Perceptions and Experiences of Precarious Employment in Canadian Libraries: An Exploratory Study

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Henninger, E., Brons, A., Riley, C., & Yin, C. (2019). Perceptions and experiences of precarious employment in Canadian libraries: An exploratory study. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 14(2). DOI: 10.21083/partnership.v14i2.5169.

Date created: 
Precarious employment
Library labour
Academic libraries
Public libraries
Work culture

Precarious employment is a labour practice characterized for employers by flexibility and economic efficiencies and for workers by vulnerability and uncertainty as to job duration, scheduling, and pay. It is increasingly common in Canada and can result in physical, mental, financial, and social strain for people who experience it. In libraries, it has the potential for negative effects on individual staff members, organizational health, and service quality. However, literature on precarious library work is scarce, and it is unclear how its effects on library staff compare to those described in the broader literature or how it affects the library field as a whole.

The purpose of this study was to gather information about library workers’ perceptions and experiences of precarious employment and to see how it played out in library contexts. Thirteen library workers both with and without experiences of precarious employment participated in qualitative, semi-structured interviews, which were synthesized into a narrative summarizing their thoughts and experiences. Results indicated that while there were some positive effects of precarious work, they mainly benefited library organizations from scheduling and financial standpoints, while negative outcomes were more numerous, more salient, and affected individuals as well as organizations. Awareness of such perceptions and experiences may help to spark conversations and support for those experiencing negative effects from precarious work, and it can serve to reduce or eliminate factors leading to those effects. However, failure to address them may result in negative outcomes for library workers and organizations, such as stress, turnover, marginalization, burnout, leaving the field, reduced service quality, and more. Accordingly, this paper provides some of the first qualitative information on precarious employment in libraries and may be used to support broader discussions about the topic.

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