I was hired by an affiliated unit of UCLA Library in 2011 on a three-year temporary contract. I was glad to be working full time after earning my master’s degree in library and information science in 2009 from UCLA. I graduated during the height of the Great Recession and lost count of how many jobs I had applied to before being hired on as a temp.
My department welcomed me warmly, but I was always aware that my contract was temporary. And since our department is not integrated with the UCLA Library administration, I didn’t initially realize how common my experience as a temporary librarian was.
The longer I spent in the job, the more I realized the work I was hired to do in 2011 was the same type of work my colleagues with stable, not term-limited appointments were doing. And for the most part it’s still the same work I’m doing today, now in a career status position. Nothing was temporary about the nature of the work then or now – only the employment terms have changed.
In 2013, our union, University Council-American Federation of Teachers Local 1990, which represents both lecturers and librarians, filed a grievance alleging UCLA Library was misusing the temporary appointee classification. The grievance process resulted in more than 20 temporary librarians at UCLA being moved into potential career status positions. Many of these librarians, like myself, continue to work at UCLA in career positions and consistently make significant contributions to support research and library services for students and faculty across our university.
It stood to reason that as the economy continued to improve and library budgets stabilized, UCLA’s practice of relying on temporary appointees’ labor to fulfill ongoing work would decrease. Or at least in terms of library employment, myself and others expected temporary appointees would be used solely in cases in which positions are funded externally, such as for grant-funded positions.
Yet, that is hardly the case.
There still has been a heavy reliance on temporary archivists in the UCLA Library Special Collections department, one of the largest special collections units in the country. Archivists build, preserve and provide access to collections and archival materials that are both purchased by and donated to the library. Within the last two years, 10 temporary archivists have been employed in Library Special Collections.
From donor relations, to classroom instruction, outreach and events, staff training, making collections available for research and supervising student workers, the work archivists in Special Collections are doing is ongoing in nature and central to the day-to-day operation of the department. These archivists are involved in the profession at the campus, local, state and national levels and have years of experience at top institutions. They are leaders in their fields. And still, UCLA Library continues to employ them, and oftentimes renew them, on temporary contracts.
Temporary positions cannot and should not be used to satisfy ongoing operational needs. This is a practice that negatively affects everyone involved – the archivists, UCLA Library, collections, donors and our users. UCLA benefits greatly from the continuity of institutional knowledge and expertise when stable employment terms are provided for the archivists who work with our rare and unique collections. In contrast, a lack of continuity is not only inefficient but also unethical as the library continues purchasing and accepting donated collections without the staffing necessary to make these materials available for research.
Once again, our union, UC-AFT, has filed a grievance on behalf of the six temporary archivists alleging that UCLA Library has been misapplying the temporary appointments clause in our contract: Temporary archivists are not filling a finite need in the library; their labor is being used to fulfill work that is ongoing. UC-AFT is asking the library to move all temporary archivists to potential career positions, and to discontinue the damaging and inefficient practice of using temporary appointees to perform core duties and functions of the Library.
It’s time UCLA Library demonstrates a commitment to remaining a world-class research institution to its donors and users. That means recognizing the value of archival labor with fair, equitable and stable employment terms.
Let’s not forget that UCLA’s mission includes as one of its primary goals the “preservation and application of knowledge for the betterment of our global society.” Our UCLA community deserves a long-term workforce to process, preserve and promote the collections that are vital to the mission of our public research university.
Current temporary appointees in Special Collections have written an open letter to the UCLA Library administration sharing their concerns with the reliance on temporary contracts. If you would like to learn more about this issue, I encourage you to read, sign and share that letter.
Schoorl is a librarian and associate editor at the Hispanic American Periodicals Index at UCLA. He is also the vice-president of UC-AFT Local 1990.