The timing couldn’t have been better for Kristin Hoffmann.
When she stepped into the role of University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) President in July, negotiations for a new contract for the university’s librarians and archivists was immediately on the horizon. As a librarian, this was a fitting introduction to her term.
“The issue of compensation for librarians has been ongoing, ever since we became part of the faculty association. Librarians and archivists at Western, on average, are paid considerably lower than our comparator institutions in Ontario – even nationally, for research universities. And that’s an ongoing concern and something we’re trying to make progress on,” she said.
When Hoffmann came to Western after working as a non-unionized librarian at the University of Victoria, she was very much aware of librarian and archivists’ needs for representation and involvement in the agreement that governs their work, added Hoffmann, who has worked as a librarian at the D.B. Weldon Library for nearly a decade.
Shortly after her arrival at Western, librarians and archivists were taken in by UWOFA, recognized as serving the academic community. This shift came with new responsibilities, including a requirement for them to do research. Hoffmann said these were welcome changes embraced by her colleagues.
“This will be the fourth collective agreement (Western’s librarians and archivists) have. We are maturing. But there is also opportunity to make some processes work better, to make sure things are working as smoothly and effectively as they can,” she continued.
Hoffmann set out to get involved with UWOFA almost immediately. In 2007, she stepped in as a board member for a couple of years and has since served as a speaker for the librarians and archivists bargaining unit.
The time invested has always been an interesting and rewarding experience, she said, so when the opportunity came in to serve as president after Alison Hearn, who teaches in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, stepped down, it felt like a natural, and necessary, progression.
“I’m the first librarian president of the association, and it’s convenient to have a librarian when negotiating a librarian agreement. This seemed like a good opportunity to continue to use my skills, interests and abilities and to serve my colleagues and my colleagues beyond the library. I feel like it was a good decision to make,” Hoffmann said.
As far as challenges sitting on her table go, Hoffmann hopes to maintain the community engagement that came out of the presidential leave controversy earlier this year.
“The association wants to continue keeping focus on the (university) governance issues that were brought up in the spring, and wants to encourage our members to participate in the town halls and discussions the task forces and committees are going to have. Keeping the focus on those and extending member engagement is key. It’s not just about engaging the members, but engaging the campus – that’s going to be a theme throughout the year,” she explained.
The overall tone is positive in all respects so far, Hoffmann added. After last year’s efforts to recognize the importance of contract faculty, and the work they do on campus, this year is a good opportunity to show how librarians and archivists are in a similar position. The success UWOFA saw in speaking up for contract faculty is one she hopes echoes into her term.
“We want to keep that focus and extend that into the negotiations with librarians and archivists this fall. We want to emphasize the work librarians and archivists do is central to the university’s mission of teaching and research,” she said.
“And as the first librarian president, I think that is a sign that the association as a whole is at a very mature place. Our Vice-President this year, Ann Bigelow, is a limited-term faculty member (Social Science) so we’re looking beyond tenured faculty for leadership roles within the association, which I think is really important, and it shows that we value the contributions our members make. We’re all academic staff, we all care about the mission of teaching and research and that’s really what the association is here for.”