Commentary: SuperBOLD: Library Should Cut Losses By JANE WELFORD

Tuesday June 21, 2005

Matthew Artz makes it appear as though “a truce has been achieved in the war between labor and management” (“Library Budget Spares Jobs, Sunday Hours,” Daily Planet, June 10). As a member of Super Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense (SuperBOLD), I can report that the fight has only just begun.  

We have two major battles: One is our demand for the cancellation of the radio frequency identification (RFID) contract and removal of the RFID tags; the other is achieving a fully staffed library with union benefits for all. SuperBOLD believe in unions, decent wages, decent benefits, health care for workers, especially in the Bay Area where it is notoriously difficult to make ends meet. 

Mr. Artz jumped to the conclusion that SuperBOLD has joined forces with other organizations. Because speakers come from other organizations to support our position about the Library Tax, does not mean that we have joined forces with them.  

We are asking that the City Council support a Library Tax increase only on condition that the RFID is stopped dead in its tracks and the tags removed. We are opposed to the tax being used to pay for updating this new technology every few years, to pay for a new batch of radio frequency chips for the new books, videos, CDs, DVDs, and magazines as they come in, and to pay for endless tweaking and repairs that RFID will require. For example, I’ve noticed that tags are being put on magazines. Will the tags be thrown out with the discarded magazines?  

We witness the lack of concern for the workers at our libraries (too much work for too few workers; morale is at an all-time low), the lack of concern for resources—especially books (some 20,000 books were tossed in dumpsters just to save the 50 cents for each RFID chip), and the rush to put this new technology in before we were even aware of what was happening. Now the Board of Library Trustees has postponed the June 20 community forum on RFID.  

I recommend that the Library Tax increase be spent on books and materials for the citizens of Berkeley and on the humans who interact with us, teach our children how to use the library, and put the books away. 

I am amazed that Mr. Artz could actually write the following: “...after months of union leaders bashing Berkeley Library Director Jackie Griffin.” The Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) had to be pushed by community and workers at the BOLT meetings to listen to what union stewards and leaders were trying to say. Director Griffin doesn’t appear to pay attention to speakers from the library board meeting audience, whether they be union, library users, or library workers.  

Corporate welfare tactics of co-opting taxpayers to fund public testing of undeveloped technology while reducing the staffing of our tax-funded libraries are not acceptable to SuperBOLD nor to the residents of Berkeley. Almost 1,000 people have signed our petition requesting that RFID be removed from our libraries. The director has taken out a loan of $500,000 via the City of Berkeley to pay for the RFID system. The existing system was working perfectly well. There were no repetitive stress injuries at all last year, yet this was one of the major arguments for buying this system. When the loan was taken, it was clear that the library would be in the red about $650,000 for the technology alone. The budget cuts were going to have to come from somewhere after they committed to the expense. We will be paying $55,000 just in interest on this loan. Future expenses will be exponentially greater; this is the rule of new technologies; they don’t actually make our goods and services cheaper—but they do line the pockets of the technology-mongers.  

The wisest immediate action is to cut our losses and get rid of the technology and trappings of RFID before we end up in a real mess, with our libraries understaffed, not enough money to buy new books, and the technology not working. Any Library Tax increase should be used to preserve our great libraries, not to reduce labor costs! If RFID is not stopped and the Library Tax increase is passed, the money will be spent to pay for batches of RFID chips and to update and repair this untested technology rather than to hire enough library workers to make the job bearable for them and useful for us and our children and for great library materials.  

Come to our rally on Tuesday, June 21 at 6 p.m. at Old City Hall and then stay to speak at the budget hearing!  


Jane Welford is a member of Super Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense.