July is here, and that means that my vacation is starting. I love my job, I really do, but I have to admit that I long for some vacation time this year. It has been a good semester in many ways. It felt just like “old times” (everything pre-pandemic is now “old times” in my book) with bachelor’s students lining up outside my office to get help with their academic writing, databases and reference lists – as well as some mental support in a stressful time. E-mails kept pouring in, messages on boards and Padlet kept popping up. I like a bit of action, and I love it when I can contribute to learning.
In other ways it has been a very stressful and difficult semester. The library has been through a full reorganisation, and I think that I can say (without being disloyal) that is has been a hard journey – and really, even though the formal stuff is over, it is now we really begin the work. From June 1st I got a new manager and a new section. The new manager has been the head of another section for many years, and she has broad and extensive experience in that role, so I am not at all worried on that score. However, it will be a change not to formally belong to the same section as the ones I work closely with. Trying to figure out all the new sections, teams, colleagues, leaders, mandates etc. is hard, and I cannot count how many pages of information I have tried to comb through in order to find answers that we may or may not have yet. Who knows, maybe the new organisation will work well? We don’t know yet. I am willing to put my best foot forward and do my best for it to succeed. What we do know, however, is that the decision to reorganise (yet again) is based on economics. I have been told over and over again that the library needs to save money. I have not really heard how this new organisation is supposed to save money, but there it is. There may of course be something buried in a report or in minutes from meetings somewhere, or maybe I’ll understand it better later. For now, I try to just flow along with the stream.
Speaking more generally, I worry about the strong presence of New Public Management (NPM) in universities and academic libraries. I subscribe to the idea that we should be doing Slow Librarianship, and that this would be the best way to serve our patrons and ourselves in the long run. I think of NPM as a management method to increase efficiency and reduce cost, and while I know this is oversimplifying things, it doesn’t really belong as a tool in academia. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using your resources well and to cut unnecessary services and redundant tasks when one can. What is problematic, however, is considering everything to be measurable and to assume that anything that cannot be measured is redundant. There are so many x factors in education, and I belive that to take a management methods made for factories and so on may not serve us well in the longer run. Libraries need funding, we need people, we need space, we need knowledge, we need time. I am not saying that we should never expect to be audited, but that sometimes things cost money and resources. On my best days as a teacher, I hope to inspire and to awaken curiosity for learning. It may take years for that idea to actually manifest itself. Does that mean we should not try for it at all? No. I can do as many assessments I want, I can post evaluations, I can work evidence-based (and I really try to) but it can never really measure the importance of my efforts. In the new organisation, I worry that NPM will drive all the efforts even more to the bone, and that we will be left with something that may be more efficient in an economic sense, but that no longer has deep and meaningful connections to the overall goal of any academic library.
So – that was that for this semester. Starting tomorrow, I will try to leave my librarian persona behind while I take some much needed vacation time with my family. Maybe I’ll see this more clearly after a few weeks off with some refill of energy and reflection.
Have a lovely summer!