Burnley Students Critical of Proposed Library Cuts8 April 2018
The University library is planning on cutting working hours for Burnley library staff, drawing backlash from the Burnley Student Association (BSA). Following negotiations, the University and Burnley library staff have compromised by providing increased student access hours.
The proposal stands to come into effect in semester two, giving librarians weekday hours of 1pm to 5pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and 1pm to 6pm on Tuesday and Thursday, and swipe card access for staff and students from 8am to 9pm, from Monday to Friday. During swipe card access hours, students will have access to the general collection, self-service checkouts, and a query service connected to the ERC Service Desk.
The BSA has launched a petition and a survey to fight the library cuts and is working with the University of Melbourne Student Union to contact old alumni and raise awareness. “It’s the BSA’s position that out of hours access is insufficient because it leads to theft and loss of tracking,” said BSA Campus Coordinator James Barclay. “Librarians are more than just a bookkeeper … they are essential in helping students find what they need and also guide and study.”
The library staff also held a feedback meeting on 28 March, where 20 of the approximate 250 student body were present. In it, a University professor encouraged spreading awareness, telling students, “you should make your voice heard.”
The University explained the cuts as a response to steadily tightening staffing resources and a decline in loans and service desk enquiries at Burnley Library in recent years. They cited statistics which showed a decline of 3,018 loans and 220 queries from 2015 to 2017. According to a University spokesperson, the current proposal is expected “to continue to meet the demand of students.”
However, the number of loans do not accurately reflect the number of people using the books, according to BSA Advocacy Officer Charlotte Bartlett-Wynne, who said that students usually read the books in the library without borrowing them. Bartlett-Wynne highlighted the importance of longer library access, stating that, “A lot of [students] have class for a lot of the day … and a lot of the books are really big and heavy, and so taking them home would be a problem for people who ride here, who take public transport.” When asked what proportion of Burnley students would be against the cuts, she replied, “100 per cent.”
Barclay personally condemned these changes as “cutting into the resources to ultimately squash a campus that is otherwise seen as a liability”, and described the University as “more focused on making money than about providing quality education.” Bartlett-Wynne added that, “as much as we appreciate the compromise [of swipe card access hours] … that’s still not going to be good for us. It’s going to be better than nothing, but it’s still not going to be good. We want to have our library back.”
The National Tertiary Education Union is also against this proposal, which was described as “a further diminishment of the services available to students and another step backwards” by Melbourne Branch President Steve Adams. “Students are expected to pay thousands of dollars for their education, yet the University is offering fewer services in spite of the increased cost of their education,” he added.
This takes place amidst other cuts in the Burney Campus, such as last year’s cancellation of the Associate Degree in Urban Horticulture, and the loss of 27 Burnley library staff following the 2015 Business Improvement Program (BIP). Classroom buildings have also been sold to corporate real estate earlier this year according to Barclay, who stated that “it seems… the university is chipping away at this campus for the price of real estate.” He also attributed these cuts to the BIP, which he described as “a cost saving measure… the ultimate goal of [which] is to centralise everything into Parkville”. Since the BIP, the library has been staffed by a rotation of non-permanent librarians, consisting of permanent staff from Parkville and casual staff.
Cuts to the University libraries are also ongoing, with a forced reduction of library staff by 1.5 per cent every year, according to Karen Kealy, the associate director for information services and library spaces. She stated that last year libraries were fined for going over the staffing allowance. “We have to manage our libraries with the limited staff we have, and the limited budget we have,” she explained.
This isn’t the first time that the University has proposed cuts to Burnley library hours. In 2015, following the BIP’s cuts to library staff, the University sought to cut opening hours. Due to student backlash, the proposal was abandoned.