Picture this: a massive treasure trove of centuries of books and periodicals, newspapers and films, digitally housed in one place as both a public necessity and a faculty and student research center.

CFA member and CSU Domiguez Hills librarian for business administration, advocates for work schedule flexibility for all CSU librarians
Wendolyn Vermeer, a CFA member and CSU Dominguez Hills librarian for business administration, advocates for work schedule flexibility for all CSU librarians.

Not just in a building on the CSU campuses, only accessible when the physical gateways open, but also a virtual access point with working caregivers of this information center afforded the flexibility and autonomy in schedule to work from home to ensure student success at all hours.

Welcome to the modern proposed CSU library, one initially proposed before the turn of the century by librarians and fast-tracked during the COVID-19 pandemic, with potential permanency for workers in sight with a new contract.

“Students sleep, work, study, and play in odd hours of the day and night. Being able to meet them where they are at has always been librarians’ goal,” said Vang Vang, an instructional technology librarian at Fresno State, California Faculty Association Treasurer, and member of the Bargaining Team.

CFA member and treasurer holding a sign pushing for Rights, Respect, and Justice for librarians
Vang Vang, CFA Treasurer and member of the Bargaining Team pushing for Rights, Respect, and Justice for librarians.

“We found our students need help not where we’re sitting at a reference desk,” said Kelly Janousek, a librarian at Long Beach State and member of the CFA Bargaining Team. “We don’t need to be locked into a building [to] help students when they need the help.”

Vang and Janousek are two of a consortium of librarian leaders, through CFA, advocating — and bargaining for — the permanency of autonomous and flexible schedules.

“The librarian workload flexibility proposal gives us an initial step in controlling our work schedule,” said Vang. “It’s about having a say in how we work and hopefully moving us forward to being seen as professionals.”

Control of their own schedules.

Online librarian guidance has been the norm for years – make it decades now – for Janousek. 

“It is an exciting time [to be a librarian at Long Beach State] for us to keep up with the technology to make sure our students are prepared for the future,” said Janousek. “[Our campus has] an artificial intelligence lab, 3-D printing lab, virtual reality lab. Libraries are a good place to put that technology.”

Same goes for advocating for work flexibility and a work-from-home optional model for librarians. Janousek, who has been on the CFA Bargaining Team since 2013, said online libraries and flexible schedules have been advocated since 1995.

“For us to do a 40-hour [standard 9 to 5] week doesn’t make much sense,” said Janousek.

For years, the CFA members have advocated for work flexibility and autonomy in scheduling for librarians to be part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the CSU.

In this new contract fight, that advocacy continues, as members recognize librarian work does not always need to be tied to the desk. For those not accustomed to virtual work, the experience of COVID-19 confirmed the feeling that the work can be done remotely.

“One challenge librarians, in particular, face is that current policies which aim to see us in our offices Monday to Friday – 40 hours a week – don’t really reflect the needs of our students,” said Maggie Clarke, a humanities librarian at CSU Dominguez Hills and CFA member.

Most people think of the library as a physical place only accessible in person, said Clarke, but the pandemic changed that notion.

“It took a huge amount of effort not just to ensure that we could still provide the same support to students and faculty as before, but to connect with them and make sure they knew were here,” said Clarke. “Watching our students struggle to transition, to get the services and support they needed, and to manage their own challenges with living through a global pandemic was at times heartbreaking.”

Clarke’s CSU Domiguez Hills colleague agreed.

Person holding sign
Carolyn Caffrey Gardner, CFA Librarian Committee Chair and CSU Dominguez Hills associate librarian advocates for equitable librarian work.

“It was around-the-clock work to support our students,” said Carolyn Caffrey Gardner, an information literacy coordinator and associate librarian at CSU Dominguez Hills and chair of the CFA Librarians Committee. “Everything [from library work to classes] had to be moved online. I checked in with students for their safety and health, provided full-time childcare, had scholarship projects, a book due to a publisher in May.

“Everything all at once from a tiny house with multiple people trying to work from home. We were thrown in the ocean without any life preserver.”

Librarian faculty pushed swiftly to provide services for students who could not access materials in person because of the pandemic.

Checkmark, success.

Schedule flexibility for student success.

The work-schedule flexibility began to be noticed by many. An initial obstacle for some librarians turned into a benefit for student success.

Melissa Cardenas-Dow, a social sciences librarian at Sacramento State and CFA member, noted the initial difficulties, especially after being so used to face-to-face teaching. Now, this new schedule flexibility gave her confidence.

“I prefer to work remotely. I feel more productive,” said Cardenas-Dow. “There are challenges for others. Some are responsible for the building or physical collection of books, and I recognize my privilege [of working from home].”

But mostly, the new flexibility, she said, improves student success.

“Through flexibility, we’re able to offer choices to students,” said Cardenas-Dow. “We’re able to tailor the issues – what they’re dealing with in terms of their research assignments – and be much more of a coach and a guide for their academic success.

“Education is liberation. I really see what I do [as a librarian] is connected to empowering students through information. Information doesn’t just want to be free; it also wants to free others.”

A sentiment that San Jose State graduate student Kacy Wilson shares.

“Libraries are subversive,” said Wilson. “They go against everything that the capitalist framework is. They are free, accessible, and safe. Libraries are important because they serve as pillars that uphold the idea that our society is good and that there are people to help.”

Wilson, who is studying library and information science at San Jose State’s School of Information, also known as the iSchool, believes that CFA’s librarian workload proposal would “vastly improve student learning and student success” and that students can help support faculty by understating their working conditions and educating themselves to see the problem and offer help as they can.

“By giving librarians the option to work from home, the employer is essentially telling them that they care about their well-being,” said Wilson.

“Having more autonomy with scheduling makes it easier for us to meet students where they are, as well as supporting librarians in avoiding burn out,” said Clarke. “Many librarians that I have spoken to have found that, despite the trauma of the pandemic, having a more adaptable schedule has allowed them to be more productive and to pursue projects they may otherwise have been unable to do.”

Working from home may not be for everyone, said Clarke, but it’s “having the autonomy to manage our own schedules in the ways that work best for us improves our work and pay dividends for the student experience.”

A social justice issue.

Beyond workload, CFA members know this is a social justice issue.

More than 80 percent of librarians at ARL (Association of Research Libraries) libraries are women, according to research on exploring the barriers faced by women in academic libraries pursing managerial positions.

“The work has been undervalued because of its feminized nature,” said Caffrey Gardner. “Some of it is the nature of the work itself, some of it is the historical undervaluing of professions with a large percentage of women in it. The work that we do has a lot of effective labor, a lot of supporting and helping conversationally with students.”

“Current proposals around librarian workload are essential for bringing the contract in line with our work and for communicating that we are respected faculty members, not just ‘the girls in the library’,” said Clarke.

At least one CSU campus saw the light.

CFA leaders at CSU Monterey Bay got management in August to allow librarians and counselors, through a Memorandum of Understanding, the option for remote work. The permanent option still gives discretion to appropriate administrators, like the dean of the library or a direct supervisor, over schedules.

CFA advocacy that results in one chapter-level success offers hope on the horizon for permanent work schedule flexibility for all CSU librarians.

“When [my union, CFA] says something, they mean it. And they don’t just mean it, they will do it,” said Cardenas-Dow.

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