Monday, July 30, 2007

Vancouver Librarians Strike!

There's little more exciting than a strike by civic employees. Here are people given the public trust and paid out of public funds, and then they go and strike because they feel the public isn't forking enough of their tax dollars over to support them. I still wonder whether a strike by public employees isn't a strike against the public interest, but that's neither here nor there.

It seems librarians up in the Great White North are striking because Vancouver won't agree to their union's demands. Those Vancouver librarians might want to be careful, though. It's not like they're essential city employees. If garbage collectors or police officers go on strike, people jump up and take notice, because these are essential services that everyone takes advantage of. We can't have our garbage piling up or our criminals running the city. But librarians?

The Globe and Mail had a story a couple of days ago about the strike, and if you want to get an idea of the conflicting views citizens have of librarians, check out the comments section.

Here's some samples:

"I fully support librarians and local libraries. Keep up the great work :-)"

Aww, that's sweet, especially the emoticon. Probably a librarian or the spouse of one.

"I think the entire collective bargaining process is broken in this country; at least as it relates to bargaining between gov't and public sector unions. It's strike after strike after idiotic strike. The end result is, everyone loses. There needs to be a more meaningful approach that's collaborative. As it stands now, we have both sides coming in asking for way more than they want simply as a negotiating tactic. It's futile to try and reach consensus this way.

Both sides look like whining brats in my view."

There might be some sense there, and at least it's not hostile to the librarians.

"To quote Oscar Wilde at the death of Little Nell 'One must have a heart of stone not to laugh out loud'.

Where do these people get it from? Having been a member of a Library Board for many years I know that they have salaries, vacations, health benefits, death benefits, pensions, work conditions, job security etc, etc far in excess of any comparable librarians, or anyone else for that matter, in private industry. But apparently that's not enough.
Leave them out on strike until they rot!"

Not much sympathy there.

"...if CUPE members are not satisfied with their existing pay, working conditions and benefits, they can always go do something else."

Something to keep in mind.

"I just hope they don't forget the formula to the Dewey Decimal System before they get back."

They wouldn't have to worry about this if they were Arizona librarians.

"It's not the librarians that are outdated.

It's UNION that's outdated.

Continuously having above average salaries, vacations, health benefits, death benefits, pensions, work conditions, job security etc, etc than non-unionized workers aren't enough...they think they should be paid like managers and executives."

Well, that's your opinion, buddy!

"Vancouver librarians walk off the job followed by dinosaurs."


Well, there you have it, views from the public librarians serve. One wonders what would happen to Vancouver if the librarians never went back to work.


Anonymous said...

In between blogging all day and having meetings about agreeing to follow the procedures they decided to have a roundtable on in their e-mail committee established to follow up on the latest user survey, you'd think these breathless champions of information could be afforded a raise. (Yeah, right!)

Things like this make me really question why I bother to keep trying to get a library job. My story? Simple, with no jobs on the horizon I did the unforgivable sin of taking a staff job after graduation, thinking at least I'd still be in the field. Now I'm completely unmarketable as I have years of experience that don't count.

I guess maybe I could spend another $40,000 on a second master's in a science discipline to become a subject librarian. Woo Hoo! In debt until I die!

And as a staff person I also saw all the ugly side of librarians, the endless political catfights, complete and utter incompetence, and yet an absolute belief they're not only relevant but hip.

Guardians of the world's information, yet spending more time guarding their job and ideology more like it, and completely lost without all the lowly staff people to do the actual work.

I say let the librarians go and replace them with a physical "Library 2.0," the public can bring the books and write the information, it can't be much worse than the way libraries are going.

Anonymous said...

That library board member's comments were disturbing. What a funny little man.

Gary said...

The Humorless Unionator and all the Regressives are loving what's going on in Vancouver. It's so hip to strike.

Dances With Books said...

If the librarians never went back to work? I hate to be cruel about this, but the City as a whole would probably not notice, well, at least until all the homeless and bums went and protested at city hall because they no longer had access to their subsidized porn. In seriousness, given the climate in various places, I really think the city (i.e. its administrators) would not care as much. Now garbage collector. . .don't you mess with the Esteemed Members of the Sanitation Department. Sad thing is, one some days, librarianship (at least public) is not that much different that being a garbage collector. How is that for a scary thought?

Anonymous said...


You seem to be very critical of public libraries. Why so? Do you think they should be closed in an effort to save taxpayer dollars?

AL said...

On the contrary, I think public libraries are great, as long as they maintain an educational mission dedicated to the common good and don't become pornographic entertainment centers. Educating democratic citizens is a worthwhile goal of public libraries I wholeheartedly support. On the other hand, I don't want my tax dollars going for publicly subsidized porn or bestselling crappy novels to entertain the semiliterate. This in no way supports the common good.

Anonymous said...

They should just do away with the embarrassing master’s degree requirement for librarians and the obviously frustrating expectations

Librarians, particularly public and academic librarians, are a frustrated lot. One reason is because of the foolish master’s degree they are required to obtain in order to do a job that is primarily made up of maddening routine and clerical work. Get rid of the master’s degree and you lower the expectations of the librarian set. By getting rid of the master’s degree requirement you let the librarian know that his or her job is “mere” made manifest, something most anyone could do with a modicum of education. Do this and you will find the (justified) grievances over low pay and lack of respect fading away.

The truth be told, every thing I do as a public librarian, I could have learned on the job. There are very little, if any, skills that I use on my job that I “mastered” in library school.

soren faust

Bad librarian said...

"I think public libraries are great, as long as they maintain an educational mission dedicated to the common good and don't become pornographic entertainment centers."

C'mon, do you really believe that? As a public librarian for nearly seven years I've seen nothing but dumbing down for the public library I work in (in terms of collection development for circulation statistics) and any active involvement in addressing issues of collection improvement by low-level librarians politely ignored, or in some cases, just
literally thrown out. It's your tax dollar$ at work again, folks.

Yeah, the porn patrons I complained about and next thing I knew, I went to "Intellectual Freedom" reeducation camp. Going back to academia looks really good right now. No wonder the Vancouver librarians went on strike, I really don't blame them.
We as librarians make less than sanitation staff anyway.

Jonathan said...

"On the other hand, I don't want my tax dollars going for... bestselling crappy novels to entertain the semiliterate. This in no way supports the common good."

But if they come into the library for crappy novels, can't you use that as an opportunity to educate them about good, literate novels?

When I was working at a public library we used to create book displays with these kind of things, right next to the new books. I turned patrons on to some good authors that way, Books they would never have read otherwise. Doesn't support your "common good" mission?

Anonymous said...

It's shame the comment board was closed. This discussion was going downhill in a hurry.

Brent said...

...Wait, so not everything in Canada is perfect?

Anonymous said...

Actually, AL, reading your blog has made me determined to leave my job as a public librarian and get an academic job where I can apparently be sent to expensive conferences and get sloshed on my employer's dime.

But then I have someone come in and tell me how they got an A on the college paper I helped on (because the librarians in their college library were unhelpful) or finally signed up for the internet after they took my computer classes, or even how much they loved the book I recommended.

But the enormous amount of free time you academics have, and the cushy work environments, sound tempting.

Privateer6 said...

Having studied history and having union members in my family, I understand that at one time they were necessary. However today, unions are worse than useless, they destroy business, which in turn makes thing worse in the long run.A cases in point is Higgins Industries.

Higgins Industries was one of the most pro-union companies around, with the owners advocating union membership to prospective employees and not only meeting, but exceeding union demands in salary
and benefits. That is until the union stopped living up to their commitments which angered the management AND employees. Both the management and employees became so disgruntled with the AFL, they attempted to switch over to the CIO (this was prior to the AFL-CIO merger). Unfortunately the series of lawsuits that the AFL filed against the company, which would allow employees to choose what union would represent them, basically ticked off the owner and he closed all four of his plants. This forced thousands to lose their job.

Grant you I do not know all the details on why the union called for a strike, but from my experiences and talks with family members who are union members, the strike was not needed and is being manipulated by the union.

Then again maybe the city is benefiting by not having to pay salaries, etc during the strike.

Anonymous said...

Everything you learn, you learn in kindergarten, or at least by middle school...when my friend's dad owned and ran a bakery, like his father and grandfather before him. I mean a commercial bakery--dozens of trucks, bread and rolls, a regional outfit. The union truckers wanted more and more and more. My friend's dad said if he had to pay even a dime more an hour, he'd go broke and sell the bakery off and let larger chains supply bread and rolls. I will leave you to guess which kids had the shiniest new bikes and the nicest new cars. Progressives will be pleased to know it wasn't my "haute bourgeois" friend.

The union cursed, screamed (literall, I remember) and picketed not only the plant but the modest little brick house of the owner.

And as promised, my friend's dad sole the property and equipment, funded his children through college and an early retirement. Not righ, but OK. Not much for around 100 years of success. Then again, the petulant union truckers got a lot less.

So, yay! Norma Rae! The early AFL-CIO ethos has about as much to do with a modern liberry as Linotype has with a blog.


AL said...

"But the enormous amount of free time you academics have, and the cushy work environments, sound tempting."

To Anon@10:43, before making any momentous decisions keep in mind that there's a healthy dose of fiction on this blog. For example, I don't really get to sit on the front porch of the library sipping mint juleps. I often have to sip my mint juleps while sitting in my office.

And these stories of shutting down businesses because of unions are just depressing.

Anonymous said...

It seems that we’re forgetting that the public ultimately determines what kinds of materials are offered in a public library. The librarian's hands are tied. True, you can have “classics” in your collection—and in fact, there will be those who educate themselves beyond practical education—but for the most part this is the exception. Public libraries are supported by government funding and governments are conspicuously influenced by the public. Whenever there is a controversy over too much funding, taxes are too high, &c., it’s merely a sign that what the public wants it’s not getting. The public is “dumbing” itself down, not librarians. If circulation and all other relevant stats are dismal—guess what, the library suffers. Therefore, in order to show its usefulness, public librarians have to make hard decisions about what it offers the public just to survive. Public librarians are servants of the public and not vice versa. Sorry folks, but the dreams of a well-educated and enlightened populace are simply a utopian illusion.

soren faust

Anonymous said...

The comments posted on AL reflect a general lack of understanding of the strike. They seem to think the librarians are striking in order to gain benefits and unwarranted salary increases when they are actually striking to maintain benefits at their current levels that have been threatened to be slashed; and while they are advocating salary increase, it is a pay equity increase supported by plenty of statistics showing they are being underpaid. These are good docs:
Strike Vote FAQ:
Pay Equity:
Pay Equity FAQ:

Also, most of the comments on AL show general disdain for all unions and have nothing to do with this particular strike. I guess these people would be okay with their 10 year old daughter working at the iron works for 10 cents per day getting her arm cut off and having no health coverage. If it weren't for unions and strikes we would still live in that kind of world.

Anonymous said...

So not liking unions equals being "okay with their 10 year old daughter working at the iron works for 10 cents per day getting her arm cut off and having no health coverage"? What fevered imagination came up with this pathetic non sequitur? Just because they think they should be making more money doesn't mean they're underpaid. If they're underpaid, then they should be able to go elsewhere and make more money. If no one's offering them more money, then they're not underpaid.

Anonymous said...

What fevered imagination came up with this pathetic non sequitur?

Uh, it's called "history"...Child labor laws, health coverage, pensions, etc. were not just granted to workers to keep them from taking their skills to another employer with a better offer in the "free market" (ha ha). Unions and workers had to fight tooth and nail for these type of things.

Anonymous said...

So "history" dictates that if you don't like unions then you want your children losing their arms? Only union members don't want child labor? And no non-union workers ever got health coverage or pensions? Is this really the best argument for unions you can come up with? So if librarians, for example, don't belong to unions, then the libraries are going to hire 10 year olds and cut off their arms?

Anonymous said...

to anon@ 2:12 PM

It sounds like what you are suggesting is that we let our futures be determined by the whims of "the marketplace" at the cost of everything else. If I'm getting paid poorly, then I should just up and find another job, perhaps in a different city where pay is more equitable. That may be what you would do, but I for one have trouble just stretching a paycheck to make ends meet and could not afford to just up and move away. But, even if I could afford to do this, I have established relationships at my workplace and in my community and perhaps have a spouse with his/her own job in the area and maybe kids in the school. So such a measure would include uprooting them or leave them all behind. What you are suggesting, this "market driven" approach to pay equity, just wouldn't work for most people. In a situation such as described here, what if an employer then attempts to strip away benefits that I have come to rely upon - as is the Vancouver case which you seem reluctant to educate yourself about - to do?

Anonymous said...

The VPL strike is part of a greater union movement in Vancouver. Both outside and inside city workers are out at the moment as well. The City of Vancouver is the only municipal gov't in SW BC that hasn't settled their contract and are being lead by a beligerent mayor who stated last week that getting the unionized workers back to work isn't his top priority.

These people are battling for a contract from a city that is more worried about spending BILLIONS of dollars on 'looking good' for the 2010 Winter Olympics than taking care of the fundamental problems that it's citizens' face daily.

This isn't about the librarians as such, it's about the entire workforce of the City of Vancouver and the disrepect being shown towards the collective bargaining process by mayor and council.

Anonymous said...

I think people are losing sight of the issue; whatever good Unions may have done to do away with child labor or make workplaces safer is in the past, and one can argue how much good they did even then.

More to the point, the comments from the Vancouver newspaper and what I've read on this board indicate the librarians are no longer seen as essential employees who can bargain with a strike. It's already too late to really consider unionization as helping libraries; the end result would be either the privatization or outsourcing of services.

As for the "whims of the marketplace," librarians have been facing this problem for a long time. How many of us would like to live and work in a particular place but end up having to search for jobs anywhere we can find them? Librarians are simply not enough in demand for us to dictate terms.

Of course, I'm not even really a librarian, just a lowly ex-staff person with a useless MLS. :(

AL said...

This has certainly gotten serious today. I recommend we all relax with an ice cold martini. That's what I'm doing.

Brent said...

I'll meet you in rehab AL.

People, you must learn no one reads long comments. I am most people.

Anonymous said...

We all know that the Olympics is more important than affordable housing, cheap and efficient mass transit, cost-of-living raises, etc. What's wrong with you Canadians?

Privateer6 said...

Sorry another long one.

Anon 3:00
Unfortunately your links don't work. When I tried, they kept giving me the "403 Forbidden" message.

And while I was the first to admit Unions did play a role at one time, the emotional argument you are trying to use doesn't work as any rational being can see how times have changed. Yes unions did play a part, 75+ years ago, but now government agencies, and even the free market economy, will prevent that from happening again. If one company wants the best and brightest, they will offer a compensation package that other companies will have to match. Perfectly good example is inthe medical field where hospitals are figuratively fighting over new nursing graduates. Heck my job is even has a program for a current employee to get a nursing degree on the company, the demand is that high.

Anon 2:04

A person must decide what they want to do, what degree to pursue, and what will do. Grant you all kind of factors;i.e. family obligations, employment opportunities, ad nauseum, do play a part in a person deciding to accept a job or not, but ultimately it's the individual's decision to work.

Perfectly good example is me. I am a recent MLS grad who is geographically stagnant because of family obligations. I simply cannot move. Worse I am in a market with a librarian glut since there are three ALA accredited school, and 1 in the process of accreditation, all within 3 hours of where I live. I knew this going in, and accepted full responsibility for my actions. While I might complain about salary, I knew that ultimately it is my responsibility to negotiate it with employers, not someone else's.

Anonymous said...

Re: Anon 2:04 and others

The Vancouver strike is for all library workers in that district, including part timers and staff members, not just the "professional librarians" with MLS degree. All of you, please just read the documents listed above and get the facts about this strike before drawing conclusions. It's ok if you want to be anti union or anti strike or whatever - that's your opinion - but at least attempt to understand what's going on before undermining these brave library workers.

Anonymous said...

by 'documents' I should have specified - they are listed in post by anon @ 2:04 PM. If you can't open the links go back to the original post, copy and paste the URL from the comment into your browser and it should open the PDF docs. I was able to open all of them. You can't open them otherwise because the retarded Blogger interface truncates the URLs and doesn't present them as hotlinks.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else notice this is the first time these librarians have striked in 77 years? Maybe they were long overdue...

contrarian said...

Is it possible all these anonymous comments are really coming from just one person debating him or herself?

AL said...

One thing you all might not realize is that all the anonymous comments are actually written by me in a pathetic attempt to generate controversy for my own blog. The sad thing is, I have only about a dozen readers, but with such a robust comments section it makes me look much more popular.

shade said...

"If one company wants the best and brightest, they will offer a compensation package that other companies will have to match."

This is the reason Bob Nardelli got a $210m severance package for miring Home Depot in, not one, but two scandals (looks like one just broke today!). And Hank McKinnell and all of the other top CEOs who make more money in one year than all of us combined will ever see in our lifetimes while laying off thousands for the sake of making a profit. Golden parachute, anyone? Meanwhile, minimum wage just went up to - oh my goodness - $5.85 an hour! Break out the champagne and caviar!

Whether or not unions have a place in this modern world, rest assured that the free-market economy has been highjacked by the very, very, very rich and we are getting screwed. I like to think of arguing over funding as dogfighting for the super-elite "Let's say there's only so much money to go around and watch them (i.e. us) fight over less than what I made yesterday." IMHO it's better than socialism because rather than being able to blame the government, we have to blame ourselves. If you're not a Horatio Alger story you deserve what you get, right? 'Cause it's a free economy, right?

btw - Have another glass of kool-aid.

Privateer6 said...

Sorry not a kool aid drinker, I prefer gin and tonics or pints of Guinness!

As for the salaries of even failed CEOs, the blame for their salaries and "golden parachutes" should lie on the shoulders of the company's stockholders and their representatives on the board of directors. So if you own a 401K, 503B, IRA, etc and you do not vote when the company send out the ballots, then you are responsible for their salaries. After all the stockholders own the company and determine the CEOs worth.

Actually the free market economy works great as those companies that don't perform eventually go under. Great book I recommend Contented Cows Give Better Milk is a great book on how contented employees actually help companies thrive. Those companies that treat their employees like crap tend to suffer all around.

I could go on about the minimum wage, but this post is already too long for Brent.

shade said...

Ah - I could go for a tanq and tonic about now. Cool refreshment on a hot day.

I agree with you, Privateer6, that contented employees are better workers, but contented shareholders are even better for the company. If cutting jobs preserves shareholder profits then the status quo is maintained. But mismanaged companies don't just fade away - if they're big enough the government will prop them up with tax cuts and subsidies. From what I've seen, especially lately, the government doesn't give a f*ck about little people like me unless I'm not paying my taxes. Credit card companies, student loan companies, mortgage companies, etc. all have the deck stacked against you and me.

Oops! I'm showing my liberal side. Better go.

Anonymous said...

I think librarians who do not support our professional standards (i.e. the Masters degree) and their colleagues (striking librarians) should find another profession.

I am amazed at how many librarians dislike being librarians. My advice to them is to go back to school and get a computer science degree or a business degree. On the other hand they probably tried that and couldn't cut it.

Anonymous said...

Librarians who have the MLS and DO NOT support it is a big problem. Perhaps it is one reason who so many librarians are unhappy...some people are getting a free pass these days. Get your ass to library school!!

Privateer6 said...

Actually I think the reason why people complain about the MLS is because in some cases, not all, the coursework and the class demands are a joke. But even at the harder library schools, the coursework is less rigorous than with other degrees.

There are definitely differences between schools,and sometimes with professors, but standards should exist and be enforced. At my wife's school, the coursework was demanding, the professors engaging, and overall she had an excellent learning experience. She was extremely shocked at the laxity of the library school I attended. Professors showing up 45 minutes late and letting student out 2 hours early during an all day summer session class, professors assigning the exact same assignment (with the professors apparently not even reading the papers since I essentially used the same paper repeatedly), ad nauseum.

Fortunately I was able to learn the basics of cataloging from my wife, my MA in history gave me the needed knowledge to do reference, and good old common sense and patience to handle the challenges encountered.

As I stated, compared to the standards of other masters programs, even rigorous library programs don't match other masters' degrees. My wife went to a one of the top five library schools, took 12 hours each semester (including summer sessions), did her "thesis," and worked both a fellowship and internship. Yet she was amazed at the amount of work i had to do taking 9 hours each semester for my MA in History. In reference to my thesis she not only couldn't understand the need for me to conduct a research trip at NARA, she was completely ticked off that I had to go to DC to "work on your stupid thesis." Compared to my MA, my MLS was a joke.

Privateer6 said...

Now how do we change it and make the MLS more reputable? Here are my ideas

1)Enforce or create standards for admission and coursework. Don't just accept anyone with a pulse and a credit card, as it appeared my library school did.

2) Get dedicated profs who will keep the politics out of the classroom, come to class and leave on time, and will actually teach students, and work with students instead of degrading and insulting students. Several of my professors should NOT have been teaching.

3)Make an internship/practicum of some sort mandatory. This is always the best way to put theory into practice, gain experience, and more importantly gain contacts for employment after graduation.

Again these are based upon my experiences.

Anonymous said...

I am always amazed that people discriminate against new librarians without enough library experience, but will not discriminate "librarians" without a proper library education. Certification and licesure could help weed out some of the "job sqautters" in public libraries at least.

Privateer6 said...

Anon. 10:40AM

I don't think it's discrimination retain a valuable employee who has the experience, knowledge, and the track record yet is a "job squatter" over a brand new MLS graduate who who don't know. In fact I think it shows company loyalty to retain that person, thus increaseing morale and loyalty to the organization, both with the individual and the organization. Grant you there are some things they couldn't do unless trained in that specific task.

I would love for libraries to encourage parapros to gain a MLS by providing financial aid packages some some companies do. Alas I know about budget constraints.

Anonymous said...

Chiming in on the union thing: I work in a library system that is involved with not 1, but 2 unions (one for professional staff, and the other for clerical). If not for the union, I would have been fired 6 months into my job. I had the unfortunate circumstance of having a passive/aggressive boss who delighted in tormenting anyone who, in her opinion, was more intelligent/talented/ attractive than she was. This manager was in the process of trying to get me canned, because I am more intelligent/talented/attractive than she was, and the union stepped in and helped me save my job, and, ultimately, my career. This is not to say that unions are saintly organizations; in some cases, they are far from it. In my case, though, with union representation, I get far better pay than average, and quite nice benefits. In fact, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get a job elsewhere that would pay me what I am making now, much less give me the benefits I enjoy.

As for my local academic colleges...feh. The librarians at these institutions of so-called higher learning do not feel inclined to help even the students who pay for their services. So, the college kids come to me, and I give them the assistance they deserve.

Anonymous said...

We only have 36 million or so people in Canada. Lets imported 10 million people from war-torn / desolate countries and give them jobs at the library and civic duties. I am sure they would be GRATEFUL for having a job. Our spoiled N.American brat attitude to life has to end.

YOU GET PAID FOR WHAT YOUR JOB IS WORTH, so don't cry to mommy (Union) when you realize 10 years later you should have worked harder in school... maybe driving a truck and throwing garbage bag into it isn't a "high skilled" job, so why should they get get more money ???

Anonymous said...

So happy to hear that others are speaking out against libraries potential future as pornographic entertainment centres!!!!! One repeat offender got his jollies by surfing porn in plain view of young women and children in anticipation of wandering eyes looking up at his screen! He obviously wanted others, myself included, to be his "uncomfortable" audience!!!!!!! What a fucking outrage!!

Should children and teenagers be allowed in the library unaccompanied by an adult?

Anonymous said...

NOT in Vancouver, BC,...YET??

“the city's public library staff has had to clean semen off the rest room walls after the Internet "research" sessions of certain library patrons. In Phoenix, police were summoned to a public library after a 4-year-old boy was sexually propositioned in the bathroom by a 13-year-old after the teen admittedly engaged in an online chat with pedophiles.

"I have seen cases where pedophiles on the Internet use the library to talk with children and eventually lure them to have a face-to-face meeting," says Julie Posey, director of the watchdog group PedoWatch. "These children are then molested, their photos taken and [the children] further exploited when he sends the child's pictures to masses on the Internet."

Not only do some libraries allow conditions that lead to this illegal activity, but they actually inform library staff they must tolerate it, says Burt, who has since left his library post to work at a software-filtering company. He cites an incident at a public library in Sonoma, Calif., where a staff librarian complained to his supervisor about three men on his shift who downloaded child porn on library computers. The supervisor responded there was "nothing we can do about it," and suggested that the staff ignore such behavior.

Anonymous said...

Isnt it endangering librarians to ask that they identify themselves when asking perverts to leave?

Anonymous said...