Senior management team wants to merge AU Library with the Royal Library

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If the university board adopts the plan at its meeting on 5 April, this summer AU Library will be transferred to the Royal Library. The librarians are not convinced by the management's arguments for why the merger is a good idea.

2017.02.01 | Marie Groth Andersen

Anna Mette Morthorst is union representative for the librarians at Aarhus BSS. She has acted as a liaison between librarians and management during the merger process. Photo: Lars Kruse

Kristian Thorn is deputy director of AU Student Administration and Services, which is where AU's section of AU Library belongs. Photo: Private

Hazel Engelsmann is union representative for the librarians at Arts in Emdrup. Photo: Private

Zbigniev Sobkowicz is union representative for the librarians at Arts in Aarhus and at Science and Technology. Photo: Private

The senior management team would like to see AU's library services under AU Library transferred to the Royal Library. The idea arose in the wake of the merger between the State and University Library and the Royal Library, which changed the status quo in relation to AU’s current partnership agreement with the State and University Library concerning the professional and financial conditions for running AU's libraries.

Kristian Thorn is deputy director of AU Student Administration and Services, which is where AU's section of AU Library belongs. He explains that AU has enjoyed a favourable academic and financial arrangement with the State and University Library thus far, which has seen them invest the same amount as AU in the library services at the university. If AU transfers the library operations to the Royal Library, the terms and conditions of that agreement will continue unchanged until 2019, after which they can be renegotiated. However, according to Thorn, if AU Library is not transferred the management's assessment is that it will be difficult to maintain the level of service level the university's users enjoy today.

"We don't believe that we will be able to secure the conditions we have now in the long term. So it's a question of maintaining a high level of service for students and academic staff at the university. We believe we can do this best within the framework of the Royal Library," he says and continues:

"It's also about gaining influence within an organisation that will define the services for the university library field in Denmark and about ensuring that AU's interests receive equal weight," continues Thorn. 

Not buying the management's arguments

The librarians share the management's ambition of ensuring a high level of professionalism in the library services for AU’s students and staff, but do not otherwise agree with the arguments.

The librarians at AU do not have a joint union representative, but Anna Mette Morthorst, who is union representative for the librarians at Aarhus BSS, has acted as a liaison between librarians and management during the merger process. She explains that the librarians are far from convinced by management's arguments.

"Management is arguing that a merger will safeguard AU Library against sudden cost savings. But the entire public sector has to make savings, and we would be only too happy to receive a guarantee against cutbacks, but we’ve only received promises about financial stability over the next two years."

Tired of more changes and readjustments

Hazel Engelsmann, librarian and union representative for Arts at Emdrup, says that there is also uncertainty about exactly what the specific consequences of a merger will be after two years.

"The management has not done their homework well enough when it comes to describing the consequences of a merger. But our starting point is that a decision has been made by the management and that we must respond to it. Of course we can see some reasons for merging, but on the other hand, we’re also fundamentally tired of all the changes and readjustments. We’ve been through many reorganisations, most recently when we became part of AU Library in 2012, and now we might have to get to know a new organisation again. But right now, my focus as union representative is to ensure that the employees' conditions are alright, even though we’re being transferred to the Royal Library," says Engelsmann.

When answering the question of what points Emdrup had in mind regarding a merger, Engelsmann stresses that she is talking on her own behalf.

Facts: A brief history

The senior management team discussed a possible merger between AU Library and the Royal Library at a meeting on 28 September last year and subsequently appointed a working group.

The working group presented two models: A renewed partnership agreement with the Royal Library or a transfer of AU Library to the Royal Library. The senior management team has adopted a decision in principle to transfer AU Library to the Royal Library.

Initially, the plan was for AU's board to make a decision about the merger at its meeting on 7 December 2016. But the employees wanted additional time to carry out the process, which the management has granted. The case has now been sent for consultation at AU with a deadline for consultation responses of 27 January. The board will make a decision on the merger at its meeting on 5 April. If the board approves the merger, the 85 AU employees will be transferred to the Royal Library on 1 July 2017.

"Not all faculties attach the same importance to running libraries, and here it could be an advantage for us to be part of an organisation that is solely interested in operating libraries. This will possibly give greater security in connection with savings. In addition, there are interesting opportunities for more direct daily cooperation with colleagues at Copenhagen University Library," she says. 

Moving a core service out is risky

The management's arguments about the professional benefits of a merger do not make much of an impression on Anna Mette Morthorst. She points out that a strong cooperation within the library sector already exists.

"When we look at international experiences and best practice within the library field, everything points towards it being most optimal to be embedded in the mother institution. Moving a core service out like this is risky," she says.

"We have already outsourced many standard services such as book procurement, licence administration, cataloguing and interlibrary loans. What is left are the tailor-made services which require know-how and specialists," she says. 

Proximity under pressure

The librarians also fear that their proximity to the users will come under pressure if AU Library is merged with the Royal Library, even though the management plans to ensure that the library services continue as hitherto following the merger. 

"We also believe there is a serious risk that AU's ownership and influence on the library service will lessen. This is what often happens when you outsource," says Morthorst.

This concern is shared by the librarians at Science and Technology as well as the Arts Libraries in Aarhus, explains librarian and union representative Zbigniew Sobkowicz.

"I can't see the logic in outsourcing the local library service. I fear that this can mean students and researchers being met with a less flexible service, and that we won’t be able to continue to take into account the methodologies, cultures and traditions that apply locally in different subjects and departments. We also find it difficult to understand why the process has had to be completed so quickly," he says.

No changes to user contact

The memo that forms the basis for the management team's recommendation of a merger does indeed state that one disadvantage of a merger is that proximity to academic staff and students at AU could come under pressure. But Deputy Director Kristian Thorn does not believe this will be the case.

"The employees will continue to actually be located where they are today and will retain the tasks they have today. They will continue to have regular contact with the academic staff and students. There will be no changes to the daily dialogue with the users because of the library changing its organisational basis," he says.

He goes on to say that management will ensure that the library staff continue to have access to the relevant management forums and working groups, so they will continue to be updated on what is happening at AU.

But is there not a risk in transferring a core activity to another operator as the librarians point to?

"I don’t believe that the risk is marked. The whole point is to maintain the level of service that we are familiar with today and to keep it close to the users. For AU it’s extremely important to have strong library services, and management's assessment is that it will not be possible to maintain the level of service we have today because of the financial situation and a lack of influence in the new organisation, if we don't carry out a merger," says Thorn.

The merger plans are currently in consultation at Aarhus University until 27 January. The AU board will consider the item at its meeting on 5 April, and if the board adopts the proposal, AU Library will be transferred on 1 July this year.

Translated by Peter Lambourne

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Revised 17.11.2017