Sydney University library sheds workers, cuts services

The National Tertiary Education Union released this statement on July 31.


The University of Sydney is in the midst of a major cutback to campus library services, with plans to remove collections from four libraries: Medical, Dentistry, Badham and Camden, restrict access to libraries for undergraduates and outsource technical services. Sixty percent of employees face redundancy.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) said the changes will result in a serious degradation to the university’s ability to meet the library needs of its students and researchers.

Books and other material, previously accessible to researchers and students, will be moved to off-campus storage or to the larger libraries. This will have the knock-on effect of forcing material previously available on the shelves at Fisher and SciTech Libraries to be removed to make room for the extra material. This represents a further reduction of the browsable collection at Fisher and SciTech, and will significantly degrade the utility of the libraries as serious places of research.

NTEU Sydney Branch President Michael Thomson said: “You would think that if the University is going to charge students significantly more for a degree then you would expect improved services such as libraries, not a reduction.”

The second stage of the official change management process — the revised change proposal — has just been released and 157 staff members were told their current positions are now redundant.

“Staff morale is at an all-time low as employees face uncertainty over their futures,” Thomson said. “Having also witnessed the extensive use of natural attrition by University management over the past three years to save costs, despite student numbers rising substantially over the same period.”

The unions representing staff in the libraries have requested financial information to justify the restructure, required as part of the Enterprise Agreement, but have been told by Library management they have no business case for the change.

During a meeting with staff, the university librarian said it was a “no-brainer” that technical services should be outsourced despite being unwilling to present evidence such a move would be more efficient or provide better outcomes.

A rally in support of maintaining library services and current employees will be held on August 13 at 1pm outside Fisher Library. Among the speakers will be distinguished Australian novelist David Malouf.

Malouf is one of the signatories of a public statement against the library cuts. The statement observes that “the essence of a research library is that books are kept, not discarded”, and calls on the vice-chancellor to reverse the cuts, which “threaten the central role that the library plays in the educational and intellectual life of Sydney”.