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Ventura County Perspective

Rethink Librarian Cuts

April 19, 1998

It's like musical chairs: When downsizing leaves more workers than jobs, somebody has to go.

The traditional way to assure fairness is the seniority system. The last to be hired are first to be fired, and that makes sense in many cases.

But in the reorganization of Ventura County's library system, sticking to seniority is threatening to eliminate all of the system's most experienced and devoted children's librarians. That result, apparently unintended, is unacceptable. The county and its employee union should take another look at the situation.

Last month the Board of Supervisors approved a plan to reduce library staffing by the equivalent of 15 full-time positions, creating 19 slightly different jobs. Initially based on job skills, the plan was amended after negotiations with the Service Employees International Union to emphasize seniority.

The five current youth librarians are listed in a lower job level, which means they cannot apply for the smaller pot of jobs.

That's especially ironic because the county's radical restructuring plan was promoted to the public as a way to improve children and youth services at libraries across the county, along with saving enough money to keep the 15-branch system open more hours without a budget increase.

Countywide, more than half of regular library patrons are kids--and that's likely to increase as more branches add homework centers. What's so specialized about being a children's librarian? Several things:

* You need to know the literature: Which picture books are most engrossing for a fussy 3-year-old? Which biography of Amelia Earhart will be just challenging enough for a 10-year-old? Which Young Adult romances will strike a '90s teenager as cool, not corny?

* You need to enjoy your customers: If kids are enjoying story hour or a Dr. Seuss read-along with Mom or Dad, they may get a little noisy or squirmy. It's tricky to balance the traditional "Shhhhh!" response with the desire to make the children's room an inviting, fun place--a place to be used and enjoyed.

* You need to be ahead of the multimedia curve: In any office there are some folks who love computers and others who merely endure them. Guess which kind are going to be most in tune with young library patrons weaned on the Internet and interactive storybook software.

In short, it takes a special set of skills, attitudes and even personality to get kids hooked on the adventure of reading. Since the belt-tightening will leave no money for training, it's even more important to give the experienced children's librarians already working in our libraries a shot at these jobs.

We urge the county and the union to reclassify children's librarian as a special position and allow everyone who is being laid off to apply.

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