Federal

Department Slashes Staff of National Library Of Education

By Michelle R. Davis — August 06, 2003 3 min read
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The National Library of Education has had its staff slashed by an internal move to rearrange employees within the Department of Education office that oversees the little-known repository of educational materials.

Though the library’s director says the staffing cuts will not affect library services, some groups are concerned that the action could signal what they see as a continued lack of support for the facility.

A reorganization of staff members within the Institute of Education Sciences to use their skills in other areas has reduced the library’s staff from 26 to seven employees, said Christina J. Dunn, a longtime employee of the National Library of Education who took over as the facility’s director about two months ago.

But Ms. Dunn said that at least seven of those transferred to other offices were support-staff workers, and that their help had become unneeded at the library because of streamlined technology. In addition, five of the others transferred had worked on coordinating the Educational Resources Information Center, or ERIC.

Officials at the Institute of Education Sciences, overseer of the library, have indicated they plan significant changes to ERIC, the longest-running and best-known electronic education library. Those plans have kicked up a tsunami of criticism from the library community and ERIC users. (“Plans to Alter ERIC Set Off Alarms,” May 28, 2003.)

The reason for several of the staff transfers out of the library, Ms. Dunn said, is that ERIC will be streamlining its operations, going from numerous separate contracts with clearinghouses working for the service to one contract. Therefore, she said, less oversight is needed.

But Emily Sheketoff, the executive director of the Washington office of the American Library Association, said the library cuts, particularly to the ERIC staff, were worrisome.

“It looks like they’re trying to destroy the service or cheapen it,” Ms. Sheketoff said. “All we’re seeing is a dismantling of something that works.”

Ms. Dunn insisted that the changes at the library would not disrupt operations there.

“It won’t affect service at all,” she said. But she acknowledged knowing that “people are concerned.”

The library still retains two of three staff librarian positions (one person recently retired), as well as 41/2 full-time-equivalent positions for contract librarians, who are not counted among the federal staff. In addition, Ms. Dunn said, she might hire another contract librarian.

What Library?

Since its designation as a national library in 1994, the facility has suffered from an inferiority complex and a lack of resources in comparison with other federal institutions such as the National Library of Medicine. Many people who work just floors above the education library’s basement site in the Education Department’s headquarters in Washington don’t even know it’s there.

Technological problems and a water leak that caused a mold and dust-mite problem—now solved—have plagued the library facility. And in the past, library staff members and directors have complained that the Bush administration, as well as previous administrations, have not put an emphasis on the library’s mission. (“Basement No Bargain for Agency Library,” Jan. 29, 2003.)

Ms. Dunn, however, said that her experience with the current administration has been positive, and she said that Education Department officials are “heavy users” of the library.

But Ms. Sheketoff expressed skepticism that there could be a positive outcome from the loss of so many staff members, despite Ms. Dunn’s assurances.

“I don’t know how much of what she’s saying is what she truly believes,” Ms. Sheketoff said. “This administration takes no prisoners.”

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