Vancouver Public Library leadership not winning awards from staff

Earlier this month, the Vancouver Public Library had some good news to share. Scholars at Germany’s Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf had ranked Vancouver's and Montreal's public libraries as tied for number one among those in "informational" world cities.

“This kind of recognition is wonderful, but we couldn’t have this kind of impact in the community without support from the City of Vancouver, our board, our committed staff and our patrons,” VPL chief librarian Sandra Singh said in a celebratory news release on December 18.

However, it appears that the VPL's "committed staff" isn't giving the library's leadership such high marks.

We obtained a copy of the VPL's 2013 employee engagement survey, which asked staff three questions pertaining to "confidence in leadership". The "unfavourable" responses outnumbered the "favourable" for all three questions:

  • "All in all, VPL is effectively managed and well run" (34 percent favourable, 24 percent neutral, 42 percent unfavourable)
  • "How would you rate the trust and confidence you have in VPL's Directors Group?" (25 percent favourable, 36 percent neutral, 39 percent unfavourable)
  • "Rate VPL on being open and honest in communications with employees" (31 percent favourable, 31 percent neutral, 37 percent unfavourable)

Nevertheless, the VPL largely fared well in survey questions about employee engagement, direction, pay and benefits, respect and recognition, and performance management. Indeed, 74 percent of surveyed employees said they feel proud to work for the VPL, and 69 percent said they would like to continue working for the library.

Comments (7) Add New Comment
The Truth
It's a union gig so of course the staff don't like management. Unions strive to achieve strife in the workplace so they can use it as a tool in contract negotiations. By building up a common enemy they build solidarity within the ranks. There's a reason Union workplaces are ALWAYS the most toxic.
Rating: -51
The VPL has too many "managers" just like every other public service or company. There is plenty of whining about frontline union staff pay & benefits but the brutal fact is that often bureaucratic costs are hidden under frontline service budget areas: that applies to every bureaucracy. That way they can blame actual service provision, and the conditioned herd can blame the evil "unions" for being overpaid or evil "government" for underfunding depending on their conditioning. The bureaucrats remain untouched, their numbers keep increasing, their salaries & bonuses get larger but frontline services have been cut or remained static for most of the last decade.

Bureaucrats are often given a "supervisory" role over people actually working kilometres away in other facilities providing frontline services to the public. That way part of the bureaucrat's salary can be charged to the clinic and hidden as a direct service cost. My partner has 3 supervisors in her role as a clinician and none of the 3 are on site more than one day of 10 and even then on a different floor: how are they "supervisors?" That title and a few others are accounting shams intended to foster bureaucratic growth even in times of cutbacks.

I have no problem with frontline union workers, I do have a problem with that nebulous group of "managers" that populate the bureaucracy and large corporations. Fraser Health bureaucrats start with a salary just over $100,000 a year and the new head of community nursing isn't an RN but is an MBA! Both facts are absurd but government can't do anything about it except give the region more money to spend on more bureaucrats.

Two other fun facts about Fraser Health:

1 The fantastic new emergency room at Surrey Memorial necessitated an increase in frontline staff but additional bureaucrats were deemed necessary taking up funds that could have provided additional frontline staff.

2 Their bonus system for bureaucrats is an interesting one. Managers are told an overall "meta goal" from the CEO and then told to make their own goals for the bonus year. When the year end comes each bureaucrat is asked if he/she met his/her goals for the year and if they answer "yes" they get a bonus. Last year one "supervisor" was seen making frantic last minute "safety" visits to clinics: the corporate goal was "clinical safety."
Rating: +15
Funny, no one wants to talk about the books. Isn't the question of whether the library is worth a penny is the books? What is a library without books? [A community centre--but we have LOTS of those already.] Please, please, don't turn the VPL into a community centre. There are no prizes to be won in that department
Rating: +6
@ G: You need a lot more experience in the real world. In a union environment, management works hard to have new positions declared "exempt" They are typically designated "management of supervisory", The reason? Exempt positions do not go out on strike. As a result, the company can continue to function during a labour dispute.

As for your comments about bonuses, I can only assume that you've never earned one. Pity.
Rating: -19
As someone with an insider view of the situation, I could not disagree more with the previous posting on unions. While staff have been reasonably well paid for the work they do, it is not the central issue at the moment. Currently libraries are undergoing radical changes all over the world due to digitization of information. Not only library staff but everyone in the world will be affected by changes to libraries because the standards for quality and quantity of information is changing. How the library manages the books and print information is changing and libraries are discarding print materials in favor of digital information which takes less space but unfortunately is not available to many without digital devices. Not everyone agrees with the changes such as removing all librarians from the public to be seen only by special request. It does save time not to deal with the public for every little question but how does the public feel about the collections dwindling down and shelves being left empty? How does the public feel when they cannot see a staff person anywhere and must use a phone to call? Is it more impersonal? The public will have to let the Chief Librarian Sandra Singh know how they feel. Once these changes are made in 2014 they are going to be 100% permanent. Is a digital library what you want? Can you find information as well as a librarian? It is up to the public to say what they think or else the Library Board and the Chief Librarian will go ahead and make those changes permanent. C'est la vie
Rating: +16
Thanks for the laugh. Never needed a union or government job of any kind thanks, and as for "bonuses" I have no concerns in adding to my income thanks. I have never had the need for a bonus but thanks to those I have earned based upon the decisions of others helped pay off our home on the westside. My concern is how much money is wasted by public service bureaucrats that should be going to providing frontline services and your comment made a pathetic effort to denigrate the messenger.

I have dealt with bureaucrats on a wide range of projects and for the most part wouldn't hire those I have worked with to pump gas or mow my lawn. They were far too eager to spend other people's money like pretty much every other drone with a degree in business or arts. I have worked against bureaucrats for over 20 years is a range of situations. I have dealt with government IT people who failed to secure patient records beyond the password "12345678A," another couldn't understand why using Excel as a database was a bad idea, another infected an internal network because he used a USB drive to bring pictures from home for his machine in contravention of policy.

The results of information security audits of our range of public service bureaucracies are blocked from public release and with good reason. The number of ministries that reach the lowest acceptable standard don't take the fingers of one hand, and only one audit found a standard higher than the bare minimum: most failed miserably. The same problems are there year after year and the same "managers" agree that the situation is "disgraceful" and nothing changes. The people in charge still get their bonuses in spite of rank incompetence and it comes out of our pockets.

It is typical for those upset at being singled out for criticism to belittle those who criticize: poor DavidH must be a bureaucrat at some level. Convinced that his services pushing papers and writing memos are "essential" when they are truly the most expendable in our economy. Healthcare, education and every other public service would benefit from culling management & administration and the public wouldn't notice the difference. Don't worry tho, their skills can be put to use as sandwich artists, baristas or if they dream bigger maybe retail management.
Rating: -5
The last posting on this article does not make sense. The person posting does not really know what issues are at stake in providing high quality library services. Libraries will always cost money there are no money making libraries in the world. Libraries are not a corporate money making venture. What libraries do is provide a valuable public service with regards to literacy education and even entertainment. The mission statement of a library says a great deal. Sir, respectfully, please do some reading about libraries before generalizing, then you will see the difference between libraries and other types of government spending there is big difference in the way library resources benefit the public as compared to government wages and government resources that the public does not directly benefit from ..... just to give you one example where else does a single book costing less than $50 last for more than 10 years and having been borrowed at least 50 times? Two newspapers a day per branch serve how many users? Do the math including the wages and where libraries are concerned the public is certainly getting a bargain due to the efficient way materials are currently being managed by front line staff. As for the bureaucrats, that is the elite of the group and the public or the preceding poster should consult with them directly
Rating: -1
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