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Pandemic Resources for Academic Libraries: Advocating for Library Workers During Uncertain Times

Updated information, professional development, and resources to support academic and research library personnel during a pandemic.

Furloughs and Layoffs: Advocating for Library Workers

by David Free on 2020-07-22T10:53:40-05:00 | Comments

Advocating for Library Workers During Uncertain Times series introduction:

The recent public health situation has created much uncertainty for higher education funding. Libraries are finding themselves in increasingly more complex fiscal situations, with layoffs, furloughs, and budget reductions being announced and anticipated. In this three-part series on Advocating for Library Workers During Uncertain Times, library leaders from institutions of all sizes discuss practical strategies for engaging campus administrators in conversations that emphasize the importance of supporting library employees and the critical work they are doing for their students and organizations. Additional information is available in the recording of our recent ACRL Presents webcast.

In our final post. Kristin Henrich, Associate Dean of the University of Idaho Library, discusses "Furloughs and Layoffs: Advocating for Library Workers." Contact Kristin at khenrich@uidaho.edu.


Furloughs and Layoffs: Advocating for Library Workers

Faced with uncertainties about fall enrollments and the impacts of the continuing pandemic, colleges and universities are bracing for significant financial challenges and reduced budgets. Academic libraries may have varying degrees of autonomy in how they respond to budget cuts, and may be in different phases of budget planning. Some libraries may be in the beginning stages of strategizing for a range of budget cuts, while others may be scrambling to implement university-mandated furloughs or layoffs.

Library administrators can and should advocate for library workers in budget discussions. Effective advocacy includes gathering data and making the case for prioritizing library workers’ employment security to university administration. Some libraries have used peer data taken from ACRL Metrics [1] to show how staffing and collections expenditures compare to other institutions. Demonstrating how understaffed a library is with quantifiable measures can be an effective tactic in persuading university administrators of the need to reduce collections budgets and preserve staff lines. Library administrators should also highlight to university administration the long-term business costs associated with furloughs or layoffs; these include decreases in employee satisfaction, commitment, and performance, in addition to a decline in productivity, innovation, and safety.[2]

Administrators can and should communicate consistently, transparently, and empathetically with employees, acknowledging that fears and anxiety over potential or realized furlough or layoffs can rightfully impact employee capacity, and add to existing pandemic-related stressors (childcare, illness, caretaking, lost household wages) employees may already be facing.[3]  Acknowledge the financial impact of furloughs and layoffs, and where possible allow as much time as possible for employees to take furlough and to have agency over where furlough days are taken. 

In cases where university-wide furloughs or layoffs are in the works or have taken effect--keep advocating. Support your employees by encouraging them to submit feedback regarding furlough or layoff proposals to the faculty senate or staff council. Send your own feedback requesting that employees under a certain pay rate be exempted from furloughs. Where furloughs are voluntary, reassure employees that their decisions about whether or not to take furlough are personal and have no bearing on future opportunities or performance evaluations. Acknowledge and communicate your understanding of the impacts furloughs and layoffs have on employee morale and capacity; reassure employees of your commitment to deprioritize services or programs to match reduced levels of staffing. 

Once employees have been furloughed or laid off, library administrators should support employees by connecting library workers with resources and articulating what employees can expect going forward. Clearly communicate institutional policies surrounding furlough, including reiterating to employees any rules surrounding official communication while on furlough. Many organizations prohibit employees from conducting official work, including email, during a furlough. Make sure to communicate this so that staff and faculty don’t feel abandoned. 

Encourage library workers who have been laid off to file for unemployment, and work closely with library or university human resources to ensure that employees are receiving the resources they need to file, such as an official notice of lack-of-work.[4] Some human resource departments may be unfamiliar or unenthusiastic about facilitating employee applications for unemployment insurance. This is another opportunity for advocacy and collaboration from library administrators. Leverage your professional relationships to help connect your library workers to others who may have been furloughed [5] or laid off, [6] and crowdsource state and community resources to refer library workers to additional social programs. 

Furloughs and layoffs are painful regardless of the circumstances, and are opportunities for empathy, compassion, and advocacy. Library administrators should advocate as strongly as possible for library workers throughout the process. Communicate consistently and transparently within the library, being open with library workers about possible outcomes. Advocate for library workers with university administrators, prioritizing people over resources and highlighting the long-term business costs associated with losing employees. Work closely with library faculty and staff in the event of furloughs or layoffs to ensure people are connected to necessary resources like unemployment and other social programs. 

Notes:
[1] ACRL Metrics. Accessed June 10, 2020. https://www.acrlmetrics.com.
[2] Sucher, Sandra and Gupta, Shalene. “Layoffs That Don’t Break Your Company”. Accessed June 10, 2020. https://hbr.org/2018/05/layoffs-that-dont-break-your-company.
[3] Balzer, Cass. “What’s Lost in a Furlough." American Libraries Magazine. Accessed June 10, 2020.  https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/whats-lost-in-a-furlough/.
[4] Navarra, Katie. 2020. “How to Help Employees Navigate Unemployment During COVID-19”.
Accessed June 10, 2020. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/how-to-help-employees-navigate-unemployment-during-covid-19.aspx.
[5] Bauman, David. "We’re Tracking Employees Laid Off or Furloughed by Colleges." The Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed June 10, 2020. https://www.chronicle.com/article/We-re-Tracking-Employees/248779.
[6] Tracking Library Layoffs. Accessed June 10, 2020 https://tinyurl.com/librarylayoffs.


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