As the petition to save the Language Centre library from closure approaches 2,000 signatures, information obtained exclusively by Cherwell reveals how the closure was set in motion.
A consultation on the library’s future began in February this year, but by this point new restrictions were already being placed on spending. The librarian, Lucile Deslignères, was ordered not to make any purchases without her line manager’s approval.
In December 2018, all but one of the library’s computers were removed and the number of private study spaces was reduced to three. A month later, on 16th of January, the library’s award-winning social media accounts, with thousands of followers in total, were either shut down or taken over by management.
The first indications of an official process emerged on 11th of February, when library staff (one of whom had only begun her job a month earlier) were made aware of potential redundancies. They were soon after given a three-month period to accept voluntary severance, which originally ended on 17th of May, two weeks before the library consultation itself ended.
Following this, it was reported to Cherwell that Ms. Deslignères and her colleagues were relieved of many duties, despite assurances throughout the consultation process that no final decision had been taken. Although the consultation had begun by mid-February, information allegedly remained restricted to a small group of Language Centre and Administration Division staff.
When Ms. Deslignères spoke to her Bodleian colleague, responsible for re-homing the library’s 14,000-item collection, she reported that “no one had heard anything”.
In response to the apparent lack of external input into the consultation, on February 27th a petition was published by Ms. Deslignères calling for the library to remain open.
Shortly after, a brief note was published on the Language Centre website, summarising the situation and inviting comments. This was also sent out in an email to Language Centre “learners” (i.e. those enrolled on language courses), although registered library users were not officially notified until May 8th – only 3 weeks before the consultation’s end date.
When feedback was first welcomed Svenja Kunze, of Oxford’s University and College Union branch, told Cherwell that the move was possibly made “in the hope [that the consultation] will be forgotten by the start of Trinity”.
Outrage from library staff has persisted, with a letter to the Editor of the Oxford Magazine from a Duty Officer of the Bodleian and Editor of the Journal of the Printing Historical Society, Paul Nash, condemning the “managerial weasel-wordage” surrounding the consultation: “The need to increase efficiency’ really means ‘the desire to save money’.
“Where once responsible managers saw the intellectual and educational value of the stock and resources they managed, and of their front-line staff, now they see only a financial burden. Many of the current generation of library managers are not custodians of wisdom but mere bean-counters.”
Initial criticism of the library proposals was largely based on their substance, with plans for closure described by Taylor Institution Subject Consultant Nick Hearn as threatening “to destroy a collection of national importance”.
Criticism is increasingly focusing, however, on the manner in which the consultation is being carried out, with the UCU stating that this raises “many questions” with “not enough answers”.
When contacted for comment, the AAD office contested claims made by staff, telling Cherwell: “We are currently consulting on proposed changes to the Language Centre library, in the light of low and declining usage, the increasing availability of online learning materials, and the need to increase efficiency to meet budget targets set for university services.
“No decision has yet been taken about proposals. A paper will be considered by the General Purposes Committee of Council on 1st July. This committee will then make a recommendation to Council on 15th July 2019.
“The consultation with affected staff is being carried out according to University policies. In line with agreed procedures, those affected were given advance notice that their posts may be at risk of redundancy at the start of the consultation process. This advance notice period will last until Council has reviewed the recommendations.”
“There has been no reduction in the library budget, or access to library facilities or resources. We are maintaining the budget and access to the library at previous levels until a decision on the proposals is made by Council.