On Friday, Oct. 2, students at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG) received an email on behalf of Panitza Library. The email informed students and faculty that the library would cut off its working hours due to unexpected circumstances.
Panitza library was named after Dimi and Yyvonne Panitza as a sign of gratitude for their contribution to turning the institution into reality. It has become a favorite spot for students to enjoy its warm and friendly atmosphere. The library is not only the place where AUBG students write their papers or prepare for a final. It is where students find support and help on their academic journey.
Ever since the library was established, the staff has been an integral part of its journey. Nikolina Ivanova-Bell has been working in the library for 15 years and in January 2017, she became the library director.
"The decision made in the last week was a very hard one to take," said Nikolina Ivanova-Bell. According to her, the library has never operated with reduced working hours during a regular semester. “We had serious administrative and staffing constraints,” Ivanova-Bell added.
In order to operate normally, the library must have at least three and a half circulation desk positions. Circulation librarians are the people who greet students every day when entering the library. "They work in shifts and must be there at all times during library working hours. Having a person at the desk does not mean that this person is shaking their legs and waiting to check in and check out books," Ivanova-Bell said.
Librarians have many responsibilities related to the library's daily activities, and with reduced staff, the library cannot continue working like before. Prior to the working time changes, the library worked from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends. Two weeks before finals and during finals week, the library opened doors at 8 a.m. and closed at 12 a.m. every day for students to thoroughly prepare for their exams.
The library staff has a five-day work schedule, and all workers take different shifts. At the moment, the working week for the circulation librarians starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday. Therefore, on Friday, the reference librarians, whose job is to recommend and evaluate specific information resources, must take extra shifts and work at the desk.
"With the staff we have now, with two circulation librarians, the library can cover only these working hours," Ivanova-Bell said. The current working hours are Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday - 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.
"We lost one circulation librarian, and for that reason, we cannot operate normally and assure the long working hours for the library." Ivanova-Bell said. The library staff did everything they could to keep that person, who according to Ivanova-Bell was very motivated and eager to learn. "It was not my decision, and neither the person decided to quit their job. It was an administrative decision," Ivanova-Bell said.
Radina Damyanova has worked for two years as a circulation librarian. She created dozens of lib guides, promotional posters for the exhibitions at the library, and answered daily the library chat where every student can ask a question. “The place where I feel good, the place where I feel myself. Very few people say this nowadays, but I can honestly say I loved my job," Damyanova said, when asked to describe her experience in the library.
Two years ago, Damyanova signed a contract, which expired at the end of August 2020. The administration offered her a part-time job, and conditions that did not correspond to the previous ones.
“When I first started working, a colleague told me, ‘The library is the heart of the university,’ and he was right. It is very unfortunate that after this decision was made, the work of the library has been disturbed,” Damyanova said.
Damyanova will continue to work and develop as a librarian. She introduced the university library at the National Conference "Libraries in the Digital Age" organized by The Bulgarian Library and Information Association (BBIA) on Oct. 15-16, 2020. Three more projects were presented at the conference by Adelina Barzachka (Senior Circulation Librarian, ILL, and Special Events), Deya Argirova (Class of 2020, JMC Major), and Gergana Atanasova (E-resources, Digital Collections, and Serials Librarian).
"Radina will present the library with a special lib guide, which she made last year. It gives information on copyrights, and JMC students use it a lot," Ivanova-Bell said.
The library director shared that they have many planned projects in the future. However, their number would decrease due to staff shortages. Not only has the library lost one person, but one more is currently in the hospital. Therefore, the library cannot operate at the same pace as it did before.
"The decision to hire a person full-time does not depend on us; it depends on the administration, unfortunately. We have done everything possible as a team. As a library manager, I warned of a similar danger that arises when reducing this position. And, at the same time, I expressed the great need for this position," Ivanova-Bell said.
During the spring semester pandemic, many libraries around the world closed, but not the Panitza library. "We are always here. We took the necessary health measures, and the staff was in the library every day, working. Most of our services went online, but we did everything so that they could be served as before," Ivanova-Bell said.
For the future, the library hopes to receive more understanding about the essence of their work. "What we cannot influence as a library and as a team are the administrative decisions, unfortunately. I would like to have my whole team so that we can grow and function properly. And when a student comes to us and asks us to help with a project, we have the necessary human resources to help them make it happen." Ivanova-Bell said.
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