Protesters Speak Out Against Layoffs

Approximately 45 protesters gathered in front of the Science Center on Tuesday with signs and a megaphone for a “Speak-Out Against Layoffs at Harvard.” The event, which was organized by the No Layoffs Campaign, the Student Labor Action Movement, and Occupy Harvard, featured short speeches from workers, students, and faculty opposing the layoffs of Harvard Library workers.

The speak-out is the latest in a series of protests and rallies regarding library layoffs following Harvard University Library Executive Director Helen Shenton’s Jan. 19 announcement that the library’s reorganization would include staff reductions.

Library assistant Geoff P. Carens, who introduced many of the speakers, said that events like these have “definitely raised awareness” about the situation facing library workers. He called the “speak-out” format “more of an opportunity to reach out to the broader community in a more conversational way.”

Library assistant Jeffrey W. Booth also attended the event and said he was pleased with how it went. He said that each group of the library’s stakeholders were represented by a speaker, including union representatives, undergraduates, graduate students, alumni, and faculty.

The speakers focused on the arguments that layoffs would be unfair to the workers and negatively impact the quality of the library system. A No Layoffs campaign leaflet distributed at the event alleged “damage already inflicted on Harvard’s libraries by layoffs, out-sourcing, automation, and excessive reliance on student workers.” The handout listed problems such as minimal and inaccurate bibliographic records, faulty ordering and claiming processes, and thousands of books being shipped to the Harvard Depository without cataloging.

In response to the claims of the protesters, a University spokesperson wrote in an email that the library’s reorganization will actually enhance access to the Library’s holdings.

“The new organizational design unifies functions that occur within all libraries—Access Services, Technical Services, and Preservation and Digital Imaging Services,” the spokesperson said. “The shared services will enable greater focus on the needs of the user community.”

SLAM member William P. Whitham said that he thought that the “four or five” protest actions that SLAM has been involved in regarding library layoffs have been effective in spreading knowledge of the situation to the community.

“I think it’s having an impact,” Witham said. “The main purpose of these has been to inform people what’s going on.”

Whitham mentioned a variety of actions that SLAM has taken, including rallies, attending University President Drew G. Faust’s office hours, and contacting members of the administration.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes,” Whitham said. “We’ve tried so many tactics.”

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at sweinstock@college.harvard.edu.

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