Sunday, November 14, 2010

Adult Librarians - a dying breed at LAPL

We're in the midst of a fascinating and unsettling situation here at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Thanks to ongoing City budget woes, we haven't hired any new librarians for about two years, so we haven't been able to fill holes caused even by normal attrition. And then about a year ago, an Early Retirement Incentive Program was approved, which encouraged over 100 retirements, mostly from the supervisory and administrative levels, by May 2010. In June, about 160 LAPL employees were laid off, including 20 librarians.

As a result of this severe pruning of our workforce, we eliminated two of our open nights and all Sunday hours at all agencies last April, and in July we eliminated Mondays as well, leaving us open only 5 days a week.

Here's where it gets interesting. Back before all of this, the professional staff at a typical branch consisted of one branch manager, one adult librarian, one young adult librarian, one children's librarian, and one more half-time librarian (who might be adult, YA, or children's, depending on the branch).

Thanks to our leaner workforce and shortened hours, that professional staff has been cut back - now the typical branch must have just one branch manager, one young adult librarian, and one children's librarian. A few larger or busier branches might have a bit more staff, including perhaps an adult librarian, but in general the adult librarian positions have been eliminated, as well as almost all the half-time positions.

Ah, but there are still plenty of librarians inhabiting those eliminated adult and half-time positions!

Bluntly put, those adult and half-time librarians must make a change.
  • If there is a children's or YA vacancy in their own branch, they may choose to take that position.
  • If there isn't a vacant children's or YA position but the adult librarian has seniority over the children's or YA librarian in that position, the adult librarian may "bump" that librarian. The bumped children's or YA librarian must then interview for a vacant position in another branch.
  • If adult librarians don't wish to remain in their previous branch, they may interview for a vacant position.
  • Same thing goes for half-time librarians - except that since they aren't allowed to become full-time right now due to the hiring freeze, they must inhabit half of a position, leaving the other half vacant and available for another half-time librarian.
What all this means is that a bunch of adult librarians have bumped children's or YA librarians in their branches, a bunch of children's and YA librarians have been displaced and will be interviewing for children's and YA positions in other branches, and some adult librarians will also be interviewing for positions (children's, YA, and the very few adult positions available).

Interviewing will take place through the end of this month, selections will be announced in the beginning of December, and all librarians will start in their new locations and/or positions on January 3.

Now - if you were a life-long adult librarian who became an adult librarian precisely because you did NOT want to be a children's or YA librarian, would you be happy right now? Probably not. I'm figuring that there are at least a few worried, scared, annoyed, and downright angry and resentful adult librarians out there in LAPL-land, dreading January 3 with all their souls.

On the other hand, there well may be a few adult librarians who are thrilled (or at least cautiously optimistic) about the prospect of joining the ranks of dedicated children's and YA librarians. After all, it is undeniable that we have the most fun (even if we do work the hardest as well). And if I do say it myself, our Youth Services coordinating office pretty much beats the pants off all the other departments.

Still, I have to acknowledge that there will be a bit of unwillingness, some negative attitudes, and quite a bit of ignorance about early literacy, teen advisory groups, manga, storytime, and on and on. I'm rather worried that some of these soon-to-be children's and YA librarians don't even seem to like or understand kids and teens.

My challenge is to provide these librarians with the training, the resources, and the motivation to do their new jobs well. The skills and knowledge are easy to impart, but the enthusiasm and missionary zeal that we dyed-in-the-wool children's and YA librarians feel about our jobs will be a harder sell. I don't want a bunch of half-hearted librarians serving this City's children, teens, families, teachers, and caregivers. Good service matters, now more than ever.

I plan to draft all our excellent, experienced children's and YA librarians (at which ever branch they end up after the Great Migration) to help me train, mentor, and encourage their new youth services colleagues. It's going to be an exciting and energizing challenge.

Bring it on!


  1. That's really sad news, Eva. It's certainly true that plenty of adult librarians out there don't really relish working with either children or teens, but now that will be their only choice or else lose their jobs. The City of Los Angeles should be able to do so much better....

  2. That's just...crazy. No disrespect to adult librarians and I've worked with many who were very flexible and welcoming to children and teens, but in my opinion children's and teen librarians are much more varied in their abilities to work with a wider range of ages - after all, we work with kids AND parents, while many adult librarians may occasionally answer a homework question at the desk and that's it. On the other hand, were I to be forced to interact solely with adults, teach computer classes, plan adult programs and speakers, etc. etc., I would go stark raving mad and probably irrevocably destroy patron relationships with at least half the adult patrons.

    But, if anybody could do this, you can! I await your success with confidence and awe!

  3. The other side of this is that many of the adult librarians who are no longer going to be adult librarians have been awesome: dedicated and hardworking, doing phenomenal programming. The last few years of increased adult programming is, I'm afraid, going to go the way of the dodo.

  4. Good point. What about all the 30-somethings, baby boomers, and senior citizens? Who will coordinate book clubs and other adult programming? Who will teach computer classes for adults? Branch Managers are already pretty busy as it is...

  5. Just to provide some historical perspective: when I started working for LAPL in the early 1970s, there were still several "sub-branches" with only one librarian in charge and a minimal clerical staff. Those were upgraded in the mid-70s, but the minimal staffing then was one senior librarian, one children's librarian, and a half-time YA librarian. We were open the same hours as libraries with larger staffs -- including four nights and Saturdays.

  6. Like I always say - there were giants in those days!

  7. I think the whole experiment has failed and LAPL staff morale has suffered accordingly. The system is going down the tubes.