A Reflection of the CAUT Librarians’ and Archivists’ Conference, October 25-26, 2019

This article, published in the Fall 2020 issue of The Beacon, was written by Meghan Landry, MLIS Scholarly Communications Librarian, Angus L. Macdonald Library.

As I sit and reflect on the CAUT Conference in Ottawa, Ontario back in October 2019, I cannot help but realize how much the world has changed since. I will not take for granted again the opportunity of joining a large group of academic librarians collectively discussing the future of libraries.
This was my first time attending a CAUT Librarians’ and Archivists’ Conference and I hope it will not be my last. I am grateful for the financial support from the StFXAUT to allow me to attend this conference. The discussions that occurred here have existed before outside of the conference – whether informally between a handful of Librarians or as part of a different conference – but the ideas and statements that transpired in that Delta meeting room are ones that will stick with me for a long time and have made me reassess my own preconceptions and knowledge about the academic library field.

The Conference opened on October 25, 2019 with a session delivered by Dr. Larry Savage, a Faculty Member researching organized labour, from Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario. He reflected on the importance of academic Librarians navigating the neoliberal university, and by extension, the library. Without getting too much into the details of his presentation, the main takeaway was that we are expected to do more with less. This statement really struck home with me because at the Angus L. Macdonald Library, we currently have four permanent Librarians, one contract Librarian, and an Archivist; this is in stark contrast to the librarian complement at the Library years ago. This is a growing trend in many academic libraries, but the Library at StFX is still functioning with less librarians than most of its counterparts of a similar size. At the time I am writing this, one Atlantic University with a similar FTE has five permanent Librarians and two contract Librarians, while another Atlantic University has eight Librarians and two Archivists. However, our workload has not diminished; with the rapidly changing world of scholarly communications, digital initiatives, and research data management, the pressure to keep up is felt more than ever before.

This ‘uncertain time’ is more or less the forced transition from the traditional liaison model to a functional model

That being said, it is not all bad news. As I sat and listened to other Librarians in the room, I realized a sense of pride knowing that we were all in this together and that this opportunity provides an excellent platform to be able to voice our concerns and experiences. Dr. Savage did an excellent job at creating a sense of solidarity in the room with the short period of time he was given to speak, in how Librarians can band together and support one another during this uncertain time. This ‘uncertain time’ is more or less the forced transition from the traditional liaison model to a functional model.

Librarians at StFX have adopted a hybrid model

The traditional liaison model, which affords us the opportunity to liaise with Faculty Members and departments across campus, to speak in a classroom regarding information literacy, and to develop a robust collection to meet the growing needs of learners, is now being replaced with the ability to perform and complete practical duties and projects related to areas such as managing an institutional repository, facilitating research data management, and evaluating open educational resources. The Librarians at StFX have adopted a hybrid model in which we fulfill both liaison duties and functional ones, mainly due to the fact that we do not have enough Librarians to perform just one area of work. I, myself, can say I am very proud of the ‘functional’ projects I’ve completed and continue to toil on, but the work I do as a liaison Librarian is so important to the fundamental role of an academic Librarian. If we lose the liaison model, we lose our ability to influence students, to develop diverse collections for our campus, and our connection with the Faculty Members.

As we moved throughout the day and listened to a panel of Librarians who have been through this forced transition, I realized how important it was to work on defending academic librarianship before it is threatened. We then broke into smaller groups to chat with one another about our own experiences. I got to talk to others in all different scenarios – from no threat of a transition, to those in talks of one, to those that have completed one. Just sitting and listening was an important skill I honed that weekend.

On the second day we moved to the most important, if not most practical, part of the Conference. We were given the tools of resistance – the Collective Agreement and the law – and were put into imagined scenarios in which we were part of a Librarian’s Council where the University Librarian announced staffing changes and a forced transition to a functional model. We all took part in an exercise in which we held a special Librarian’s Council meeting to express our concerns. As beneficial as this mock exercise was, we were still ‘preaching to the choir.’ We were working with other librarians towards the same cause, but this does not accurately reflect most Faculty Associations to which we belong. The StFXAUT is comprised of Faculty Members and Librarians as well as Nurse Educators, Lab Instructors, Dietetic Educators, Program Teaching Staff at the Coady Institute, and others. It is unrealistic and arguably impossible for us to collectively understand everyone’s wants and needs; therefore, it cemented the importance of Librarians continuing to serve on bargaining committees now and in the future. And perhaps, *this* Librarian will do just that.