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value in the age of capitalism -- musings of a fake academic librarian

I’m probably going to make someone mad with this post… based on the last bargaining session we had with the University, some things became abundantly clear to me. But… the U didn’t appreciate how I framed their position, despite it being accurate. Apparently putting things into relatively plain language that I’m capable of understanding puts a negative appearing spin on the whole issue.

The last time I blogged about our collective bargaining, I mentioned that one of two scenarios was happening here. Either they university was leaning towards a kind of deprofessionalization or towards adjunctification. Based on yesterday’s discussion, the latter appears to be where they are going. Actually, I just re-read all of my last post and basically everything that I was guessing was the situation is in fact the situation.

The distinction I made within the session was that the University basically does not view us as academic librarians. They do view our work as being within the professional practice of a librarian (so this isn’t a situation of deprofessionalization). But we are most certainly not a part of York’s scholarly community. And – more importantly – they do not want us to become part of York’s scholarly community. Essentially… we are non-academic librarians who work at a university.

The sad thing? I actually really understand their position on this. They based their assessment of our roles in the overall library structure by looking at job ads and talking to department heads. Since neither of those two sources suggested that either research or service was a requirement for our jobs, their position is that we have never been academic librarians.

(Note: for the sake of this blog post, I’m defining an ‘academic’ librarian in the context of our institution. York librarians are part of the faculty association and go through a tenure process just the same. So research – in the form of publishing, presenting, etc. – and academic service are necessarily part of their job. This is what an academic librarian is at our institution. This may or may not be true of anywhere else.)

One of the issues we ended up spending a lot of time on was whether or not reseach has been part of our jobs. It took a while but I finally got the U to define what they meant by ‘research’ which was basically anything you could put into a tenure package. So concrete, quantifiable research products (not necessarily the act of research itself). We argued that we do research (I myself have published a peer-reviewed article and done a few conference presentations during my time at York). They argued that this was irrelevant.

They, of course, didn’t like my use of the word ‘irrelevant’ since this is part of what makes it sound negative. But I’m really using this in the technical sense. As in… our research, however defined, isn’t relevant to our positions at York. It isn’t a requirement of our job and they don’t want it to become a requirement of our job. Which, um, by defintion means that our research contributions are irrelevant.

I do get why they were resistent to this word. They iterated many times that they value our labour – in this particular case that they value our research. As I noted in the previous blog post… this isn’t the case. We are negotiating within a capitalist structure. ‘Value’ within this context is quantified by dollar amounts.

They explicitly said that we are not pro-rata FT librarians. As in, we are not the same as the FT/academic librarians at work, just working fewer hours. What this amounts to saying is that they do not see the numerical value of our labour to be the equivalent hourly wage of a FT salary. In other words: they have no intention of paying us at a similar wage to FT librarians because our research is irrelevant and they don’t value it (remember value = money in capitalism).

(Sidenote: this is also why the academic freedom thing isn’t something they think is necessary. In all the respects that matter within a university structure they do not see us as academics of any kind: thus, we do not need academic freedom.)

It was a tough discussion yesterday since, for fairly obvious reasons, they didn’t really want to outright say any of the above. Because it looks ‘bad’ or something.

Its funny though because, for myself at least, I’m not actually trying to make them look bad or unreasonable. Now that I understand their position a part of me actually agrees (I’d be a hypocrit not to). Its on record that I’ve said that I’m not convinced that academic librarians need either tenure or academic freedom. These words have literally come out of my own mouth. So I’m not going to try and shame York over saying the same thing I have.

From another perspective, I actually really understand why they don’t want us to be ~real~ academic librarians. At York there is kind of an ongoing issue with the FT/academic librarians. For example, in the area of reference, most of the FT/academic librarians essentially refuse to do reference hours despite this actually being part of their jobs. As a result, in Scott Library at least, PT librarians who do the bulk of reference within the library.

In other words: our positions exist as a way to fill in the practical gaps that the FT/academic librarians aren’t willing to do (and apparently can’t be compelled to do since they have tenure and do what they want). As such, opening the door to us being academic librarians could likely lead to a situation where we also try to stop doing the practice parts of our jobs (maybe instead focusing on research or service). Except that someone actually needs to do librarian work. Or at least the librarian work that the FT/academic librarians either can’t or won’t do.

So I guess in a way, they are simultaneously recognizing that we do play a valuable role within the library (we are necessary to the operations of the library) its just that this role isn’t an academic one. Will this acknowledgement of the value we bring to the library be expressed in dollars? I’m not sure. I guess it’ll depend on our expectations. I think we’ve gotten a pretty clear indication that we will not get an hourly equivalent to a FT salary. It just isn’t going to happen.

For my part, I’m not super bothered by this, at least not now that I understand where they are coming from. I also can see some other ways that they could acknowledge the value of our role in the library without necessarily paying us the same as FT librarians. I think I’d be willing to accept this lowered status on the condition that we are able to get permanent PT positions. This would at least acknowledge that there is an ongoing need for us within the library and that we play a valuable enough role that they might have a vested interest in ensuring we stay.

I could deal with exchanging some dollars off my wage for greater permanency and stability in terms of my job. Not having to reapply for my position every year would be fucking awesome. I have a feeling that this isn’t going to happen, though. Even though I know our proposal for permanent PT really amounts to just that: not having to reapply for our positions every fucking year. It isn’t even remotely close to tenure. They can fire or lay us off for all the same reasons they can now.

Hrm. I think that about sums up where I am with all of this. Getting here based on yesterday’s session wasn’t easy. I had to play the disability card several times during it. First was to get people to stop interrupting and speaking over each other, my brain was not able to process what I was hearing when that happened. Second was to help cut through the corporate double speak and bullshit to get a clear statement of their position.

I kept asking them for clarification and restating what I heard (hey, active listening skill but also necessary for the slow thinkers like myself). But each time I’d restate what I heard (in language that makes sense to me) I’d get a wall of words saying exactly the same thing but in a confusing jumble. At the end of the session, I basically got frustrated and outright said that all of my questioning is because I have a disability and I’m trying to make sure I actually understand what is happening (again this is where issues of my word choice came up).

Its weird. While I think I kind of get it, one of the biggest problems I have with these sessions is that everyone appears to be trying so hard to be persuasive or whatever that we lose a lot of accuracy and clarity. Its incredibly difficult to have an even remotely productive discussion in such a context.

Example: I think it was about 20 minutes into the discussion about research activities with each side literally just restating their position in different words until I asked the question, ‘Wait, what are we considering research in this context? Because its pretty clear we aren’t talking about the same thing.’ And it turned out that we weren’t using a shared notion of what ‘reseach’ was. Which means we really did a spend a lot of time talking at cross-purposes because we failed to establish common ground.

And even after, I managed to get the U to give us a defintion of ‘research’ I still – over and over – had to repeat that this was the defintion I was using while discussing research. Because I’d say something and the response would make it pretty clear that they thought I meant something else by research. It was super annoying.

But I’m personally glad that I played the disability card. I think this is one of the first real-time situations where I’ve explicitly declared my disability and asked for accommodation. It felt good. It felt really good to actually leave the session feeling fairly confident that I understood what happened. And now that I’ve cracked this nut open, I’ll be doing this in every other session.