Students and library staff at Mount Allison University are challenging a proposal to phase out the school's top librarian.

"The idea of thinking the role of head librarian could be replaced by non-academic personnel is a bit ridiculous," said Linnea Bell, a fourth-year history student at Mount A.

Last week, Jeff Ollerhead, the vice-president of academics and research, proposed restructuring of top-level positions at the university, including that of chief librarian.

He recommended getting a dean to split responsibilities between academics and the library. Mount A would hire a manager with human resources and financial skills to assist the dean, he said.

This week, library staff published an open letter to faculty and students outlining their concerns.

Bell said she'd like to organize a student protest against the proposed changes.

The student union also sent an email to students asking for feedback and saying it's "taking this issue very seriously."

"If you take a professional out of the head of an institution, where do you stop?" said David Mawhinney, the university's archivist.

18 months of consultation

Linnea Bell, a fourth-year history student

Regardless of any money saved, Linnea Bell, a fourth-year history student, thinks this move would devalue the Mount Allison University Library and Archives. (Submitted)

The proposal follows 18 months of consultation within the Mount Allison community.

Students and stakeholders have until Friday to officially respond.

Whether Mount A goes ahead with the proposal will be up to top administrators.

Although no changes have been made, even the suggestion the university librarian might be eliminated has raised red flags for many.

'It's really sad to me that it's not being regarded as an important space. It's really disheartening.' -Kathryn Stevenson, student

"It could potentially have national ramifications," said Mawhinney. 

"If you de-professionalize the position at this institution, who says the same thing will not be tried at another institution across the country?"

He said other libraries could keep Mount Allison from taking part in important conversations about matters such as information-sharing if the Sackville institution doesn't have a chief administrator who studied library science.

Marc Truitt, the university's current librarian, plans to retire in 2019, Mawhinney said.

Ollerhead said the proposals to restructure the academic administration could save up to $150,000.

However, he insists that's not the reason for his proposal to cut the chief librarian position.

Age of Google

Mount Allison library

The university has recently introduced a proposal to restructure some of the school's top-level positions. (Twitter)

The proposal is also not about the role librarians play in the modern world, he said, but about beginning a discussion of the feedback he's received on streamlining the university's administration.

Regardless of whether money is saved, some students think the move would devalue the Mount Allison University Library and Archives.

 "It's really sad to me that it's not being regarded as an important space," said Kathryn Stevenson, a fifth-year English student. "It's really disheartening."

Mawhinney, like Bell and Stevenson, said it's hard to replace the value of a professional librarian — even in the age of Google.

In the brave new world of data, he said, sometimes you need someone who can cut through the noise.

Library helps rankings

"How do you not know that the content on the first page has not been paid for by someone who wants you to see that first as opposed to something that really is scholarly?" 

On its website, Mount Allison boasts about ranking first in the undergraduate category of the Maclean's magazine University Rankings, which include an assessment of school resources, including libraries.

Breaking down the ranking, the university said it placed second in total library expenses as a percentage of the overall budget and seventh in overall operating budget per full-time student.