Spotlight on the SirsiDynix–ALA-APA Award for Outstanding Promotion of the Salaries and Status of Library Workers: Connie Vinita Dowell

Teamwork Paves the Way for Raises and Reclassifications Even during a Statewide Budget Crisis

The second installment of Library Worklife’s three-part series on the 2007 SirsiDynix Award winners, focuses on the accomplishments of the San Diego State University Library’s dean, Connie V. Dowell, and her courageous efforts to support her staff during the recent budget crisis that affected the State University system across California.

Through the impressive community she created, comprised of the San Diego State University Library Council, Senate Committee, union, administrators and staff, Connie took extraordinary steps to secure library personnel and increase salaries for personnel whose responsibilities had shifted. She reorganized the library; shifting departments, cutting numerous extraneous expenditures and reclassified employees in order to protect them from the ever threatening financial emergency. Not content to assist only her library and library staff, she took her ideas statewide by participating in the California State University’s Council of Library Directors. As a member of the CSU Council of Library Directors Strategic Planning Committee, she chaired the Human Resources Task Force. This Task Force authored a request for the implementation of a reclassification review of library employees’ classification, which was approved.

LW: Congratulations on this award and what you did for your library!
Connie V. Dowell: Thank you, though I would like to preface this interview by stating that the process for which I am receiving this award was not accomplished by me alone, but by our team, composed of our library’s amazing staff, managers, Senate Library Committee and our incredible Library Council as well.While I am honored by this award, I don’t think I should be singled out. Without the support and effort of these people, nothing could have been accomplished. It was a true team effort.

LW: Please describe how the situation that the San Diego State University Library found itself in and how you responded.
CD: Three years ago, we realized that there was going to be an inevitable recession. Although predictions varied at the time, we had to prepare for the library’s future. We constructed a conservative plan that preemptively tightened our budgets, making sure that the downward changes wouldn’t catch us by surprise. This worked remarkably well and allowed us to weather the storm.

LW: What did you do first?
CD: As the budget decreased in reaction to the state wide State University library economic crisis, we decided that our priorities were the staff and the collections. As soon as we saw a likely downturn that would span years, we immediately planned what to cut down on such as duplicating collections, extraneous phone lines and any additional expenses.

LW: Tell us a bit about how you and your team managed to stave off the personnel cuts, which usually follow a budget decrease?
CD: We did actually lose a few positions during that time, but we managed to remain aware of the staff members who were taking on more responsibilities and therefore, should be financially compensated for that. The Library Council decided that a pay increase was its priority action. Most of the credit for this action should go to the managers, who did all the work and the research. Lots of thanks should go to Jon Cawthorne, the world’s best Associate Dean. The managers submitted the day to day information needed to implement the pay increase plan, which was a time consuming process. They wanted to support their staff and we wanted to support them in their efforts.

LW: Did you work with the unions?
CD: We calculated the salary increases on a case by case basis within the framework of each of the union contracts. There was really very little conflict.

LW: That’s amazing that you were able to accomplish this through such lean times.
CD: We are lucky to have such an outstanding Library Council, which is not just comprised of administrative personnel, but also includes staff, faculty and department heads. Because of the situation that we were in, we managed to create strong relationships within the Council that are interpersonal and not just about the group. For instance, we attended lots of sessions to hammer out the budget! These individual relationships make all the difference because they create a greater sense of trust and of working for the greater good of the library, and openness to new ideas. When you are lucky enough to have this type of camaraderie, communication is effective on all levels. We also have a fabulous Senate Library Committee, which includes faculty representatives from all colleges, student representatives and one staff member. They were also supportive of salary increases for library staff. Both entities are comprised of people who have invested careers in public service and recognized the public service provided by the library staff. If we do not invest in them, then we aren’t serving the populace. Both groups knew that while the collection is an extremely important part of the library, the staff is also necessary and should be treated as such.

LW: It sounds like such a smooth process.
CD: It’s much better to be looking back at it then towards it! There were sleepless nights when I wondered if it would ever end, if I would ever stop being the bearer of bad news. We also made mistakes. For instance, we decided early on to limit the amount of support that the library could provide for the professional development of our staff. It was the first year that we had implemented the conservative financial plan. We felt that professional development was one economic expense we could suspend during the crisis. We saw that it was negatively impacting our staff and their value within the university environment and quickly changed our tactic. We went from very limited professional development to a more inclusive evaluation system with input from staff and faculty. We appointed a standing, non-administrative committee, consisting of faculty and staff, that opened the proposal review process for attending conferences and professional development opportunities to all employees, not only librarians. We needed to invest in the people, not just through wage increases, but by furnishing them the tools to keep current professionally.

LW: Do you have any words of advice for library professionals who currently in a similar situation?
CD: I am proud of many things that we did. The fact that we were able increase over one quarter of the staff’s salaries at a time when our budget was cut by 1.3 million dollars is something to be proud about!Even though we made bad decisions, we had the courage to acknowledge them and then change. Though we are still trying to recover and I don’t know what the future will bring, I do know that we have been lucky to have such a great staff, Council and Committee. This feeling of community will keep us steady through whatever may come our way. We will just have to remain patient and always be honest with ourselves about our situation. When your budget gets cut, don’t stand still!

Thank you very much for your time, Connie, and congratulations on your award and your great team of library professionals!