Tenure for Librarians – Is It Worth It?

About once a year or so, I feel the need to say something about tenure and faculty status for academic librarians. Not quite “defend” our position, but at least take stock and reevaluate that position. Am I feeling defensive? Well, perhaps just a little. The truth is, library faculty play a different role than other departmental faculty and it can be a little bit difficult being in the minority.

A lot of misunderstanding exists about the responsibilities and contributions of library faculty. Much has been written about it in the library literature, but today I came across an article published in 2005 by Catherine Murray-Rust, Dean of Libraries at CSU – Fort Collins, in the Chronicle of Higher Education that sums it up very well. Here are a couple of quotes:

First, why librarians need tenure: “At a time when higher education is under attack, and libraries make the national news as partners with Google, the role of the library in academe is anything but certain. The comforting metaphor of the library as the heart of the university no longer resonates. Libraries compete openly for resources with other campus units and are expected to deliver increasingly expensive and sophisticated information services to ensure the university’s success in research and teaching. … Librarians can no longer afford to stay within the walls of the library and the confines of their profession. To ensure that libraries have a say in the future and help shape their institutions’ activities in important areas like digital scholarship and information literacy, librarians need to be at the table, in on the deals, and in the classroom. They need to lobby for new visions of library services and collections. They need to become astute politicians and fund raisers.”

Second, the benefits: “The inescapable conclusion is that the performance of libraries and librarians is being evaluated in new ways, strongly influenced by the development of new technologies for teaching and learning, radical changes in scholarly communication, and increasing demand for resources. … The best way to increase the odds that librarians will be visible on the campus and play a vital role in the changing world of higher education is to give them faculty status. When they participate in university governance, they provide a unique viewpoint — and develop political and negotiating skills. And when they collaborate with other faculty members, they have a better understanding of the academic enterprise, including conducting research.”

http://chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i06/06b01001.htm
Chronicle of Higher Education: Volume 52, Issue 6, Page B10 (9/30/2005)

Having worked in academic libraries where librarians did not have tenure and in my present tenure-track position, I can attest personally that tenure for librarians is beneficial to the University. In my current institution, librarians are able to collaborate much more extensively with other faculty members. I firmly believe that our efforts in partnering with other academic departments to further the research and instructional mission of the university benefits students.

Beacons of Hope

This article from Inside Higher Ed by Russell Olwell was very inspiring for me on this Tuesday morning. For those of us at public institutions, this is a reminder of mission. As one person commented on this posting, we have an opportunity to “provide education for students of all ages who have limited means. It is a calling to which we can be proud to respond.”

Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education – Inside Higher Ed :: Understanding the Class of 2015

Excerpt:
“Finally, going out to schools and talking about our college has made me realize just how important institutions such as mine, a large urban regional public institution, are. Regional public institutions are not glamorous places to work, and receive little respect in the media or in the academy. They are often trying to bootstrap themselves into research institutions, without the resources of the private and flagship institutions in the state.

However, when you visit schools in working-class areas, universities such as mine are real beacons of hope, where students of limited means can come for a four-year degree. While flagship institutions might be important for their sports teams and teaching hospitals, they are viewed as being as financially and academically out of range as the Ivy Leagues by many families. Four- year regional institutions and two-year colleges are viewed by many families as their real hope for attaining and maintaining a middle class existence in a time of massive economic uncertainty.

While many colleagues on my campus are hoping to bring in students from better high schools, or refocus our institution towards graduate degrees, or increase our G.P.A. and test score requirements, going on the road to a middle school in a non-affluent area can put it in perspective for a faculty member.

In this humble cafetorium sit our future students and parents, and they need our university to be accessible, affordable and safe. They need to meet people who teach there and feel comfortable that we will help them and their children have a better future. They may not have all the preparation we want them to have, but they have done what they could.

As faculty members, if we saw where our students were coming from more often, would make us more gratefully to have them arrive in our classes each September. While it may put come dents in the car, holes in the tires, and raise the gas bill, it would give faculty a stronger sense of the mission and role of our institutions at a time when their existence cannot be taken for granted.”

Why Choose a Small College

Steven Bell pointed out this article in his blog The Kept-Up Academic Librarian. I find it very interesting on both a personal and professional level. I too am both a parent of a high school sophomore and a library administrator at a small university. I firmly believe that smaller colleges have much to offer students. Most important, as mentioned in this article, are the personal access to high quality faculty members, the opportunities to do research, and the ability to take advantage of special programs. Read the whole article and pass it on to your prospective college students!

Big-name schools aren’t always best | csmonitor.com
From where I sit, both as a parent and as an academic administrator, I say resist the reflex to overvalue the “reach” schools and consider instead the complete package of a college experience. Given the number of well-prepared PhDs in the market, many institutions have first-rate faculties who develop challenging curriculums in their fields. Look for excellent academic programs, but also for undergraduate research, student leadership development, wide-ranging international programs, and opportunities for service. And weigh not only the existence of these programs but also the participation rates of students.

Library 2.0 Mission Statement

In our library, we’ve been working on rewriting our strategic plan. Our new proposed mission statement is not bad. However, I came across this one today on the Library2.0 blog below and I think it’s rather good!

“The library should establish, promote, maintain and evaluate a range of quality services that support the institution’s mission and goals by positioning itself at the center of intellectual life and scholarly communication on campus and utilizing networked tools that are integral to its users’ information culture.”

Library 2.0: An Academic’s Perspective: Standards That Don’t Help Us – Yet

For-Profit Schools Popular Destination for Minorities

Steven Bell posted this site on his blog, The Kept-Up Academic Librarian. We have several new for-profit institutions in our community and it appears this may be stiffer competition that I thought.

For-Profit Schools Popular Destination for Minorities
A disproportionate percentage of degrees from proprietary colleges go to Black and Hispanic graduates.

If the Academic Library Ceased to Exist Would We Have to Invent It?

Every academic library dean or director has heard, at least once, the comment that the academic library has become obsolete. This is disheartening to hear and leaves one scrambling for an answer that doesn’t sound a bit desperate. This article in the latest EDUCAUSE Review takes an interesting approach by using an imaginary scenario to explore the ramifications of closing the academic library. One of the most important statements the author, Lynn Cochrane, makes is to predict that, in the future, academic libraries will split their time 50/50 between acquiring, managing, and providing access to published information and collecting, managing, and “publishing” locally produced information. She says, “Over the next decade (probably less), library leaders need to help those of us in academic libraries to reduce our focus on the publisher-driven model (role 1) and increase our attention and resources to the user-driven model (role 2). Then we can do what we’ve always done best: bring order out of the information chaos swirling around us. ” Click the link below to read the complete essay, which is eyeopening!

EDUCAUSE REVIEW | January/February 2007, Volume 42, Number 1
Let’s imagine August 2010 at Excellent College (EC), a liberal arts institution of 2,000 undergraduates and 200 faculty. The college has decided to stop funding its library. Instead, it will give students a tuition rebate and give faculty a stipend representing their share of the annual amount that would previously have gone to support the library’s collections, facilities, and staff—about $2.7 million total. Each student and faculty member will get $1,230. For now, the library building and hard-copy collections will remain in place, student assistants will keep the doors open, and custodians will clean the facility; but database subscriptions will be discontinued, and no other services will be provided. Since the college has a robust honor code, circulation of materials will be on the honor system. Students and faculty will now be on their own to secure the information resources they need to fulfill their responsibilities.

Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education – Inside Higher Ed :: No Free Lunch

Read on for an interesting discussion about the impact of state funding on university graduation rates. Read the comments because they point out some of the more complex factors involved in this discussion.
Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education – Inside Higher Ed :: No Free Lunch
An increase of $1,000 in FTE state appropriation will result in a one percentage point increase in graduation rates.