Aging Librarians and the Crisis of Succession Planning at Fourah Bay College Library
The issue of succession planning has been discussed in several library fora. The Academic Libraries Group did a revealing SWOT analysis during its presentation at the Seminar on Library Capacity Building Interventions for Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in West Africa at the Erata Hotel, East Legon, Ghana in June 2009. Though several strengths were identified (including right calibre of staff, qualified professionals, experienced staff, organised structures, influential position of University Librarians as part of top management and the availability of formal professional committees/organisations/associations), a striking weakness among eight others was that of the ‘aging librarians’. The Library at Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone, is not an exception. A significant percentage of senior library staff would retire between 2018 & 2026, and only the implementation of an aggressive succession planning policy would salvage the critical situation. It is believed that Alexander the Great never had a robust succession plan and the bitter consequence was the disintegration of the far-flung empire he struggled to build.
DEFINITION OF SUCCESSION PLANNING
Succession planning is about replacing staff who will eventually leave an organisation as a result of several factors including death, transfer, resignation, termination, dismissal, retirement etc. According to Blakesley, it “may increasingly be viewed as just a part of strategic planning processes, as we decide what must be done and what can be given up, and how to reallocate, retrain and realign the people who remain in our organizations” (2011 p. 34). The Biblical injunction (Paul to Timothy) is apt: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
(2 Timothy 2:2, King James Version).
Angela Bridgland (1999) opined that people and positions should be systematically reviewed to ensure that the strategic plan of an organisation is implemented. Though there is much talk about the “graying of our profession” (Blakesley, 2011, p. 32), we are reminded that “it’s not news that baby boomers are reaching retirement age” (Bermes, p. 66). In 2001, during the joint conference organised by the Standing Conference of African University Libraries, Western Area (SCAULWA) and the West African Library Association (WALA) in Accra, Ghana the author of this article commented on the rapid decline in the number of professional librarians in Sierra Leone. The situation in Fourah Bay College Library is a microcosm of the national problem. Many professional librarians in the country have retired from the profession. Some of these dynamic personalities or household names include Mrs. Gladys Jusu-Sheriff, Mrs. Deanna Thomas (late), Mrs. Gloria Dillsworth, Mrs. Olatungie Campbell, Mrs. Marian Lisk, Mr. Victor Coker, Mrs. Alice Malamah-Thomas, Mr. A.N.T. Deen (late), Mrs. Yeama Lucilda Hunter, Mrs. Abator Thomas, Prof. Magnus John etc. This has left a very wide gap in the profession and the current professional librarians are very few and far between.
STATUS OF AGING FBC LIBRARY STAFF IN RELATION TO SUCCESSION PLANNING
There are three main categories of staff at FBC Library, namely, junior, senior supporting and senior.
Perhaps the issue of succession planning is very critical when one considers the percentage of senior library staff (academic and technical) that would retire within the next couple of years. It must be noted that the retirement age for senior members of staff is sixty-five years.
If five out of the seven members of staff (that is 71.4%) will retire in eight years (between 2018 and 2026), or six (85.8%) will leave the system between 2018 and 2030), the strategic importance of succession planning at Fourah Bay College Library cannot be over emphasised. The current head has a little over a decade and a half to set the house in order before his exit, provided he stays until the end of his own tenure in 2033 (after a service of forty one years).
The first to retire in 2018 would have given a total of forty-four years of service to the College and is currently the head of the Periodicals Section in the Library. He is unanimously dubbed ‘the Encyclopaedia of Fourah Bay College Library’.
Perhaps, the most damaging loss may be the current Book Binder whose replacement is now being actively discussed at the Institute of Library, Information and Communication Studies (INSLICS) at Fourah Bay College where he teaches all the conservation courses. Who will replace him when he retires in 2023 after giving forty-five years of service to the Bindery? That is indeed the question. He has already given two decades of his career serving as a Part -Time Lecturer at INSLICS and there is hardly any other tertiary institution in Sierra Leone with a functional bindery unit. None of the other nine members of staff in the bindery at Fourah Bay College possess any qualification in conservation. That same year (2023) would also witness the end of forty-five years of service of the head of another unique section, the Sierra Leone Collection, which forms an integral part of the national bibliography of Sierra Leone. He is strategically positioned to train potential librarians during his last six years as he will graduate with the M.Phil in Library, Archive & Information Studies in 2017.
He will be followed by the current head of the Cataloguing Department who would have served for thirty four years on his retirement in 2025, the same number of years the head of the Issue Desk/Circulation Department would have given when her service ends in 2026.
The dynamism of a senior female academic staff is already evident in the fact that she currently deputises the head of the Cataloguing section and supervises the American Shelf, where she organises many meaningful outreach programmes. She may well be regarded as a very dynamic public relations officer who has much more to contribute in her forty-five years of service that will end in 2030.
Senior Supporting staff
Staff in this category are due for retirement at the age of sixty. Unfortunately, this category lacks the corresponding number of staff to replace those who will eventually retire from the senior cadre. In fact, a male staff is due for retirement at the end of September this year and he is currently serving his second year beyond the age of retirement.
Fortunately, a female staff in this category recently graduated with the M.Phil in Library and Information Science from INSLICS and this staff is currently the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Professionals (SLAALIP) where she is serving the first term, which would end in 2017. The M.Phil degree would eventually catapult her to the senior academic staff category. A second female staff has much to offer the Library until 2032. She has completed several programmes at INSLICS, including the undergraduate degree, post graduate diploma and is currently doing her M.Phil. The possibility also exists for the Administrative Assistant to pursue a career in Librarianship. One of the male staff has been identified as a potential leader as he has already completed his postgraduate diploma in Library and Information Studies and would enroll for the M.Phil in the same discipline in the 2016/17 session. With two more decades in the library, there is all a distinct possibility that he may also have an opportunity to head the entire library. Another female staff (an administrative staff) also has the option to pursue a career in Librarianship and rise to key library positions within the next decades.
The twenty one members of staff in this category form the bulk of the library staff. Since a library’s most important resource is its staff, considerable resources and energy must be concentrated to empower these staff who are working with little or no certificates. Staff in this category retire at the age of sixty years, giving the library management an opportunity to identify those that would be encouraged to further improve themselves and enter the tertiary institution. Although these twenty one staff have very little or no significant qualifications, the future of Fourah Bay College Library squarely lies in the hands of this potential workforce.
A female staff is currently enrolled at INSLICS and she would hopefully complete her Bachelor of Arts with Honours degree during the 2017/18 session. Upon completion, the expected position to be assumed by a female staff is Senior Library Assistant and with further training at INSLICS, she will eventually move to the senior academic cadre. A male staff is currently enrolled in a diploma programme at the Institute of Library, Information and Communication Studies, Fourah Bay College and would hopefully graduate at the end of the 2017/18 academic year. He would eventually be upgraded to the Library Assistant position. Another male staff has already gained admission at the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) to read for a bachelor’s degree in Public Sector Management. Upon completion, he will move to the Senior Supporting Category as a Trainee Librarian. Such a position will give him the opportunity to eventually register for a Post Graduate Diploma in Librarianship course at INSLICS. Unfortunately, a female staff that completed the Certificate in Library Studies during the 2014/15 session died on 19th January 2016.
Eight junior staff will retire in the 2040s and five in the 2030s and the service of another eight will end between 2019 and 2029. Several staff have been encouraged to take or retake the West African Senior Certificate Examination to qualify them to enroll on degree programmes at INSLICS or other departments. Another potential staff just obtained her five credits that will enable her gain acceptance in the University of Sierra Leone.
1. The Need for More Staff to enroll at the Institute of Library, Information & Communication Studies
The Institute of Library Studies (INSLIBS) was established in 1989 as an arm of the University of Sierra Leone. INSLIBS became a part of Fourah Bay College in 2000 when it was merged with the Department of Mass Communication and assumed its new name, the Institute of Library, Information & Communication Studies (INSLICS).
The position of librarian at Fourah Bay College was upgraded from the level of Senior Lecturer to the level of Professor at a meeting of the College Council in October 1961 (Jones 1977). This professorial status was gained during the tenure of the expatriate librarian, Mr. Michael Jollife (1961-1971) after whom the college library was named.
INSLICS currently offers five programmes in Library and information Studies: Master of Philosophy, Post Graduate Diploma, Bachelor of Arts with honours, Diploma and the Special Certificate. All academic staff, librarians at Fourah Bay College must take advantage of the current programmes offered at the institute in order to accelerate their professional development and attain crucial positions in the library system.
a. The Masters Degree/MPhil. in Librarianship
The acquisition of the masters degree in librarianship should not be downplayed by librarians if they are to successfully climb the professional ladder in the university library system. More librarians possess masters degrees in other disciplines other than librarianship and this is very dangerous to the professional development of the libraries within the university. These qualifications are necessary in one’s development as a professional librarian since senior librarians in the University of Sierra Leone are academic staff. Furthermore, there is dire need for more subject librarians within the university if the needs of researchers should be met. However, this path is hampered when these qualifications are obtained without due consideration to the MA or M.Phil from the Institute of Library, Information and Communication Studies (INSLICS) or elsewhere. Two senior members of staff completed the M. Phil programme at INSLICS within the last six years and two are currently working on corrections identified by their external examiners. The Trainee Librarian registered for the MPhil during the 2015/16 session. The professional development of the library would be enhanced if other members of staff are encouraged to enroll for professional library qualifications.
b. The Postgraduate Diploma in Librarianship
This above qualification is very important for staff who are desirous of pursuing librarianship as a career but with no formal or professional qualification in the field. Perhaps this path is however not necessary for members of staff with the undergraduate degree in librarianship. Any staff in the university with a first degree in another field other than librarianship should be encouraged to enroll to obtain this first professional qualification.
c. The Undergraduate Degree in Librarianship
The rationale for the existence of a diploma, post-graduate diploma and masters programmes in the library institute in the early 1990s without the undergraduate degree in librarianship is still not clear to the researcher, since he passionately believes that it was partly responsible for the stagnation of many library staff within the system after the diploma programme. Four staff members at Fourah Bay College Library have completed this programme since the first set graduated in 2004. There is currently one female staff in this programme. More should be encouraged to pursue this qualification, which would help them to grow in the system.
d. The Diploma in Librarianship
This programme is designed to train para-professional staff and has given the opportunity to those who have worked for a very long period to be considered for the senior supporting position. More members of staff should be encouraged to register for this very important para-professional qualification.
e. The Certificate in Librarianship
Though the above programme was discontinued 2000 due to the shortage of staff, it has been revamped and is currently been offered as a Special Certificate. Some staff from different libraries have benefitted from this training but more should be encouraged to take advantage of this training.
2. The introduction of a PhD programme in Librarianship
The importance of a doctoral programme in Librarianship is long overdue and an absolute necessity. There are currently two Associate Professors in the University of Sierra Leone, one each at the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) and the Institute of Library, Information and Communication Studies (INSLICS). The introduction of such a programme at INSLICS would further enhance the capacity of staff in the entire university, an opportunity Fourah Bay College Library staff, among others, would take advantage of. The Mass Communication department at INSLICS has already introduced its doctoral programme with only one Professor.
3. The need to Appoint a University Librarian
There is need to appoint a University Librarian to co-ordinate library activities within the University of Sierra Leone. Such a highly profiled official would actively represent the library profession in the University Court, a body where the voice of the librarian is currently not directly heard. Only one University Librarian has been formally appointed and she left the country when the rebels attacked the city of Freetown in 1997. She never returned to the institution and there is an urgent need to appoint another.
4. Membership of professional associations
Professional library associations are a must for professional librarians. Many librarians in the University of Sierra Leone are members of the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Professionals (SLAALIP). However, membership of international professional library associations should be encouraged. Library staff in the University of Sierra Leone must identify themselves as members of international library associations since such membership enhances professional development. In 2016 for instance, Fourah Bay College Library became a member of the African Library and Information Associations & Institutions (AfLIA).
5. Implications of new Technology
Librarians are currently on a crossroad and must embrace the new technology to justify their existence in this information age when the collection management emphasis is not on ownership but access to information. Those who are still traditional librarians could justifiably be classed under the category of Endangered Species. Members of staff must ensure that they are not merely computer literate but computer proficient and must be able to disseminate information in any format. Librarians in the University of Sierra Leone in general, and Fourah Bay College in particular, “must pay a tremendously high price in preserving traditional services and embracing the new technological advances” (Harding, 2002, p. 9). The university administration must acknowledge the centrality of its academic nerve centre and equip it accordingly.
6. Expansion of library positions
It is evident that the growth of the student population in the University of Sierra Leone has not seen a corresponding growth in the number of staff. At FBC library in particular, more members of staff could be found on the staff list in the 1970s when the student population was about five hundred, than the current listing, when there are about seven thousand students.
If members of staff are being encouraged to study to arrest the effect of retirement, defection, transfer, death etc., more positions should be created at all levels to ensure their upward mobility since promotion is based on several factors including qualifications, performance and availability of established positions.
The continuous replacement of staff and leadership training/development are crucial at Fourah Bay College Library, University of Sierra Leone. Without strategically planning how to garner resources to equip existing staff with the necessary skills needed to fill inevitable gaps, the succession planning will continue to pose a serious challenge in Fourah Bay College Library. Since success without successor is failure, a major step in succession planning is to spot vacancies that may likely be available, periodically. Furthermore, there must be a strategic consideration of the manner in which these identified vacancies could be filled. The implication is then a realistic consideration of the expectations in the job and an identification of the skills exhibited by the existing staff to enable management to tailor training activities.
Bermes, Emily Osbun. (2011). “Succession Planning for the Small Business.” Business People. 3(2), pp. 60-71.
Blakesley, Elizabeth. (2011). “Planning for the future: sources to explore for succession planning”. Library Leadership and Management. 25(2), pp. 29-36.
Bridgland, Angela. (1999). “To Fill, or How to Fill – That is the Question: Succession Planning and Leadership Development in Academic Libraries.” Australian Academic and Research Libraries. 30(1).
Harding, Oliver L.T. (2002). “The African University librarian in the Information Age”. SCAULWA Newsletter. 3(2), pp. 8-11.
Jones, Eldred. Tribute delivered at a memorial service and requiem mass held for the late Michael Jolliffe at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Freetown, on Wednesday, 22nd June, 1977.