Senior Librarians and Crisis of Succession Planning at the Fourah Bay College Library

INTRODUCTION

The issue of succession planning has been discussed in several library forums. The Academic Libraries Group conducted a revealing SWOT analysis during its presentation at the Library Capacity Building Intervention to Achieve West Africa Millennium Development Goals at the Erata Hotel, East Legon, Ghana in June 2009. Although several forces were identified (including right-wing personnel, qualified professionals, experienced staff) , organized structures, the influential position of university librarians as part of senior management and the availability of formal academic committees / organizations / associations), a marked weakness among eight others was that of ‘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 and 2026, and only the implementation of an aggressive succession planning policy will save the critical situation. It is believed that Alexander the Great never had a robust succession plan and the bitter consequence was the dissolution of the far-reaching empire he struggled to build.

DEFINITION OF SUCESSION PLANNING

Follow-up planning is about replacing staff who will eventually leave an organization due to several factors, including death, transfer, resignation, termination, dismissal, retirement, etc. According to Blakesley, it can “increasingly be seen as just part of strategic planning processes. , when deciding what needs to be done and what can be abandoned and how we are redistributing, retraining and re-adjusting the people who remain in our organizations ”(2011 p. 34). The biblical injunction (Paul to Timothy) is appropriate: “And the things which you have heard of me among many witnesses, the same do you commit to faithful people, who will also be able to teach others.”

(2 Timothy 2: 2, King James Version).

Angela Bridgland (1999) called for people and positions to be systematically reviewed to ensure that an organization’s strategic plan is implemented. Although there is much talk of “grinding our profession” (Blakesley, 2011, p. 32), we are reminded that “it is nothing new that baby boomers reach retirement age” (Bermes, p. 66). In 2001, during the joint conference hosted 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 the Fourah Bay College Library is a microcosm of the national problem. Many professional librarians in the country are 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. ANT 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 FOR ELDERLY OF FBC LIBRARY STAFF IN SUCESSION PLANNING

There are three main categories of staff at the FBC Library, namely junior, senior support and senior.

senior Employee

The issue of inheritance planning is perhaps very critical when considering the percentage of senior library staff (academic and technical) who will retire within the next few years. It should be noted that the retirement age for senior employees is sixty-five years.

If five out of seven employees (ie 71.4%) retire in eight years (between 2018 and 2026), or six (85.8%) leave the system between 2018 and 2030), the strategic importance of succession planning at the Fourah Bay College Library cannot be emphasized too much. The current head has just over half a decade to set the house in order before his departure, provided he stays until the end of his own tenure in 2033 (after a fortnightly service).

The first, who retired in 2018, would have given a total of twenty-four years of service to the college and is currently the head of the journal department in the library. He is unanimously called ‘The Encyclopaedia of Fourah Bay College Library’.

The most damaging loss might 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 conservation courses. Who replaces him when he retires in 2023 after giving forty-five years of service in Bindery? That is actually the question. He has already given two decades of his career and served as a part-time lecturer at INSLICS, and there is hardly any other tertiary institution in Sierra Leone with a functionally binding unit. None of the other nine staff in the binder at Fourah Bay College have any qualification in conservation. The same year (2023) was also to witness the end of forty-five years of service for the head of another unique department, the Sierra Leone Collection, which forms an integral part of the national bibliography of Sierra Leone. He is strategically positioned to educate prospective librarians over the past six years as he will be studying with M.Phil in Library, Archives and Information Studies in 2017.

He will be followed by the current Head of the Cataloging Department, who would have served thirty-four years upon his retirement in 2025, the same number of years that the Head of the Department’s Office / Circulation Department would have given when her service ended in 2026.

The dynamics of a senior female academic staff are already evident in the fact that she is currently the Deputy Head of the Cataloging Department and oversees the US shelf, where she organizes many meaningful outreach programs. She may well be considered a very dynamic public relations officer who has much more to contribute in her 45 years of service ending in 2030.

Senior support staff

Staff in this category must retire at the age of sixty. Unfortunately, this category lacks the corresponding number of employees to replace those who will eventually retire from the senior cadre. In fact, a male staff has to retire at the end of September this year, and he is currently earning his second year beyond retirement age.

Fortunately, a female staff in this category recently graduated with M.Phil in Library and Information Science from INSLICS, and this staff is currently President of the Sierra Leone Association of Archivists, Librarians and Information Professionals (SLAALIP), where she serves as the first term, which would end in 2017. The M.Phil degree will eventually catapult her into the senior academic staff category. Another female staff has much to offer the library until 2032. She has completed several programs at INSLICS, including the undergraduate, graduate programs and is currently completing her M.Phil. The administrative assistant also has the opportunity to pursue a career in library. 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 in M.Phil in the same discipline in the 2016/17 session. With another two decades at the library, everyone has a clear possibility that he may also have an opportunity to lead the entire library. Another female staff (an administrative staff) also has the opportunity to pursue a career in librarianship and come to key library positions within the next decades.

Junior staff

The 21 employees in this category make up the majority of library staff. As the library’s most important resource is its staff, significant resources and energy must be concentrated to strengthen this staff working with little or no certificates. Staff in this category are retiring at the age of sixty, giving library management an opportunity to identify those who would be encouraged to further improve themselves and enter the tertiary institution. Although these 21 employees have very little or no essential qualifications, the future of the Fourah Bay College Library lies in the hands of this potential workforce.

A female staff is currently enrolled in INSLICS and she would hopefully complete her Bachelor of Arts with Honors degree during the 2017/18 session. Upon completion, the expected position that a female staff is to occupy is the 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 course at the Department of Library, Information and Communication Studies, Fourah Bay College and will hopefully graduate by the end of the 2017/18 academic year. He would eventually be upgraded to the library assistant position. Another male staff has already been admitted at the Department of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) to read for a bachelor’s degree in Public Sector Management. Upon completion, he moves to the Senior Supporting Category as an internship librarian. Such a position will allow him to eventually register for a postgraduate diploma in library course at INSLICS. Unfortunately, a female staff member who completed the certificate in library studies died during the 2014/15 session on January 19, 2016.

Eight junior employees retire in the 2040s and five in the 2030s, and the service for an additional eight ends between 2019 and 2029. Several staff members have been encouraged to take or retake the West African Senior Certificate exam to qualify them to enroll in education at INSLICS or other departments. Another prospective staff just earned her five points that will allow her to gain acceptance at the University of Sierra Leone.

RECOMMENDATIONS

1. The need for more staff to sign up for the Department of Library, Information & Communication

The Institute of Library Studies (INSLIBS) was established in 1989 as an arm of the University of Sierra Leone. INSLIBS became part of Fourah Bay College in 2000 when it merged with the Department of Mass Communication and took on its new name, the Institute of Library, Information & Communication Studies (INSLICS).

The librarian position at Fourah Bay College was upgraded from the level of university lecturer to the level of professor at a college council meeting in October 1961 (Jones 1977). This professorship status was achieved during the tenure of the emigrated librarian, Mr. Michael Jollife (1961-1971), after whom the university library was named.

INSLICS currently offers five programs in Library and Information Studies: Master in Philosophy, Postgraduate Diploma, Bachelor of Arts with Honors, Diploma and the Special Certificate. All academic staff, librarians at Fourah Bay College must take advantage of the current programs offered at the institute to accelerate their professional development and obtain crucial positions in the library system.

a. Candidate Degree / MPhil. in librarianism

The acquisition of the master’s degree in librarianship should not be neglected by librarians if they are to successfully climb the professional ladder in the university library system. Several librarians have a master’s degree in disciplines other than librarianship, and this is very dangerous for the professional development of the university libraries. These qualifications are needed in one’s development as a professional librarian, as senior librarians at the University of Sierra Leone are academic staff. Furthermore, there is a great need for more academic librarians within the university if the needs of the researchers are to be met. However, this pathway is hampered when these qualifications are obtained without due regard to the MA or M.Phil from the Department of Library, Information and Communication Studies (INSLICS) or elsewhere. Two senior staff members completed the M. Phil program at INSLICS within the past six years and two are currently working on corrections identified by their external examiners. The internship librarian registered for MPhil during the 2015/16 session. The professional development of the library would be improved if other staff were encouraged to sign up for professional library qualifications.

b. The Postgraduate Diploma in Librarianism

This above qualification is very important for employees who want to pursue librarianship as a career, but without any formal or professional qualification in the field. However, this path may not be necessary for employees with a bachelor’s degree in librarianship. Any university staff with a first degree in a field other than librarianship should be encouraged to sign up to obtain this first professional qualification.

c. The Bachelor’s degree in Librarianism

The reason for the existence of a diploma, postgraduate diploma and master’s degrees in the library institute in the early 1990s without the bachelor’s degree in librarianship is still not clear to the researcher, as he passionately believes it was partly responsible for the stagnation of many library staff within for the system after the diploma program. Four staff at the Fourah Bay College Library have completed this program since the first set that graduated in 2004. There is currently a female staff in this program. More should be encouraged to pursue this qualification, which will help them grow in the system.

d. Diploma in Librarianism

This program is designed to train para-professional staff and has provided the opportunity for those who have worked for a very long time to be considered as the leading support position. More staff should be encouraged to sign up for this very important multi-disciplinary qualification.

e. The certificate in library

Although the above program was discontinued in 2000 due to staff shortages, it has been updated and is currently being offered as a special certificate. Some staff from various libraries have benefited from this training, but several should be encouraged to take advantage of this training.

2. Introduction of a PhD program in librarianism

The importance of a doctoral program in library has long disappeared and is an absolute necessity. There are currently two lecturers at the University of Sierra Leone, one each at the Department of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) and the Institute of Library, Information and Communication Studies (INSLICS). The introduction of such a program at INSLICS would further strengthen the capacity of staff across the University, an opportunity which, among other things, the staff of Fourah Bay College Library would benefit from. The mass communication department at INSLICS has already introduced its PhD program with only one professor.

3. The need to appoint a university librarian

There is a need to appoint a university librarian to coordinate library activities at the University of Sierra Leone. Such a high-profile official would actively represent the library subject in university law, a body where the librarian’s voice 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 trade unions

Professional library associations are a must for professional librarians. Many librarians at 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 at the University of Sierra Leone must identify themselves as members of international library associations as such membership enhances professional development. In 2016, for example, the Fourah Bay College Library became a member of the African Library and Information Associations & Institutions (AfLIA).

5. Implications of new technology

Librarians are currently at a crossroads 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 rightly be classified under the endangered species category. Employees must ensure that they are not only computer literate, but computer literate and must be able to disseminate information in any format. Librarians at the University of Sierra Leone in general and Fourah Bay College in particular “must pay a tremendously high price to retain traditional services and embrace the new technological advances” (Harding, 2002, p. 9). The university administration must recognize the center of its academic nerve center and equip it accordingly.

6. Extending library positions

It is evident that the growth of student population at the University of Sierra Leone has not seen a similar growth in the number of staff. Especially at the FBC library, more staff could be found on the staff list in the 1970s, with the student population being about five hundred than the current record when there are about seven thousand students.

If employees are encouraged to study to stop the impact of retirement, expulsion, transfer, death, etc., more positions should be created at all levels to ensure their upward mobility as promotion is based on several factors including qualifications, performance and availability of established positions.

CONCLUSION

The continuous staff replacement and leadership training / development is crucial at the Fourah Bay College Library, University of Sierra Leone. Without strategically planning how to provide resources to equip existing staff with the skills needed to fill inevitable gaps, succession planning will continue to pose a serious challenge at the Fourah Bay College Library. Since success without success is failure, a major step in inheritance planning is to place vacancies that are likely to be available on a regular basis. In addition, there must be a strategic consideration of the way in which these identified vacancies could be filled. The implication is then a realistic consideration of the expectations of the job and an identification of the skills displayed by existing staff to enable management to tailor training activities.

REFERENCES

Bermes, Emily Osbun. (2011). “Succession Planning for Small Businesses.” Businessmen. 3 (2), pp. 60-71.

Blakesley, Elizabeth. (2011). “Planning for the future: sources to be explored for subsequent planning”. Library management and management. 25 (2), pp. 29-36.

Bridgland, Angela. (1999). “To fill, or how to fill – That’s 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 and a funeral Mass held for the late Michael Jolliffe at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Freetown, on Wednesday, June 22, 1977.