Syntychia Kendrick-Samuel is head of Young Adult Services at Uniondale Public Library on Long Island. She also serves as president of the Uniondale Public Library Staff Association.
1. You share a bond and a mission with school libraries — the advancement and shared enthusiasm of reading and knowledge. In your role as head of Young Adult Services, you are in many ways an extension of the school library. Yet public libraries are a unique entity; can you explain how?
Public libraries are unique in their mission. We provide access to information for all patrons, including technology and serving as a community center. These can help to transform the lives of our patrons. I have to recognize that students are not mandated to come to the public library, so I have to find ways via programming, collection development and customer service to attract teens.
2. What is the Uniondale Empowerment Academy?
The Empowerment Academy is a consecutive week program where participants meet twice per week (attendance is mandatory). The program is offered once or twice per year. There are two types of academies, one focuses on science and technology and the other focuses on the arts and humanities.
We've had students deconstruct and construct computers, dance with dancers from the Alvin Ailey company, learn about nanotechnology and discuss books with award-winning authors.
As a teen librarian serving a suburban community of color, the academy is my way to let our teens know that they matter; it's also a tool to expose them to things they wouldn't normally experience.
3. You and your colleagues decided to affiliate with NYSUT after facing decreased wages and lowered staff morale. What shift led to this situation?
I've been a public librarian since 2004. We decided to unionize after a change in library administration heralded a change in long-term benefits that we, as staff, had taken for granted. For example, in 2010, the yearly step salary increments were discontinued and replaced with a longevity system that decreased the earning potential of staff.
That same year saw the capping of the salaries of longtime part-time staff members as well. Staff objections fell on deaf ears and we realized that we had to organize if we wanted a voice in the workplace.
4. What issues of concern about public libraries do you hope to advance through your union's community and political outreach?
Unions serve an important role in educating people and empowering the labor force, including public library employees.
Library funding tends to be one of the first things to be cut. Library employee and association voices, coupled with the powerful voices of unions, can let those who hold the purse strings know that we are essential to the well-being of communities throughout the country.
5. Since organizing, do library administrators view professional staff more as partners?
The labor/management partnership goal is a journey that we're still working toward. It is good to know that NYSUT and our labor relations specialists have always been there to help us find a middle ground, enforce our contract and, at times, make use of PERB and the Taylor Law to exercise our rights.