UC Librarians' Workload Survey Results for Berkeley Campus

In March, union officers and staff conducted an online workload survey of UC librarians. 144 UC librarians participated systemwide, 31 from Berkeley. Workload surveys are a demanding genre; they raise a lot of sensitive and complex issues, and consume a lot of time! Some librarians took a look, gave up, and went on to the next task in their busy day. So we deeply appreciate the thoughtful responses we did receive from 31 Berkeley librarians. Those responses are summarized here. Note that not all respondents answered all the questions.

29 of the respondents have full-time appointments, and the other 2 have 70% and 90% appointments, respectively. The two part-time appointees work on average 32 and 40 hours respectively, in each case, 4 hours more than 70% or 90% of a 40 hour week. Full-time librarians’ schedules range widely. 13 average 40-45 hours per week, 3 average 40-50, 4 average 50, 1 averages 50-60, and 3 average 60 hours per week. 18 Berkeley librarians said they feel 40 hours is an appropriate workweek for a librarian; 10 feel that 35 hours is appropriate; 2 feel 50 hours is appropriate and 1 feels 60 hours is appropriate.

When asked if they could fulfill their responsibilities within a 40 hour average workweek, 4 Berkeley librarians said yes; 27 said no. Perhaps some librarians who do manage to limit their schedules to 40 or 45 hours feel dissatisfied with the amount of work they are able to accomplish in that time, or worried that that decision might damage their careers. 21 respondents said they work some nights and weekends when they are not scheduled to work at those times; the frequency ranges from once a month to 6 times a week.

21 librarians feel their workloads have increased in recent years; 10 feel their workloads have stayed roughly the same; no one says the workload has decreased. 10 attribute increased responsibilities mainly to reduced staffing, 18 to new assigned responsibilities, 6 to a larger service population, 8 to organizational change in the library. Comments on this topic repeatedly emphasize changes in information technology as an important reason for increased workload. IT-related activities have obviously been added to many if not most librarians’ duties. Berkeley librarians also do many other things besides reference and collections work, including communications of all kinds including website development and maintenance, publishing, outreach, and fund-raising; they also do supervision, training and reviews of staff and student workers; lots of student instruction and development of instructional materials. Especially in the smaller libraries, they are just plain doing everything, including work that could be assigned to non-librarian staff and student workers.

Nearly all the respondents are extensively engaged in various kinds professional activities over and above their primary duties. 29 of the 31 respondents are active in professional organizations, 19 do instruction, 25 serve on systemwide committees, and 24 do research and writing. For many, this work is one of the pleasures of the job, but even if not, as one respondent pointed out, those activities are considered essential for advancement.

13 Berkeley librarians say they would like workload relief; 4 say they would not; 2 would like protection against additional duties being assigned; 8 are uncertain and would need more information. Those who want workload relief expressed a universal desire for more staff support (and deep skepticism about the possibility of ever getting it based on past experience). 8 would also like to be released from some duties, 4 would like duties adjusted, 3 would like some training, and 2 would like systems improvements.

This data suggests that for most Berkeley librarians, excessive workload is a problem they struggle with, some by working long hours, others by limiting their hours but struggling to get the job done within the limits of a manageable schedule. It seems likely, as one Berkeley librarian suggested to me in conversation, that those who answered “no” or “maybe” when asked if they wanted workload relief feared the possibility that they would find fewer opportunities to do the work they love most, and increase the proportion of time devoted to necessary but less interesting daily duties.

Related to this issue is that of flexible time, and the discretion accorded a professional employee to determine (within limits) work priorities and adjust work schedules as appropriate. Clearly, all UC librarians, including Berkeley librarians, value their flexibility as an essential condition of professionalism. The above-mentioned librarian wonders how colleagues might respond to a proposal allowing librarians to set aside a certain proportion of their time, for example, 20%, for professional and creative activities. Would such a system make it easier for them to prioritize those activities within a more manageable (35-40 hour) weekly schedule, to postpone other kinds of work, and/or to request and obtain the staffing support they need?

Clearly, there are hidden costs when librarians are forced to do work that should be performed by lower paid employees, when low librarian compensation means the Library cannot hire new employees without bringing them in at inappropriately high levels, and when high turnover rates lead to increased hiring and training costs, vacancies, and yet more workload increases for current employees. Additional compensation and staffing are certainly needed and would clearly mitigate, if not resolve the workload problem, but of course, librarians have learned by long experience that UC management is extremely resistant to providing the needed resources. Perhaps, then, it is time to work on developing more effective strategies to address the workload issue directly, both at the bargaining table and on the campuses.

The survey results reveal a shared sense among many librarians on this campus that workload is a problem at Berkeley libraries, and an interest in doing something about it. We are setting up a meeting to discuss the survey results, check the accuracy of this summary, further explore librarians’ views on this topic, and brainstorm about strategies for creating the necessary changes. Similar meetings will be held on UC campuses throughout the state.

The librarians’ MOU will expire in March, 2008. Currently, bargaining is scheduled to begin with initial proposals due from both parties in November 2007. That is very soon. Union leaders are asking Berkeley librarians to participate in the systemwide effort to develop a more effective strategy for ensuring that librarian workloads are more manageable, and also, to identify the other critical issues that should be addressed in bargaining a new contract next year.

We would appreciate any feedback you can offer. Please email msquitieri@sonic.net (Michelle Squitieri) and harrison.dekker@gmail.com (Harrison Dekker, your new local union president) with your comments. Thank you.