UC Librarians’ Fight for a Pay Raise with Support from a UCSB Student

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Victoria Penate
Staff Writer

The union representing librarians across the University of California system began a difficult contract negotiation with the UC Office of the President, and local students and community members have found ways to show their support.

A recent post on the Free & For Sale (UCSB) Facebook page titled “Bookmarks and solidarity,” made by self-described “super senior,” chemistry major Michael Kile, advertises bookmarks which read “I ♡ UC Librarians” that are being sold to fund efforts supporting the pay raise.

In an interview, Kile explained to The Bottom Line why he believes UC librarians receive insufficient pay. “They are paid 20 percent less than librarians as CSUs and CCs across the state and, due to that wage gap, the UC has a hard time keeping librarians,” Kile said. “In the library here at UCSB, there are three workers handling graveyard [shifts] when there should be five.”

Kile said he learned of the librarians plight when he worked with various librarians and organizers within the local community, emphasizing that he believes student involvement is a powerful way to learn about the particular issues that librarians face.

“[Once] you start forcing more collections [of library materials] onto them, you force them into fields that they are not as specialized in and you reduce their ability to give that time and quality to the students and to their collections,” Kile said. “Getting the chance to meet with them allowed us to gain a more personal connection with their struggle and their community.”

UCSB research librarian Kristen LaBonte said in a separate interview that she personally struggles with the high turnover rate among her colleagues that is produced by uncompetitive wages relative to those at other institutions.

“The retention issue means that the remaining librarians have to cover those positions’ job duties while we search for new colleagues,” said LaBonte. “It leads to burnout, and it’s a detriment to the university to have excellent librarians leave because they could not afford to stay in Santa Barbara.”

LaBonte, who is a Life & Environmental Sciences librarian, added that the additional burden of filling in for empty positions, especially ones outside her field of specialization, has changed her perspective regarding her role as a librarian because it has increased the difficulty of connecting with her originally designated department.

“I am an effective reference and instruction librarian when I can provide those services to the most people and I’m so busy covering for vacant positions that I can’t market these services to the departments that I am a liaison to,” LaBonte explained.

Echoing the appreciation for community involvement expressed by Kile, LaBonte expressed that she would like students and other community members to know that their support is valuable to the UC Librarian union.

“We hope that the community recognizes the benefits of supporting union members, which include their neighbors, family, friends, and colleagues,” said LaBonte.

The UC Librarians have released a petition to be signed by anyone who wishes to express support for their cause. To quote the text of the petition: “Support your librarians so they can better support you.”