. In comparison, the desk is currently staffed starting from 8:30 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends, closing at 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

This constitutes a reduction from 110 hours of librarian service per week to 70 hours, said Karen McAninch, the library workers’ union’s business agent.

The reduction of service means there will be more times a librarian is not present to assist students with printing or checking out books, said Mark Baumer MA’11, senior library specialist.

While librarian service hours are being reduced, the Friedman Study Center will remain open at its current hours, Hemmasi wrote in the email to all undergraduates.

“Any current Friedman Study Center staff member who sees a change to his or her role, schedule or assignment will continue to have a job of equal grade and salary elsewhere in the Brown University Library system,” Hemmasi wrote in an email to The Herald.

But “some of us have been working together for over 10 years, and now we are going to be dispersed and broken up,” said Senior Library Specialist James Schlageter. “We’ve been through renovations, the changing of operations, taken on new things and been successful with it all, and it is all being thrown away.”

The process

The changing of the staffing and services first started Feb. 22 when Hemmasi brought up the idea with the library’s waiver management committee, Baumer said.

Hemmasi said that she has “met directly with union representatives and SciLi staff (members) in seven separate meetings over eight weeks to discuss the plan and staff concerns, and every staff member of the Friedman Center has been given the opportunity to speak directly to these changes.”

Hemmasi also “consulted members of the Library Advisory Board — which consists of representatives from faculty (members), graduate students and undergraduate student,” she wrote in an email to The Herald.

But Schlageter said the library administration has been “stringing us along, leaving people in suspense and in the dark.”

“It’s been very stressful,” he said. “We’ve been lied to — to our faces.” One union member had to go on sick leave because of stress, he added.

“There would be whisperings of change, but the bosses would say there was nothing to worry about,” Baumer said.

A group of librarians who met with Hemmasi before the plan was released were told it would be “coming soon to faculty and staff (members),” McAninch said.

McAninch then sent a letter on behalf of the union to Hemmasi stating “you already have a plan in mind for the reduction in staff at the Friedman Center and are merely going through the motions of consulting with us.”

A concrete version of the plan was sent to the union March 30, McAninch said. The plan was then presented to the Brown community April 15.

The only change between the original plan and the one presented to the Brown community April 15 was that the level of staffing that would remain at the Friedman Study Center was increased from one and a half full-time employees to two, she said.

“Over the past decade, students and faculty (members) have communicated their changing needs through their actions,” Hemmasi wrote in an email to The Herald. “The decline in use of the SciLi collections and services is the very foundation of our plan for change.”

“I feel very disrespected,” Schlageter said. “Managers knew all about this well before we were told anything about the proposal. … Generally we feel like it was a charade and a waste of time.”

In response to the plan, the Student-Labor Alliance created an online petition for community members who want the library administration to reconsider the staffing and service reduction as well as create a platform for community input.

“Neither the library administration nor the University administration in general has centered the concerns of workers affected by the plan,” the petition states. “They only recently reached out to some faculty (members) and graduate students who rely on SciLi resources and services, but have not currently or in the past sought their input on changes to the SciLi.”

After informing community members about the changes, responses from all groups will be taken into consideration, Hemmasi wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald.

Members of the Student-Labor Alliance did not respond to a request for comment.

The dispute

“The Friedman Center is working fine the way it is,” Baumer said. “There are a lot of areas in the library that are not working fine and not being addressed.”

Since the opening of the Friedman Study Center, there has been a 48 percent reduction in circulation of “SciLi materials,” a 39 percent decrease in the circulation of “reserve books, DVDs and other reserve materials” and a 43 percent decrease in the circulation of popular movies, Hemmasi wrote in an email to The Herald.

“With the major reduction of materials shelved in the SciLi and the overall changing use of print and other library services, the library was duty-bound to evaluate our approach to service and staffing at the Friedman Study Center,” Hemmasi wrote. “Our goal has been to maximize the effectiveness of all library personnel in service to the University.”

The library administration claims that the reduction in service hours is a result of a reduction in circulation.

Given that approximately 450,000 volumes were transferred from the SciLi to the annex in the Rock since the Friedman Study Center’s opening in 2007 — with no accompanying staff reduction — “circulation and other services in almost every area have decreased,” Hemmasi wrote.

The reasoning for the removal of the material is centered on the fact they were not circulating, Baumer said. But the circulation numbers “did go down from 2007 to 2011, but since then it has plateaued.”

The union also views the data the library administration has presented as misleading, as it does not account for the increase in the use of certain equipment and the closure of the SciLi stacks between May and September 2015.

Hemmasi wrote that circulation of equipment, such as iClickers, chargers and cables, has increased since 2007, but equipment circulation is not distinct to the SciLi and is “not a core library service that requires mediation by library staff.”

McAninch also expressed concern that the Rock might struggle with the added responsibilities, especially during busy periods of the school year.

The library’s administration is “taking the DVDs, course reserves and clickers — which is a big part of our job — and just transferring them to the Rock,” said Senior Library Specialist Debra Nelson, adding that the administration is transferring 85 percent of the work to the Rock, but none of the SciLi’s staff members.

Another effect of the change will be a loss of experience, Schlageter said. The librarians at the Rock have no experience with the resources being moved, and there will be a learning curve, he added.

The fundamental changes of reducing staffed hours at the SciLi and moving reserves to the Rock “will be a huge inconvenience and aggravation to the people who use this building,” Schlageter said.

The library administration is allocating fewer resources to the sciences, for which interest among the student body seems to be growing, Baumer said.

“It’s a demonstration of the devaluation of the sciences and what goes on (at the SciLi),” said Tim Engels ’92, senior library specialist at the John Hay Library.

McAninch also noted that peer institutions have full-service libraries for the sciences.

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  1. Library Staff says:

    If this plan goes through, there will be NO library devoted to science or medicine at Brown. The building at 201 Thayer Street will be a basement-level study space with various other university departments above, no collection, and no subject-specialist librarians. I’m worried about what this would mean for Brown’s reputation in general and in the STEM fields specifically.

  2. Brad Marston says:

    Science faculty are also concerned by the on-going dismantlement of the SciLi. (I now look to other institutions for access to research libraries where I can browse the stacks.) This and other actions sadly demonstrate that the administration is focused on everything but intellectual life at Brown, disregarding the central purpose of a university.

  3. What do people expect when over 100 million is spent on diversity. A much larger share of the budget than Yale, which thinks 50 million is enough. Brown is losing focus on its role in educating people to function in the real world versus creating safe spaces for students who won’t find them in the real world.

  4. Library Staff says:

    It’s unfortunate that some people still have a problem with diversity, but I think that misses the point here. This plan is not a cost-cutting measure. There will be no reduction in payroll expenditures. It certainly does not save money to ship books in from storage off-campus every weekday instead of allowing patrons to browse the collection. The question remains: what does Brown stand to gain by dismantling the Sciences Library?

    • The problem is not diversity. The problem is wasting money on window dressing to satisfy malcontents. Diversity becomes even less meaningful when part of the spending is for segregation.

      The bigger point is that cost cutting efforts, even if misguided, are driven by the shifting of resources away from academics towards a distopian university system that looks like an imitation of Harrison Bergeron.

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