It has happened.
Hamilton Public Library is the first public library system in Canada that has gone staffless.
Our employer has been very careful to not use the term “staffless” in this whole ordeal.
We were presented with the following terms: Rural Service Model, Extended Access, Extended Hours and Freelton Pilot Project. It all meant the same thing; the Freelton Branch opened on October 26 at 9:00 am without any staff present.
They tried to appease us by increasing the number of staffed hours in Freelton from 17 to 24 hours every week. This does not change the fact that there will be 36 other hours during that week when staff is replaced by technology and essentially, space.
The strength of our library system is not solely based on access to library materials. Our system is successful because we have people who deliver exceptional customer service every day. And in spite of the membership witnessing the decimation of full-time jobs and have had to get used to the always looming threat of precarity, they have remained with the system because they see the positive effects their daily interactions have with the patrons.
We agree that rural branches should have longer open hours. The City of Hamilton is continuously expanding and new communities are sprouting on its outskirts. But the message that is being conveyed with this Rural Service Model is that the rural community does not deserve to have more staff to attend to their needs. They can only have them part of the time. We hope that when you need assistance in filling out that PDF form for the government, or when you want to know the author of that blue book that you like, or when an emergency happens in Freelton, it would be during that 24 hours that a staff is present. How much cheaper was it to make Freelton “staffless-ready” versus putting a person there during those unstaffed 36 hours?
HPL’s Strategic Priorities of being a Community Beacon, being Relevant and Responsive and being a Creative and Changing Organization all touch on the concept of creating affirmative customer experiences by engaging with them and ensuring that their needs are anticipated. How will these strategies bear fruition if their finest champions are taken out of the equation?
We are not happy that we are the first.