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8Rs - The Canadian Library Human Resource Study

:: The Canadian Library Association recently issued a press release announcing the formation of the CLA President's Council on the 8R's. At last week's annual CLA Conference, the 8Rs Canadian Library Human Resource Study was released. Of interest to all librarians, including those beyond Canada, the study "is a national research project that is examining important facets of library human resources from both organizational and individual perspectives over a period of two years."

The study draws its name from the eight core issues that the literature suggests are integral to human resource management in libraries: recruitment, retention, remuneration, reaccreditation, repatriation, rejuvenation, retirement and restructuring. The research team is currently gathering data through a series of surveys and focus groups from a number of different sources: library administrations, individual librarians and library technicians at all stages of their careers, library educators and MLIS students This will allow the study to present comprehensive view of the current and predicted needs of library institutions and library workers.

This research arose from the recognition that the existing literature on recruitment, retention, and leadership in the library profession is based on either anecdotal evidence or aggregate statistics, most of which are American. This literature predicts a crisis in succession management across the sector, as senior staff retire in significant numbers, which may leave libraries with inadequate numbers of staff to fill these vacancies. If this crisis does indeed occur, it is anticipated that it will be compounded by the flattening of library organizations, the reduction in numbers of middle managers, and hiring freezes due to sustained cutbacks during the past decade in American libraries. While Canadian public, academic, special, and school libraries have also experienced some of these factors, there is a lack of primary data for the Canadian context. The question remains as to whether Canadian libraries will face a crisis in succession management across the sector.

The study seeks to provide a significant collection of data that can provide a starting point for library institutions, library educators, and professional associations to reveal some of their common gaps in knowledge. As well, this data will illuminate potential areas of convergence, so that educators, practitioners and associations can address upcoming challenges with a shared understanding of the greater context, creating new opportunities for communication and partnership and furthering relationships."

Three reports are available which summarize the data and research from the study:

The CLA press release noted that

The 8Rs research project began in response to calls for a greater understanding of several intersecting human resource challenges believed to be facing Canadian libraries. Of primary concern was that of having a sufficient number of adequately trained and experienced staff that could succeed a senior librarian workforce poised to retire in large numbers over the next 5 to 10 years.

Stephen Abram said, "I believe that this President's Council on the 8Rs is an exciting and critical project for Canadian libraries and I hope it will provide a legacy for generations of libraries and library workers to come. I want to ensure that this Council achieves wide support and recognition. I am especially pleased that widely respected and admired CLA Past-president Wendy Newman has agreed to chair the President's Council on the 8Rs. Almost 30 leading CLA members from across Canada in all regions and types of libraries and from all sectors, representing a diverse range of points of view have accepted my call for participation. It is this kind of volunteer effort that makes CLA and the Canadian library movement stronger."

Wendy Newman, Council Chair and Librarian in Residence at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Information Studies and former CEO of Brantford Public Library asserted that "The report covers much ground that has never before been examined in libraries. The 8Rs study provides the data and analysis to inform national coalitions and partnerships between libraries, educational institutions, and representative professional associations of the issues surrounding the supply and demand of the workforce. In doing so, the study permits an unprecedented opportunity to assess our readiness to accommodate change and to illuminate potential strategies that can be used by libraries in planning their own human resources.

Once the readiness, or lack thereof, of libraries to accomodate change and identify strategies is established or confirmed, it will be interesting to see what the profession does next, if anything. If a library system isn't hiring, well, it isn't hiring. If a library is considering recruiting and retaining new staff, the availabilty of funds dictates to a large extent how and when this might happen. Meanwhile, as the workforce in many libraries continues to shrink, managers must offload or redistribute work to remaining staff, or eliminate the work altogether. But perhaps hiring new staff is not the critical issue. As the press release notes, "Of primary concern was that of having a sufficient number of adequately trained and experienced staff..." Can this be done with those already working in the profession? Having trained and experienced staff does not imply bringing in new bodies.

I am not aware of a time frame for the CLA President's Council to complete its work. The list of members of the Council is impressive, featuring many existing and emerging leaders of libraries in Canada. The Council deserves and needs the support of librarians across Canada as it examines a very serious and increasingly critical issue to the profession.

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