How Do We Evaluate Collaboration in Librarian Scholarship?

Librarianship is a collaborative field. We’re always trying to collaborate with someone–teaching faculty, IT people, students, even (gasp!) other librarians. In terms of librarian scholarship, co-authored and multi-authored works are common if not the norm.

When it’s time to evaluate multi-authored works for reappointment, tenure and promotion, how do we estimate contribution and assign credit? Does a co-authored work “count” as half of a sole authored work? Is someone who has a lot of multi-authored works “padding” their CV, or are they master collaborators? When writers collaborate, are they merely dividing the labor, or has some synergy occurred and have they produced something that neither could have produced on their own? Do we need to be doing more to promote and reward effective librarian collaboration in scholarship?

9 thoughts on “How Do We Evaluate Collaboration in Librarian Scholarship?

  1. If you are working at an institution that “counts” the number of journal articles you publish in order to determine if you get tenure or promotion, look for a new job. Librarians should know better than anyone the flaws in most quantitative metrics of scholarly communication. If anything, co-authorship shows better performance in important facets of strategic goals for 21st century libraries such as collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and flexibility.

  2. I’m fortunate enough never to have had to worry about tenure and promotion, so discount my comment if you like. But I think that collaborative works are at least as valuable as solo works. A person who works with a collaborator has found a way to test her ideas against against another person’s and reach a consensus and compromise that is good enough for both people to want to put their names on. Give me a collaborative author any day.

  3. Single authored works are highly valued in the humanities while in the sciences multi-authored (collaborative) worked are the norm. Perhaps in an attempt to ‘look like’ other disciplines, librarianship has tended to value the scholarship norms and metrics the humantities rather than the sciences. I think we should care less about other disciplines do and support what works for *our* discipline. Besides, libraries have been collaborating for well over a century, while should our scholarship be different?

  4. I want to put in a plug for synergy. There is something powerfully different that happens when I collaborate. Together we can do things that are impossible alone. I have published 2 papers recently that came out of collaborative efforts. In both cases I would argue that we both gave 100%.

    However, there is a place for the solo author as well. I’m also writing a library history paper all by my self. In some ways, I miss having a collaborator, but when the first complete draft is finished (I hope within this next week or so) I mean to seek out informal collaborators and send it out for informal reviews before sending it to the journal. Human beings are social creatures, cooperation is the essence of life.

  5. I just attended my university’s P & T forum yesterday, where we were all advised to go by the norms of our own discipline when considering the weight of co-authored vs. individually authored works. I will have to hold onto this for when I go up for promotion!

  6. John gets at this with his comment but I’m going to clearly state it: Given that some faculty still do not know what it is we do (see recent Ithaka) I think collaborative articles are just as important as sole authorship.

    Meaningful contribution to a collaborative project is one way academic librarians can demonstrate to faculty that they are more than just glorified clerks.

  7. Thanks for the comments.
    John – you are right to point out the dangers of quantitative metrics; human beings being what they are, however, counting often breaks out on committees, especially when a dispute arises…

    Steve – not necessarily. it’s possible that collaboration could make a written product worse because of compromise. And while it is unpleasant to have to worry about tenure and promotion, the benefits are many!

    Robin – I agree!

    Rachael – it would be better if you could get the norms in writing!

    Brad – I’m not sure why collaboration would help librarians explain what they do to faculty. You mean collaboration with them?

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