Eliminating chief librarian role will put BU in ‘weak spot,’ archivist says
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This article was published 02/04/2018 (1894 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The head archivist at the University of Manitoba says eliminating the chief librarian at Brandon University will put the school in a “weak spot” when it comes to advocating for the library in the future.
Dr. Shelley Sweeney, who heads the U of M’s archives and special collections, says she was dismayed when she first heard that BU planned to merge its university librarian with two other positions — the director of information technology services and director of institutional data and analysis — to form a new role called the chief information officer.
The university announced in mid-March it would merge or eliminate nine senior administrative positions, including three vice-presidents and the dean of graduate studies, after the province reduced its operating grant to BU by approximately $340,000.
“I can appreciate that perhaps the government wants the universities to cut back, and they obviously have a particular political take on what should be cut back, as in management positions,” Sweeney said, “but it just seems kind of extreme.”
Sweeney has worked in libraries for 35 years and although she isn’t a librarian herself, she said the library is heavily connected to the archives and without an informed leader at the top, their work would be less efficient.
And although people are increasingly using library services online, Sweeney said librarians are still needed to provide support to students and faculty.
At a BU board of governors meeting on March 17, interim president Steve Robinson addressed the management cuts, saying while a lot, it was believed to be the best and most creative way to preserve their functions.
“That was a hard process to be a part of planning that, so it’s not a happy day to make an announcement like that,” he said.
“But the goal is to ultimately reduce the cost of education at Brandon University, while preserving front-line services, especially to students at Brandon University, and we think we’ve done that.”
Robinson said he was expecting the province to keep its operating grants to post-secondary institutions at the same level as last year and was surprised to see a reduction in the government’s budget.
As for the librarian, Robinson said it was natural for students and faculty to have concerns around what this may mean for the library.
“It’s our intention to replace these positions with a CIO, or chief information officer, who by the very nature of that position will have to be a very capable, well-prepared individual who’s able to manage all three of those areas with (the) knowledge and sensitivity required.”
Although he couldn’t promise the CIO would be a librarian or someone in IT, Robinson said a person would only be put in that role if the university was confident he or she could lead the library and maintain services.
“This doesn’t represent a diminution of the importance of the library, or of IT services, or of data analysis at the university. It represents a creative attempt to find a way to reduce management, while co-ordinating activities of all of those units, which are very closely related.”
The details will be worked out over the coming months as the university prepares to introduce a budget in May.
But with the IT knowledge required for the job of CIO — including the technological shifts taking place in libraries as more texts become digitized — Sweeney said she didn’t think one person could do it all without having to hire additional staff.
“I think that right now is just about the worst possible time they could have chosen, because libraries are really undergoing quite an enormous amount of change at this time.”
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