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.”

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.