Reports of cutbacks at Auckland libraries have prompted the council to issue librarians with a question-and-answer script, so that they might deal appropriately with public inquiries.
The script, obtained and published by RNZ, beneficently enables librarians to recite bureaucratically approved, leaden sentences. Lucky things – it’s almost as if they’re call centre operators or, even better, workers of the future, ie robots.
The reality, of course, is that librarians on the whole are highly intelligent and articulate, and need no script to engage with members of the public.
Nevertheless, as an alternative to the official text, the Spinoff humbly offers an alternative.
Fit for Future 2016 – Key messages for libraries staff managing queries
Official preamble: As the Fit for the Future initiatives become public, the project team recommends staff have to hand some notes as support in case they field questions. Remember to check the identity of the person – any media enquiries must go through Auckland Council media team as per the existing media policy.
Alternative preamble: Fit for the Future is a bit of a shit name, really, sounds like something off a low-rent exercise infomercial. If anyone approaches you to ask about it, first apologise for the embarrassing FftF title – you are, after all, in a temple of words – and check the identity of the person. If they’re from the media, hurray! On the whole people from the media are fab. Be sure to establish whether you’re on the record or not. Consider suggesting a coffee to discuss at length the situation so they have a good overview.
Question: I’ve heard that libraries’ jobs are being cut. What’s that about?
Official answer: Libraries are responding to changing business; growing in some areas, declining in others so we need to transform to match customer demand. There might be new roles in some activities, and fewer roles in other areas – we don’t know yet. We are ratepayer funded and have a responsibility to ensure we are as efficient as possible. This could mean we need fewer people.
Alternative answer: Hey there, human customer, good to see you here at the local library. Really encouraging that you care enough to ask about this stuff. We’ve heard that, too. To be honest, we talk about little else. An internal FftF document, issued in August, suggests staff cuts of around 5%, among other things. This is obviously pretty distressing for us, as people who work in and care about libraries. Obviously there are good reasons to modernise libraries, but we’re really concerned that we don’t imperil the core functions, which include direct human contact.
They don’t give us all that much information, except for saying nothing is finalised yet and giving us scripts to read out, which we wouldn’t insult you by doing, except maybe if it was a maverick alternative from a plucky website. Have you read thespinoff.co.nz, I think you’d like it.
Q: What number of jobs are being talked about?
OA: We don’t know that yet. We’re still looking at how we can design our services to be both efficient and where our customers need them to be.
AA: Thanks for this interesting and relatable question, friend. Reports suggest more than 50 jobs could go as part of a drive for “significant savings”. It’s not a done deal yet, though, so we’d obviously be grateful for anything you could do to fly the flag for strong and properly staffed community libraries. Let’s not forget, by the way, that in the recent mayoral campaign, pretty much all the candidates swore against touching library funding. Phil Goff said, “Spending on parks and libraries should not be cut”, and pretty sure “parks and libraries” includes “libraries”, eh? Doing anything for Halloween? Good special on expired nougat at the dairy.
Q: Didn’t you just make changes last year to libraries’ staffing?
OA: Last year we responded to the Council’s long-term plan requirement to distribute the available funded opening hours more evenly across the region to provide a fair minimum level of service for all local board areas. This required a small number of staff to change their hours of work.
AA: Let me try to answer that more, you know, efficiently, than with a comma-free 35-word sentence: Yes. Seems like every minute there’s another legion of consultants bloviating their way towards us.
Q: Will my library close?
OA: The Fit for the Future scope does not include the closure of any libraries. Any changes to opening hours or library closures are political decisions and would be made by Council’s elected members.
AA: Not on the cards, thank [insert expletive appropriate to punter sensibility here] for that. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to make sure your local councillor knows how important you believe libraries are to the community, and how determined you are to make sure they don’t [insert expletive appropriate to punter sensibility here] with them.
You might like to take a look at Deborah Hill Cone’s excellent New Zealand Herald column this week, in which she characterises library cutbacks as “cultural vandalism”. You’ll find our newspaper stack over there, plenty of people come in every day to read them. Or look it up on our free, internet-connected though ageing computers.
Anyway, nice having this laidback chat about important issues. How about those overdue fines?