On Tuesday 21st August an undisclosed number of anonymous library staff and students ate, drank and chatted at Edition Book Bar in Pyrmont, Sydney.
This event was co-hosted by ALIA Sydney and ALIA Students and New Grads Group, and presented the results of a survey into the income, conditions and employment experiences of library professionals, particularly in the Sydney area. There was lively discussion around the difficulties of living in Sydney on a librarian’s income, especially when over 50% of survey respondents, and a large proportion of event attendees have accepted a LIS position they were overqualified for.
In attendance was a representative of a union that some library staff are eligible to join. We were informed of the benefits we can access as union members, including someone to fight on our behalf when we are asked to do things outside our employment conditions. Many staff were asked to work weekends without pay, but only work for time-in-lieu that had strict conditions upon when it could be taken, and meant that library staff were not paid penalty rates for weekend shifts, as per their award.
The increased casualisation of the workforce in libraries was discussed from both the point of view of the employee and the employer. Agency work can be a foot in the door and give new graduates some experience in order to apply for permanent work, but the turnover of staff impacts senior staff and service outcomes. While it saves the employer time in recruitment, there is a time cost in training short-term employees which is often overlooked by management.
One of the great things about working in a library, said one anonymous attendee, is that, unlike the corporate world, everyone is getting paid about the same amount. You don’t have to worry about the person next to you getting paid ten times your salary, to do the same work. This is, in part, due to most library staff being covered by an industrial award, and often employed by government agencies.
However, there is still scope for some negotiation, such as employers paying for attendance at conferences, and other professional development opportunities.
Overall, it was a good night of meeting new people and continuing conversations with more well-known faces. There are plans for a repeat event, tackling a different topic, in the coming months.
Thank you to the Edition Book Bar who hosted us and generously offered attendees a discount on any books purchased that night.