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The Library Sweatshop Revisited

July 22, 1990

Ron Kelley's commentary ("Enpapers," May 20) on staff work life at the UCLA Library and at the Southern Regional Library Facility (SRLF), which is located at but not administratively part of UCLA, raises provocative points.

Clerical work in the on-line environment is potentially alienating and unhealthful, and automating a large and complex library collection necessitates lots of tedious and detailed work. However, some of these facts are wrong or confused, and it is not an accurate depiction of working in the UCLA library system.

Kelley's analysis omits one very real problem. Since budget allocations are inadequate, the library recoups "salary savings" by not immediately or sometimes not ever filling positions left vacant by attrition. This causes greatly increased workloads for all the remaining staff. Overwork greatly increases the stress and strain of work in the automated environment.

He paints a picture of division between the working ranks of the library assistants and the librarians, but in fact we are frequently allies in striving for better working conditions. We cooperate where possible, and certainly try not to actively hinder each other. Most librarians at UCLA do not supervise any library assistants, let alone exploit them, as Kelley would have us believe. There are no librarians in any capacity in the SRLF, for instance.

Job specialization is certainly the case in the library, but not the sort he describes, where the library assistants are the sole possessors of detailed knowledge of the on-line systems, and the librarians have, as he says, "the minimal level of computer literacy."

This is simply not the case. All of us in the library must understand ORION, and at the level of detail appropriate to our assignment. That some positions (librarian and library assistant) require more knowledge of the technical nitty-gritty does not mean they are superior to other positions, again both librarian and library assistant, which have a different but equally important sort of responsibility in relation to the computer system . . .

Last, the fact that librarians enjoy higher salaries as a group than the library assistants is no different than attorneys or business executives being paid more than paralegals or administrative assistants. Creating imaginary rivalry between us does not eliminate this difference, nor improve any salary levels in the library. No one appreciates the work of the library assistants more than the librarians, and we always support any possibility of improving their employment situation.

In the changing work environment brought about by automation, all of us in the library are very concerned that our jobs remain safe and satisfying. Kelley's piece has caused much discussion in the library, perhaps its most redeeming feature. We hope these discussions lead to identifying and eliminating any shred of truth in his portrayal of work life at the UCLA Library.


UCLA Librarian and President, UC-AFT Local 1990 (Faculty and Professional Union at UCLA)


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