The government information department at Swem Library will shut down in January. The staff will be transferred to other departments in a move Dean of University Libraries Connie McCarthy attributes to the budget crunch and necessary restructuring.
“There’s been ongoing discussions of … how many service points you [should] have in a library,” McCarthy said. “We’ve been talking about changes that we will need to make in the organization to move ahead and to maximize our staffing and our services.”
To this end, McCarthy announced shortly after Labor Day that the department would be shut down and the three full-time librarians moved to other areas of the library. She said that other services and interests needed to take priority, such as expanding the Media Center and purchasing more computers for the constantly crowded Information Commons. McCarthy said that Provost Geoffrey Feiss has supported her decision.
However, Alan Zoellner, the government information librarian and head of the department, has been critical of the way McCarthy carried out the department shutdown.
“I sort of feel like a condemned man who now is being asked to plan the details of his execution … but never had a chance to participate in the trial that led to his death penalty in the first place,” Zoellner said. He was careful to point out that he is not sure whether the shutdown of the department is a good decision, but he was clear that he was upset with McCarthy for not consulting him on the change.
McCarthy says that the change will benefit the library and streamline the process of acquiring and cataloguing materials as well as assisting students with research.
“By building this service into Reference, we will be able to offer a higher level of assistance for more hours of the week than is currently available, certainly on evenings and weekends,” McCarthy wrote in a response to Clay Clemens, chair of the government department. Clemens had written McCarthy with concerns about the shutdown, especially any decrease in quality of service to students and faculty researchers. Clemens also wrote that he wished Swem had consulted the department before it made the decision.
Zoellner agreed that the number of questions received by staff has decreased in the past several decades. He noted that many government documents are now electronic. He disagreed, however, with McCarthy’s claim that the change will be more efficient.
“By splitting up the processing of government documents from the public service work of government documents, I think you make everything less efficient, especially as it affects the students and faculty,” Zoellner said.
What Zoellner was more upset about was the treatment of the staff, including himself and librarians Linda Templeman and Cynthia Dellaposta.
McCarthy responded that she made the decision herself.
“It was an administrative decision for the long-term benefit of the library and I felt I had to do it myself,” she said.
Together, the three librarians have almost 70 years of service, experience that Zoellner feels was wasted when McCarthy failed to consult him. One of the librarians was only given a week to decide whether or not she would move to content services.
“She had 33 years of service, and you don’t ask someone to make the decision in three days whether they’re going to completely change what they’re doing,” Zoellner said. “That’s not the way to operate.” McCarthy declined to comment.
Zoellner says he will make the best of the situation.
“I grumble plenty about the dean’s decision, but I believe her when she says that she is proud of the fact that we have provided good service and she’s going to see that that continues,” he said.
“As much as the dean and I say service quality will continue to the best of our ability, it’s bound to slip a little bit,” Zoellner added.
After the shutdown in January, visitors can seek assistance with government information at the reference desk. The department librarians will continue organizing documents throughout the next semester before transferring to other areas of the library.