I was inspired to write about publishing and presenting by academic librarians on the tenure track by a post on this topic over at Wandering Eyre . Jane relates how she feels like a “lady of the night” because she is obligated to give away her research to professional conferences if she is to achieve tenure. While her post is itself a continuation of a thread about gratis presentations versus paid ones, I sensed more angst about the “publish or perish” pressure felt by academic librarians on the tenure track.
I’m not on the tenure track – never have been – so it may be difficult to put myself in the place of someone who is feeling the strain of seeking to get selected to speak at a prestige conference event, or feeling the need to sacrifice the opportunity to accept a good honorarium at a lesser prestige conference because accepting might reflect badly on one’s perceived commitment to achieving tenure. I’ve also had the good fortune to publish where I wish or present where I want without needing to worry if it will impress a tenure review committee – and perhaps that degree of freedom helps to promote writing and presenting productivity.
But after reading an account like the one at Wandering Eyre I have to ask what this profession needs to do to work towards (acknowledging that the tenure process is not under the control of librarians alone at any institution) a more holistic tenure process. What do we gain by putting our young or new professionals through a process that leaves them feeling drained and uninspired, believing that what you really have to communicate – and how you choose to communicate it – isn’t as important as where you write or speak it. Admittedly, the tenure track and its associated pressures are all about weeding out under performers to create an academic organization that benefits from having the best of the best. But what can be done to allow those on the tenure track to enjoy the process of research and publication, the way it was meant to be be experienced, without being made to feel as if they are on a vicious treadmill. Here are a few suggestions that might help tenure-track librarians avoid that “senseless grind” feeling.
Do I expect tenure-track academic libraries to make these sort of changes? Well, I would hope the more progressive ones can give it some thought. Why not attempt to transcend some of the likely opposition (I did it this way, so should others; Faculty won’t treat us as equals if our tenure process isn’t the same as theirs; Some of these new methods are not peer reviewd, etc.) and be among the first to create new avenues for scholarship. There is significant discussion about this profession’s need to recognize that our user communities are changing and that our libraries need to change to accomodate those users. If this profession can’t even recognize that its members and what drives their research interests are changing – and that it is time for new accomodations – then we may be truly challenged to meet the needs of our user communities.