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Government librarians urged to lobby for jobs in face of outsourcing

Date

Primrose Riordan

Leaked documents show federal government department libraries may be outsourced.

Leaked documents show federal government department libraries may be outsourced.

 

Leaked documents from a post-budget meeting of senior government librarians reveal that many departments' libraries have been, or may be, outsourced, and that senior librarians are urging each other to lobby to keep their jobs.

The Department of the Environment has confirmed its internal library services have been cut. It said library staff had been given options, including redeployment. The collection will be moved elsewhere but it will still be accessible to staff.

The meeting of 30 agency and departmental librarians was held six days after the government's slash-and-burn May 13 budget and suggested deep cuts to, and reviews of, services are under way.

On Monday, Sue McKerracher, executive director of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), which represents public libraries, said she was concerned that a number of federal departmental libraries were being reviewed and said outsourcing would lead to policy development by Wikipedia.

“I think there is a particular situation with federal government libraries and the government is looking to cut costs,” Ms McKerracher said. 

Notes from a speech by an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission employee at the May meeting read: "My agency, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, has already informed us that the library is being considered for outsourcing."

Robert Bollard, customer operations manager at IP Australia, which deals with intellectual property issues, confirmed that external consultants had done a review of the library and its seven full-time equivalent employees.

"We cannot guarantee that staff will maintain exactly the same roles as they did prior to the review" but there were no plans to make staff redundant in 2014-15, Mr Bollard said.

Librarians who spoke at the meeting urged each other to run internal campaigns, aimed at senior department figures, to prove they were not dispensable.

The ACCC employee's speech argued that good advocacy could help improve the position of internal libraries. "To be at the table, we need to engage calmly and positively, providing facts and information – qualitative and quantitative – about the value we provide," the ACCC employee's speech reads.

Speech notes show a librarian from the Department of Social Services pressing colleagues to use every contact with other departmental staff as an opportunity to promote the library. She suggested staff ensure they always told library users "what you‘ve done, how you’ve found it" after every research task.

The notes disclose that, in late May, the Department of Social Services' library was reduced to six employees from a maximum of 37, including up to 15 contractors, in 2004-05, the employee said. 

Ms McKerracher said Google and Wikipedia could not trump specialist database searches done by professional librarians and that closing libraries would expose government departments to a "higher risk of ill-informed decision-making".

Already libraries were run on a tight shoestring, she said, yet they still managed to give politicians and public servants essential information. 

The meeting was held by the Australian Government Libraries Information Network, a non-government organisation that represents, and advocates on behalf of, government librarians. 

A spokeswoman for social services said the meeting's comments were made in passing and had been taken out of context. "The bulk of the discussion [at the meeting] was around strategies for ensuring business relevance of libraries in changing times," she said.

20 comments so far

  • The Queensland LNP government outsourced department libraries. The result was private companies making profits while delivering much poorer services, irreplaceable data getting lost or destroyed and research taking much longer than when it was done in house.

    Commenter
    Mike
    Date and time
    July 28, 2014, 11:39AM
    • Hands of Departmental Libraries! They do good work.

      Commenter
      jj
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      July 28, 2014, 11:42AM
      • And now we have this government attacking the 'expert custodians of knowledge'. I wonder when will the LNP start burning the books…....

        Commenter
        Mitro
        Location
        Australia
        Date and time
        July 28, 2014, 12:01PM
        • The burning of the books is an established trend. Fifteen years ago, the ACT had a terrific library service that used to acquire real books. Not any more.

          Commenter
          Stephen
          Date and time
          July 28, 2014, 12:09PM
      • As a retired librarian I know how hard it is for the profession.
        No strong union to fight the cause.
        Outsourcing is not the answer. Personal upfront service is the answer.
        I worked in Canberra for many years as a librarian in the 70s. Always challenges.
        This government will do anytrhing to save money but can afford to send over 200 workers to the Ukraine/Holland to sort out the mess after plane crash. No votes in librarians.

        Commenter
        Robyn
        Location
        Rural NSW
        Date and time
        July 28, 2014, 12:11PM
        • this is a sloppy piece of journalism. The meeting was not a secret meeting and the papers were made freely available to anyone who couldn't attend. the speech in question was about ensuring libraries remain relevant in challenging times and was about how libraries provide excellent services and need to go out and tell people abut them

          It is pretty clear that Departments are looking for easy savings and think that slashing libraries is one way to get savings. The net result is of course a loss of capacity of agencies to access high quality relevant research, and policy officers spending far more time finding information - lowering the productivity of the public service significantly. Yet more sad and short sighted thinking by public service mandarins.

          Commenter
          dolphin
          Location
          canberra
          Date and time
          July 28, 2014, 1:13PM
          • Not only was this not a 'secret' meeting, from which there were no 'leaked' papers, it also had nothing to do with the budget, being held in Library and Information Week 2014, which is only observed in nearly every library in this country. Sloppy, over-sensationalised tripe, trying to create some ridiculous conspiracy where there isn't one. Do your research.

            Commenter
            DW
            Date and time
            July 28, 2014, 4:39PM
        • I find myself asking, do we really need Dept Libraries? Ours is full of fiction and DVDs. The reference material is stuff readily available from any university library. They are not even resposnible for archiving stuff. Is this a core responsibility or should it be jetisonned.

          Commenter
          Jane2
          Date and time
          July 28, 2014, 1:27PM
          • Jane,
            The Agency where I worked effectively 'junked" its library sometime ago. We had to find a access a particular document produced by our agency that was reference in several different reports that came to the attention of a Parliamentary Inquiry. Alas, everyone involved in producing the original document had been VR'd by that time, the Library had disposed with its own copy through 'rationalisation", and other Government Libraries didn't hold it, due to its specialised nature.

            We finally did obtain a copy - from a small industry association - much to our agencies embarrassment...

            Commenter
            Scott
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            July 28, 2014, 2:56PM
        • Federal Government libraries have been under attack for a decade. Consultants frequently recommend the basic standard of service. Many librarians have been accused of over servicing their clients when the reality is they have ensured they know what their client needs and then goes and finds it. If a Government library is full of fiction then why is that so? Are those fictional stories and DVDs used to represent situations which the staff may encounter?
          It is impossible to access all the information provided by university libraries if you are not a student or staff member there.
          Universities do offer limited access for non students, past students and former academics. That access usually does not include access to many of the databases and electronic books.

          Commenter
          ANZAC
          Date and time
          July 28, 2014, 9:06PM

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