UCLA Special Collections’ Temporary Librarians speak out at the bargaining table

On July 26th, UCAFT proposed changes to Article 18 of our MOU, regarding Temporary Librarian appointments. Prior to presenting the language to the UC’s bargaining team, the UC-AFT team asked five Temporary Librarians from UCLA Special Collections to give testimony on the necessity of our changes. Shira Peltzman, a potential-career librarian in Special Collections, was proud to assist as they prepared.img_3098-e1532750616685.jpg

Courtney Dean, M. Angel Diaz, Shira Peltzman (not a temp, but she’s still cool!), Lauren McDaniel, Melissa Haley, and Margaret Hughes, ready for action.

The YRL Presentation Room was filled to capacity by the two table teams and over 40 observers, from our bargaining unit but also featuring several students and faculty.  Once introductions were complete, the UCAFT Table Team was proud to introduce these librarians with the following:

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“Good morning. Before we pass the language we’re proposing for Article 18, we need to provide some context. It’s our position that the use of the Temporary Librarian position has been abused during our current contract, echoing abuses during past contracts.  In 2013, Temporary Librarian contract language was altered to be more specific about the conditions under which Temporary Librarian contracts were appropriate in an effort to close loopholes that allowed for UCLA to have over 20% of librarians in temporary appointments. While many of those temporary librarians were made permanent shortly afterwards, seemingly putting an end to this abuse, the practice has resurfaced again in UCLA Special Collections, where ten temporary archivists have been employed within the last two years.”

We then asked our colleagues to come forward.

Below is their statement to the bargaining table in full.

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“While the current contract language on Temporary Appointees in Article 18 addresses the issue we are here to discuss, UCLA has continually abused and misapplied this article, which is why we’re here to support an adjustment today.

We’re here today to share our experiences as temporary librarians at UCLA and to demonstrate how the UCLA Library is in violation of our contract. Because the role of archives and special collections and the work of archivists isn’t always widely understood, we’ll begin by giving some background information to place our work in context. We’ll then share a brief history of the abuse of temporary appointments at UCLA and the harm temporary appointments inflict on the librarians and institutions involved. We’ll talk a bit about the ongoing nature of our positions collectively. Finally, we’ll share comments on this situation by colleagues here at UCLA and institutions across the nation.

Library Special Collections, or LSC, is responsible for collecting, maintaining, preserving, and providing access to records and information of enduring value.

We are one of the largest Special Collections Departments in the country, with between 30-40 FTEs. The department includes Special Collections, University Archives, the Biomedical and History of Medicine Special Collections, and the Center for Oral History and Research.

We differ from the Library at large in how we acquire, organize, and describe collections, in addition to the very nature of our materials. Archival materials are unique or rare in nature, and often the only “copy.” They can vary widely in quantity from a few items to thousands of boxes. While circulating materials require little preparation before they can be used, archival  collections require significant, standardized processing.

Archivists are the heart of any Special Collections unit. The labor that archivists perform is not commonly understood and is usually hidden from library users. Here in LSC, we transform the materials that enter Special Collections in moving boxes, pallets, and other storage media into organized and accessible research collections with a catalog record and finding aid, or collection guide. Typically collections come in with very little order or accompanying documentation. Archival processing involves investigating, organizing, preserving, and describing the materials, whether physical or digital, in more context and detail. In all cases, our goal is to make all materials available to researchers as quickly as possible. Without processing, materials could not be preserved for sustainable use nor would they be discoverable or accessible to researchers–both of which would be incredibly unethical. This ability to balance responsible collection description and care with efficient processing reflects the skills and expertise that LSC relies on. We have developed these skills through our years of professional experience and in earning the Master’s degrees that are required for our positions.

Special Collections continues to bring in collections on an ongoing basis, both small and very large, through a staff of five permanent, full-time curators. We recently completed an unprocessed collections survey and have approximately 2065 collections in our backlog, totalling over 8,500 linear feet, with some of the material dating back decades. Depending on size and condition, processing a single collection can take anywhere from days to years. And just in the last seven months, LSC has acquired an additional 1418 linear feet of materials, and expect to receive another 800 in the next two months. There is no way temp processors can be expected to keep up with this rate of acquisition.

For the last decade, UCLA Library Special Collections (LSC) has relied heavily on a staff of temporary archivists. From 2009-2015, these temporary archivists were classified as staff positions (Principal Museum Scientists). Contracts ranged in length, sometimes as brief as four months, and were often renewed at the last minute, sometimes on the final day of the staff member’s contract. Following a labor-management meeting on the (mis)use of these classifications between UC-AFT and UC Office of the President, in January 2015 temporary Principal Museum Scientist positions were converted to Temporary Librarian positions, and temporary contracts were increased to two-year lengths. Prior to 2013, over 20% of UCLA’s librarians were in temporary appointments. Even as a grievance converted these positions to permanent potential career positions, UC-AFT negotiated stricter language in hopes it would discourage UCLA’s proclivity for temporary contracts.

These changes were intended to protect employees from being exploited by doing librarian-level work without providing them the status, compensation, title, or benefits commensurate with the Librarian series. Since then, however, the use of temporary librarians, or archivists, has increased. Within the last two years, ten temporary archivists have been employed in LSC. As of today, five temporary archivists are employed in LSC. Courtney Dean’s most recent appointment (which was her 6th in 4+ years) ended on June 29th. As of this May, the UCLA Library Administration was in the process of recruiting for a new temporary archivist — however this has stalled since we filed our grievance. All of us are engaged in ongoing, i.e. not solely project-based or grant-funded, work. This is singularly egregious– peer institutions typically have one or two project archivists who are hired on grant funded contracts. LSC is comprised of a staff of 31, which includes five curators (with two additional curatorial roles in the early stages of recruitment). In contrast, LSC’s Collection Management unit is now comprised of a single supervisor and three permanent archivists, only one of whom is primarily focused on processing collections.

The practice of hiring archivists on temporary contracts negatively affects everyone involved — the archivists, institutions, collections, donors, and users.

The practice of hiring archivists on temporary contracts is problematic because:

  • It wastes UCLA Library’s time and resources — Temporary contracts require that the Library recruit, hire, train, and onboard staff anew. With multiple meetings, interviews, phone calls, and writing assignments, the average commitment for members of the search committee is estimated to be between 40 and 80 hours for each recruitment, in addition to the time spent by other members of staff who meet with candidates multiple times.  Temporary staff must apply for new positions mid-way through their contracts, further increasing turnover.
  • It wastes Library Special Collections’ time and resources — Frequent recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, and training requires a significant investment of staff time. A staff that is continually in flux means that time that could otherwise be spent contributing to the strategic priorities of the department, Library, and campus must instead be spent onboarding and off-boarding staff.
  • It disrespects our donors, users, and collections, and subverts the mission of UCLA Library — LSC cannot properly make collections discoverable and safely provide access to materials by relying on an itinerant, and therefore less invested, archival workforce.  This violates our agreements with donors, is irresponsible towards our users, and disrespects LSC’s valuable research collections. As a result, LSC is thwarting UCLA Library’s stated mission to “put users first” and “support open access to knowledge.”
  • It diminishes institutional knowledge — When their terms end, temporary librarians take away with them their knowledge of the systems, tools, and collections they have worked on. Losing this critical information weakens the department in the long-term because valuable skills, knowledge, and relationships disappear.
  • It inhibits long-term decision makingNot having a stable or predictable staff make-up prevents stability among LSC staff, which inhibits long term planning and policy setting, and prevents sustainability of programs and projects as well as the transfer of institutional knowledge.
  • It hinders professional development — The lack of job security for temporary librarians impacts their ability to develop professionally by not allowing them to be involved with long-term projects, give them the space to grow in a role, and at times not giving them the opportunity to go through an official review process (peer review).
  • It is financially harmful — Temporary librarians often do not have the opportunity to get raises, they have to move more often, and might experience periods of unemployment (exacerbated by the hiring process, which is still months-long for temporary positions). The precarity of temporary positions disproportionately affects people of color and places more barriers to entry into the profession. This directly negates the Library’s avowed commitment to diversity of the library and the profession.
  • It damages archivists’ personal lives — Job insecurity negatively affects one’s ability to make major life decisions. They are more likely to move and have to start over. They will feel worried, anxious, and not in control of their futures. They have to spend leisure and vacation time identifying, applying to, and interviewing for jobs.
  • It undermines the professionalism, expertise, and worth of archivists both in the UCLA Library and the field at large. Temporary archival positions as status quo sends the inaccurate message that archivists are disposable and that repeated short-term and fluctuating staffing can meet long-term institutional needs. This implicitly devalues our work and our status as professionals.

The work we do is core to the mission of Library Special Collections as well as the UCLA Library. All of our work is ongoing, none of it is time-limited. The two years given to each of us is arbitrary — the bounds of what each of us accomplishes will be determined by our predetermined time frame, not by the bounds of the actual work to be done. It is openly acknowledged that our work will take longer than the length of each contract.

Four out of the six Librarians listed in the grievance have held multiple temporary appointments within LSC — Courtney has had 6 different contracts, Melissa has had 2, Lauren has had 3, and Lori has had 3.

Many of us started our positions without knowing what specific work we would be engaged in. Specific collections and priorities were not detailed in our job descriptions.

Most of us have been encouraged to build in other project phases for work that would be done after our current contracts have ended.  The scope of the work is so large that we frequently need to survey the situation and provide recommendations for how to proceed.

In addition, doing the kind of foundational work that we all participate in — departmental workflows, policies, etc.- is implicitly packaged into our projects, as we cannot complete our work without these systems in place.

Several of us are continuing work on projects already underway by previous temporary staff. For example Lori Dedeyan and Angel Diaz are working through the excessive University Archives backlog that was built up over many years and processed off and on by temporary employees and students, but there is no permanent archivist devoted to processing these materials. Lauren McDaniel is processing a large, complex collection that was started by another temporary archivist whose appointment ended in February.

Most of the work we have been hired to do will not be finished by the time our contracts end. Moreover, there will always be loose ends. Historically, this has meant some of this work will be discontinued without being completed, and some of our efforts will be lost and wasted. And some of our permanent colleagues will be forced to take on additional responsibilities, to the detriment of permanent staff members’ workloads and the quality and continuity of the department.

Furthermore, LSC needs our participation, knowledge, and expertise in all areas, including reference and instruction. If we were restricted solely to our “projects,” LSC’s permanent staff would have great difficulty in covering all of the so-called extra responsibilities, like reference and instruction, in addition to making available our backlog and continuing to acquire, describe, and make available new collections. Currently temporary archivists work eight total reference shifts a week–the equivalent of a full day–and one of us also covers occasional Saturday shifts, which are difficult to fill.

During our contracts, we become experts on our collections and systems. This expertise–so important to researchers being able to find and use LSC’s materials–is lost when we leave. For example, Maggie Hughes has focused on evaluating processes and implementing new systems and workflows within LSC, including our new collection management system, ArchivesSpace. She has devoted a lot of time and energy to learning about and improving how things are done in LSC. Maggie is our go-to expert for our new technologies, acting as liaison between archivists, catalogers, and the systems. LSC is losing a crucial Collection Management resource when her contract ends in January.

Relying so heavily on temporary hires to fulfill ongoing and long-term departmental needs means that staff turnover within the department is unavoidable; in fact, it has become a matter of routine. In an environment with large-scale and continuous temporary appointments, permanent staff members are left to bare the brunt of onboarding and training new employees. The work that we do as archivists is critical, but having a staff that is constantly in flux makes it extremely difficult and time-consuming to do the jobs we were all hired to do. The constant changes in staffing created by these temporary appointments diminishes our output, seriously harms the long-term sustainability of the department, and negatively impacts our ability to provide meaningful access to the collections that we steward.

LSC cannot responsibly steward new acquisitions without an adequate staff of permanent archivists, let alone make accessible its already large backlog, which is currently undiscoverable by the public. Simply put, it is unethical to continue collecting with the knowledge that there is no sustainable processing program in place. Furthermore, it places the UC Regents, the legal owners of material, at risk if a donor decides to claim that we are not following through on our commitment of responsible stewardship, as laid out in LSC’s deed of gift.

We, the temporary archivists, are professionals with years of experience at top institutions.  UCLA recruited each of us through competitive national searches — and some of us have had to go through this intensive interview process multiple times. We are professionally involved at the campus, local, state, and national level. We are involved with donor relations, classroom instruction, exhibitions, outreach and events, supervising graduate scholars, processing collections, providing reference, creating documentation and policy, staff trainings, data clean up and migrations, systems implementation, and workflow changes.

On June 11th we wrote an open letter the UCLA Library administration detailing this situation and the negative effects on all involved. Since then, we’ve received overwhelming support from our colleagues within the UCLA Library, the UC Library system, and nationally throughout the profession. As of this morning, we have 705 signatures of support.

Our letter provides a space for supporters to leave comments. We’d like to highlight some of the comments most relevant to the issue before us today:

Our colleagues at UCLA say:

  • “This same issue arose in early 2013. A grievance was either filed or was about to be filed by the union about the misuse of temporary librarian positions for necessary, ongoing work. The UL at the time “settled” by converting the existing temporary positions into permanent ones. Why has this happened again in our library? Have we not learned anything? If there is work that is considered important, then provide the adequate long-term staffing for it.”
  • “As someone who began in a temporary position that was primarily focused on ongoing, day-to-day operations, I can attest to the personal and professional insecurity that this situation causes. I had hoped that UCLA would have learned better than to accept the continuous loss of institutional knowledge, and the necessity to frequently train new staff, limiting the effectiveness and productivity of our library. I wholeheartedly support the ending of this practice across the board for positions that support day-to-day operations.”
  • “As someone who was originally hired as a temporary librarian to perform core duties in an essential line, I am surprised and dismayed that the UCLA Library continues this harmful and counterproductive practice.”
  • “As a professional archivist and librarian, I find the practice of abusing temporary positions deeply corrosive to the profession and to the committed professionals who dedicate themselves to it, analogous to the widespread abuse of temporary faculty positions in place of permanent ones. But as an archival educator I am even more troubled by this practice. The talented and hard-working students that I work with deserve to start their professional careers with the same opportunities for stable employment that all of us who have come before them have enjoyed. UCLA should be a better model among our peer institutions.”

Other colleagues nationally, have voiced support, as well. I am going to read a series of quotes:

  • “The practice of depending on contingent labor is both unfair to workers and disruptive to the field as a whole.“
  • “UCLA Libraries cannot build “a library of the future” without equity for the information professionals who execute the core mission of the institution.”
  • “As a former temporary staff member, I know first hand the challenges and undue burden this practice imposes on individuals who devote themselves to the institutions who gladly take advantage. I hope to see this practice come to an end and sign in support of my colleagues at UCLA.”
  • “Replacing long-term library and archives positions with temporary staff is both unethical and short-sighted. Continually having to train new hires significantly reduces a department’s efficiency and cohesion.”
  • “Institutions that have enough funds to acquire collections must also budget enough funds for permanent staff to properly care for them and make them accessible to the public.”
  • “This is an attack on labor rights,  the library profession, and the sustainability of scholarship and communities.”
  • “The practice of relying on contract archivists… devolves our profession into an assembly-line production facility, based on metrics and deliverables, when so much of our work is creative thought (not possible under a deadline), mindfulness, and problem-solving, none of which can be contained by “estimated work hours”. Do right by your employees and the profession, and take this opportunity to be a leader in the field.”
  • “Successful special collections programs cannot rely on project staff for sustainability, growth, and innovation. To do so is short-sighted, and unfair to the project staff, the permanent staff, and the users who donate and use our collections and support our work.”
  • “As was well explained in this letter, temporary positions negatively affect workers, the institution, and the work. Long-term planning is precluded when all workers are temporary workers. When every position posted by an institution is temporary, it also gains that institution a negative reputation within the profession. I recently completed a job search where I specifically excluded institutions like UCLA as potential employers because of this practice. I’m sure others have done the same.”
  • Furthermore, the Digital Library Federation Working Group on Labor issued a statement of support earlier this week, saying:
    “[The letter’s] analysis of the institutional, community, and personal harms resulting from temporary positions aligns with the work of our group and contributes to broader conversations within the field. We encourage UCLA’s Library leadership, its Chancellor, and representatives of UC-AFT to work toward the conversion of term positions within UCLA Library Special Collections to permanent career-track positions.”

To reiterate, the work that I and my colleagues are doing is not project work; it is foundational work that fills a permanent and ongoing need within our department and the Library. The work we are doing, and were hired to do, does not fill a temporary and finite need in the Library and is not time-limited as the current contract language on Temporary Librarians in Article 18 requires. UCLA’s continued disregard for the protections afforded by our contract brings us here today.

Thank you.”


When they finished… the room erupted into sustained applause.  As I said on behalf of our entire bargaining team, we thank you, Maggie, Courtney, Angel, Lauren and Melissa. UC-AFT stands behind you with pride.

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