Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Downgrading library posts

Three long serving librarians at the University of Leeds are to have their salaries cut as part of a university wide review of gradings according to Information World Review. The subject librarians have filed an appeal and CILIP advisers have been advising them.

This is an example of "red-circling" where posts are identified for downgrading following a job evaluation exercise. An article in Library and Information Gazette (23 February - 8 March) takes a close look at this process. Many organisations use a scheme for job evaluation - the Higher Education Role Analysis scheme (HERA), Hay Group and Gauge are examples. They are "black boxes" - you input details of the job and it produces a recommended grade. In theory this is not a cost-saving exercise, it is just meant to ensure that people in different jobs are on a fair grade for that job - but there are issues. How has the "black box" been constructed? What values have been put on different skills and responsibilities? Are information skills rated as highly as say teaching or IT skills?

Librarians are probably right to distrust this process in which misconceptions about what an information professional does might have become embedded into the black box. But there is also a challenge for the profession. We must always ask ourselves two questions - are we "doing things right" and are we "doing the right thing"?

The first is simpler. It is about basic professional competence- ensuring that we have the skills and knowledge to do the job, that we keep ourselves up-to-date with developments and we have a professional attitude. The second is more tricky. We have to constantly check that what we are doing is what needs doing. Have things changed? This could be the technology, or the requirements of our users, or the expectations of our employers.

I sometimes hear people defending their expertise on the grounds that they have so many years of experience. But the pace of change in librarianship is such that what you did and knew five years ago is largely irrelevant today. If you are still doing the same things and still have the same knowledge and skills that you had five years ago them you are probably no longer competent to practice. Your years of experience are only valid if you can demonstrate continuing professional development over that period and you have re-examined your basic role in the organisation. The paradox is that your awareness of the changing role of your job may be in advance of that of your manager or organisation. One day you are pushing against a barrier of organisational inertia, the next the organisation is telling you that you have not kept up with changes in your role.

This relates to my postings on the new Occupational Standards. While we are defining the skills that librarians need we must not preserve an outdated view of what the role of the librarian is. That role will and must change and we must change with it.


Stephanie said...

I am very concerned about these issues for the profession as a whole. In public libraries, many jobs are being downgraded from professional posts too. I would like to see libraries and library and information professionals selling themselves and their services. Libraries should be a natural gateway for members of any organisation to access information and resources. The skills of information professionals are ideally suited to dealing with the fast-paced world of the internet.

Sorry - didn't mean to rant on, but I feel very strongly that valuable skills are being lost in organisations because the 'hirers and firers' don't understand what information professionals actually do. Sadly, as a sector we aren't always as 'up front' about telling them as we could be.

Carl said...

There was a good debate about this on the CILIP Communities (http://communities.cilip.org.uk/ )(You have to be a CILIP member to use this). Librarians do need to promote their role in a very positive way. I think that librarians often forget that senior management is their customer as well. They have information needs that the library should be providing and also they buy the library service on behalf of the institution. We should do more to "delight" this particular customer.