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The Dartmouth
May 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Library workers announce plans to unionize

On Tuesday, library workers marched through Baker-Berry library to announce their plan to unionize, one week after the Graduate Organized Laborers at Dartmouth won their union vote.

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On Tuesday, approximately 35 library workers gathered in Novack Cafe to announce their plans to unionize. After walking through Baker-Berry library, the workers marched to the offices of dean of libraries Susanne Mehrer and College Provost David Kotz to deliver a letter asking for support from the College. 

According to acquisitions services supervisor Tim Wolfe, the plan to unionize has been in progress for at least a year, prompted by budget cuts, continued staff reductions over the past decade and stalling promotion programs during the pandemic. 

“Primarily, it’s about compensation and benefits that keep up with cost of living increases,” Wolfe said. “It’s about a system of promotion and advancement that is uniform and fair to everyone in the library staff — and it’s about having a seat at the table.”

Research and learning librarian for humanities and social sciences Daniel Absosso read the group’s letter aloud to the group gathered in Novack, calling for “compensation that makes living in the Upper Valley viable and clear paths to advancement for all staff.”

Over the past year, group members have researched union creation and worked to get signed cards in support from at least 50% of library workers, according to Wolfe. He added that the efforts of library workers to unionize at MIT and Northwestern University in 2019 and 2021, respectively, contributed to their “nerdy approach” — involving significant research — to the process of calling for a union. 

“We talked to other libraries that had gone through the same process of figuring out how to unionize,” Wolfe said. “We talked to a bunch of union [representatives] from different unions to figure out what was the right one for our people.”

According to Wolfe, library staff also compiled testimonials, information about their platform and an FAQ page onto their website, constituting a large part of the past year’s work. The group’s 19 testimonials, published on the website, call for transparency and accountability from the College. 

Assistant conservator at the Library Conservation Lab Lizzie Curran said she had been thinking about unionizing for many years.

“Our promotions track got taken away [during the pandemic],” Curran said. “None of us got raises while the College’s endowment doubled. So that was unfair to say the least. It started long before that. I think there’s a culture of administration making decisions that affect us, without us.” 

Head of digital scholarly engagement Laura Braunstein echoed Curran’s sentiment, adding that the “wellbeing of [library] staff has not always been a priority for the College.” 

At the same time, Wolfe said recent advancements regarding the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth and the Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth have been “encouraging” to the library workers. The unionization announcement comes about one week after GOLD-UE won their union vote and one year after the College recognized SWCD.

Following these developments, SWCD raised the hourly pay of Dartmouth Dining Services student employees to $21 an hour in February, and the College then increased the minimum wage of all non-union student employees to $16.25 an hour. 

Scholarly publishing librarian and a member of the union’s organizing committee Stephen Krueger believes that  “everyone should just have a union,” adding that the group’s organizing “wasn’t necessarily an indicator of something that is wrong with the institution or workplace.”

“This is just a fundamental way for workers to have our rights heard and respected,” Krueger said. “We’re not trying to antagonize [the College] … We’re not seeing the library leadership or the campus leadership as any kind of enemy.” 

After marching to Parkhurst Hall, the group answered questions from the public about their plan in Howe library. According to Abosso, next steps include getting support from the community and holding a vote on unionizing in the summer. Wolfe said that he thinks they will have “far more” than 50% support from their colleagues when the issue goes to a vote. 

Classics senior lecturer Jennifer Lynn said she hopes the College community engages with the union because of how “integral” the work of the librarians is to academics at Dartmouth. 

“My teaching and research is so dependent on the library,” Lynn said. “They’re so integral to the intellectual life of the College, so of course I support them.”

Dean of libraries Susanne Mehrer declined to comment.

Correction appended (April 26, 8:56 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Lizzie Curran works in the Book Arts Workshop. Curran works for the Library Conservation Lab. The article has been updated.