Tag Archives: tenure

Taming Tenure as a Newbrarian

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Dylan Burns, Digital Scholarship Librarian at Utah State University.

This month I’ll end my first “year” at Utah State University, only about 3 months in real human time. That is when my tenure calendar, which trudged on before I was a glint in the eye of my search committee, ends the first year. Given the short amount of time I’ve been in Logan I believe I’ve done well in my position as Digital Scholarship Librarian, but the tenure dossier and meeting I schedule in few weeks still makes me think about the tenure process and what it means for librarians.

How am I approaching tenure?

A common refrain amongst faculty librarians is the “failed academic” route to our success. Many of us dreamed of being on campus albeit as research or teaching faculty rather than where we landed in the library. This doesn’t mean that the library wasn’t ultimately the spot in academia that fit my interests and goals the best; In fact, I will say that I should have been shooting for librarianship for a longer time that I actually was. We all hear stories from kids in library school (I can say that now right? Since I’m library #adulting?) where they knew from a young age that librarianship was their be-all end-all, but I wasn’t one of them.

What this means is that in my prior grad school life, I had a completely different set of research interests and projects which may or may not fit in my life as a librarian (depending on how much you squint). In my previous program I presented and published on gendered bananas in advertising and American diplomacy as well as the end of the world in country music. While the end products of my research, strange discussions of cultural politics of bananas aside, fit well in many humanities departments across the country, these aren’t the research projects that librarians need to make themselves better and improve the larger discipline.

What I do think these prior flights of fancy in scholarship give me is a larger context for the work I ultimately am doing as an academic librarian. In my meetings with faculty I can share these experiences with them and draw from my own previous life as a researcher to better design a digital scholarship unit at Utah State which confronts problems and assuages fears.

In a larger context though, I find that academic librarianship allows us to see the larger picture of both the University but the entire scholarly world. Scholars on campus are brilliantly narrow in their pursuits, a necessity of the current state of academia. Librarians, on the other hand, are interdisciplinary to their core.

This leads to a potential pitfall that all of us face. With the new brand of freedom granted by not having to take classes or read assigned texts I’m left with the burden of this freedom. I guide my own path, with the guidance of experienced librarians and my committee. I chose what to read and what skills to learn. This is a great freedom but also a deep frustration: What I am going to do now? In a lot of ways we are experts in gaining expertise. We guide researchers to their own information needs and goals. How do we do this for ourselves?

With my short year concluding I felt a lot of pressure to hit the ground running. I think that is a burden that all first year librarians feel. We see colleagues doing great work and we judge ourselves against what they’ve been able to do in years rather than weeks. Remembering that we’re new and these connections and projects take time to develop is key to early success. Sometimes we come to our jobs with projects in mind, I have some on the backburner, but when confronted with new environments and new colleagues it is imperative that we jettison those projects if new ones come along. I have taken every single opportunity to work with my new friends and colleagues on projects essential to the future of our library.

What I idealized as the Baudelairian scholar or poet in the tower who worked on scholarship as a singular and lonely force is ultimately the wrong approach. Librarianship is one where we can all work on projects together to further the field. Being open to collaborations and being interested in forming these connections has been one of the most important things I’ve learned thus far.

Furthermore, after decades of school, I think I tend to view most of interactions as competitions. Competitions for grads or grants or for articles or conferences or graduate assistantships and jobs. It is easy to carry this competitive edge into the job and tenure does not discourage that kind of thinking. But I remind myself every day that I am in competition only with myself and any opportunity to cooperate and collaborate carries everyone forward together.

In some ways tenure in library circles mirror current debates about accreditation for library schools, in that these are larger discussions over the professionalization of our occupation. How do we as academic librarians view our status at the university? There are some librarians who believe that we are second class citizens at the university, and I think this, unfortunately, might be more reality than fiction at some schools. What tenure and faculty status allows is a gravitas to our work and our status at the university.

As a first year faculty member, I have been attending workshops and classes with new teaching faculty, and I must pause and take heart that while I’m not a doctor I have the same role in the larger university machine. This is a hard thing for faculty librarians, including myself, to fully cure. But there are opportunities to find common minds in these interactions and I am thankful that faculty status allows me this kind of in with new professors. I research and they research. I teach and they teach. Even in my short time at Utah State some of my most rewarding experiences have been with working with faculty members as equals in the university’s mission.

A Tip of the Hat to Tenure: Realizations in my First Year

Recently, I’m discovering more and more that there are certain advantages to being tenure-track, and this affects my professional identity in multiple ways. It is causing me to take on responsibilities that I wouldn’t normally volunteer for, and allowing me to do research that is challenging and significant. I’m realizing that my decision to apply for a tenure-track position was really a great decision for me personally.

One thing I’ll note before diving in is that I realize tenure is not for everybody, and non-tenure-track positions have their own advantages. For more on the advantages and disadvantages of being tenure-track, read Meredith Farkas’s blog post on the topic. I just hope that this particular post will prompt others to consider how their roles and responsibilities are unique and exciting, whether or not they are tenure-track. I also hope that this might add something to LIS students’ and early or mid-career librarians’ discussions and decision-making processes when it comes to applying for tenure-track jobs or switching from a non-tenure-track position to a tenure-track position. There is such a vast range of opportunities and types of positions in librarianship, and tenure is one factor that one must seriously consider when choosing what types of academic positions for which to apply. I realize not everyone may share my perspective.

So, to begin, there’s that adage that if you’re tenure-track, you say yes to everything. Now some might perceive this to be a disadvantage of being tenure-track, as you can get roped into things you wouldn’t otherwise do or might not like. However, I see it as a positive thing, because I am forced to do work outside of my comfort zone – work that my supervisors and other more senior librarians believe might benefit me and help me grow as a professional, work that also is suited to my specific liaison role and my unique skill sets and areas of interest and expertise. For example, I recently began the planning process for a couple political events for the fall. Along with a Political Science faculty member, I’m going to be co-moderating a student panel in the fall called “Your Vote, Your Voice” on what (and who) is on the ballot in Nevada, as well as how the students themselves are involved in the political process. The context for this event is that UNLV will be the site of the final presidential debate, which will be a monumental event for the campus, bringing in millions of dollars of free advertising and putting us in the national spotlight. This student panel will be a campus Debate event, attracting the attention of national media.

I will also be the representative librarian co-moderating a presidential election event – an expert panel gathered by Brookings Mountain West, a partnership between UNLV and the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. The event, “Why Las Vegas Matters in National Elections,” will reflect our metro region’s significance in a swing state. Las Vegas is the largest metropolitan area in Nevada, and is ranked 29th in the U.S. Issues important to Las Vegas are relevant to other large, diverse metros in the region and the nation. The 2 million people in the Las Vegas metro area includes a diverse population, and UNLV is the second most diverse public university in the nation. Panelists will address local and national issues important to Las Vegas, with consideration of their national implications.

How did my involvement in these events come to be? Well, essentially I got roped into it. My direct supervisor had the idea that the Libraries should be involved in some political events for the fall, which aligns with our mission of empowering students and other campus community members, encouraging them to vote and providing access to knowledge they need in order to be educated voters. As political science liaison, naturally I should be involved. So I went to an expert on campaigns and elections in the Political Science department on campus and got some ideas from him, then ran with them. One outcome of this is that it has allowed me the opportunity to collaborate with faculty in one of my departments, as well faculty from Brookings Mountain West on campus and experts from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Normally, I would probably never volunteer for such events. I’m not really political – at least when it comes to the electoral process – and I’m really intimidated by the body of knowledge of experts in this area. My justification and rationale for my disinterestedness in politics was based on my belief that electoral politics is a poor substitute for direct democracy, which interests me more, in addition to political theory. However, now I’m developing an interest in practical politics and seeing more intersections between political theory and practical politics. I have a Twitter feed of political scientists and political news sources that I’m keeping up with. I’m reading the books and articles by the experts who will be on the expert panel. I’m showing an interest, because I have to, and because now I live in a swing state which makes the process a lot more interesting, too. What I’m learning is proving to be quite fascinating, and it is stuff that I wouldn’t have otherwise cared too much to learn about. And this is all because of tenure.

There are other things I couldn’t say no to, that I’m now very passionate and excited about. For instance, I’m curating an exhibit for the Libraries on student activism on campus, especially through the media – specifically the Rebel Yell, the campus newspaper (which is incidentally undergoing a name change presently – a student decision). For this exhibit, I’m doing extensive research through which a very interesting narrative about UNLV students is emerging. I’m getting to exercise my creativity and innovativeness in giving voice to this narrative. I’m learning a lot about current students and am making connections with current and former students, senior faculty on campus, and community members to acquire memorabilia and learn about student experiences. Normally I wouldn’t seek out such opportunities. I’m not an archivist. I’ve never done anything like this before; I’ve never even done research with archives or special collections. This particular project was initially intimidating to me, and I knew it would be extremely time consuming. I might not have said yes quite so immediately and eagerly had I not felt a sense of obligation because of tenure. Yet this is a real opportunity – to do research for the first time in special collections and archives, contributing to my professional growth; to have my own research featured in an exhibit; and to highlight the amazing work of student activists here, both current and historical – All because of tenure.

Then, of course, there’s the research requirement for tenure. This means I’m supported to do research that challenges me and makes me learn, as a scholar and a librarian. I definitely wouldn’t do research if there wasn’t this kind of support for it – I’m too much in favor of work-life balance to even do much of any reading when I’m not working, so I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be motivated to do research if this 20 percent of my time on the job wasn’t devoted to it. And I’m so excited about these opportunities. My exhibit will count as a creative activity in my tenure case. I’m also collaborating with a Sociology faculty member long-term doing research on teaching, providing library support, and assessing student learning in a course with a heavy critical service learning component. The students’ library research for this course is really impactful. They are using library sources to support advocacy work and things like providing trainings and annotated bibliographies for refugee women representing themselves in their own asylum cases. The students are all using different types of library resources and legal resources for this work. They are also learning first-hand about information privilege, with licensing agreements oftentimes prohibiting them from giving resources directly to community members, considered to be third parties unaffiliated with the university. Anna (Dr. Anna C. Smedley-López) – the Sociology professor and I – are going to do some writing about this aspect of the students’ education for this course. Our first project will be to write a book chapter for a new ACRL-published book called: Disciplinary Applications of Information Literacy Threshold Concepts (edited by Samantha Godbey, Sue Wainscott, and Xan Goodman of UNLV). Our chapter, the proposal for which was recently accepted for this publication, is called “Serving Up Library Resources?: Information Privilege in the Context of Community Engagement in Sociology.” What an opportunity this is for me – to be a research partner with a faculty member in one of my disciplines and to be essentially embedded in this service learning program and course in which students are doing truly significant, social-justice oriented library research. Again, all because of tenure.

I feel exhausted just writing this. I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me. These opportunities will challenge me and make me grow as a professional, as a librarian and scholar. And I have tenure to thank.

Shared Governance and Library Faculty: Jazzing Academic Community

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Sue Wiegand, Periodicals Librarian at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN.

As Commencement season draws near, I thought again of lines from Dana Goia’s poem: “Praise to the rituals that celebrate change…Because it is not the rituals we honor/but our trust in what they signify…” It’s been two years now since I served as Chair of our Faculty Assembly, the first librarian here to be elected to this role. Commencement is a ritual celebrating academic community — when we come together to celebrate the culmination of the academic year and our successful graduates. I think the ideal of academic community — all of our voices blending to make plans and create respectful discourse for mission-based decision-making — is what “shared governance” is all about. It’s a kind of jazz — a participatory blend of traditions, always changing — as well as a shared trust.

How many librarians participate in jazzing shared governance at their institutions, given the disparity of appointment categories at academic libraries? My “historic” 2009 election to be Chair-Elect of our shared governance body, Faculty Assembly, made me think more about this. I may be incredibly idealistic to be thinking in terms of academic community and shared governance at all, let alone as a librarian, a profession still subject to debate on its status, still sometimes considered a woman’s profession (well-behaved librarians don’t make history, right?). Higher education itself is on the very precipice of change in many of its hallowed traditions, and can ill afford more confusion. Could shared governance survive a librarian leading Faculty Assembly? Well, I had a lot to learn, but yes, we survived, with a lot of support from my faculty friends. Jazz is improvisational, after all. It absorbs and transforms tradition, and gives a participatory voice to all.

Are librarians faculty? Yes — in some academic institutions. Are we tenure-track? Yes — again, in some places. Can we earn promotion? You guessed it — maybe, maybe not, depends on where you are.

According to the Joint Committee on College Library Problems (including ACRL, AACU: American Association of American Colleges and Universities, and AAUP: American Association of University Professors), in a report issued in 2012: “Faculty status entails for librarians the same rights and responsibilities as for other members of the faculty. They should have corresponding entitlement to rank, promotion, tenure, compensation, leaves, and research funds.” I like the dual reference to rights and responsibilities. ALA and ACRL have also weighed in with their guidelines, the Standard for the Appointment, Promotion, and Tenure of Academic Librarians. The Chronicle of Higher Education has covered the question periodically; two examples are from 2008 and 2013. The comments sections often show a nice variety of perspectives on the subject, and incidentally on the academic tenure system in general.

Obviously, mileage varies a great deal on this one, and each tradition has its adherents. For me, having faculty status and earning tenure was a valuable experience that led to increased collaboration with classroom faculty, in both collection development of library resources and library research instruction. These include my favorite topic of conversation, scholarly communication — how it informs collection development as well as guiding research instruction for library resources — leading to informative discussions. The bittersweet part for me is that librarians here earn tenure, but are not eligible for promotion. It seems as though every place has its own ethos — its own distinctive style — about what seems to work best for them. Tradition rules.

Should librarians participate in shared governance? In my experience, the answer to that is an unequivocal yes — the experience is so rich, and the opportunities for interaction with classroom faculty so rewarding, I think librarians should let their voices be heard in their academic communities whenever possible. Shared governance and faculty status lets the librarian voice be heard, lest students enter the library to do research and find “there’s nothing there to support it,” says Deanna Wood, quoted on Inside Higher Ed. Yet, opportunities to contribute to shared governance and partnering with faculty vary as much as the opinions about librarian status. Should librarians stay in their place, the library? Which committees should they be eligible for? Does faculty status matter? How might the faculty status of librarians and their contributions to scholarship and shared governance enhance the educational mission and improve student learning in the academy? More research is definitely needed.

Still, for me, sharing the anxiety of figuring out what to do to be a full academic citizen involved getting to know my fellow faculty travelers on that uneasy road in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. After a fair amount of committee service over the years, when the question arose of putting my name on the slate for Chair-Elect, the first of my many protests was that I didn’t want to be Chair of Faculty Assembly — I was told that that was the first criteria! A Philosophy professor answered another protest of mine — that no one would vote for me — making me see that it wasn’t about me, but about being willing to make the commitment that underlies the “academic community/citizenship” rhetoric (I’m not a philosopher, so I’m paraphrasing here — what he actually said started with “So what?”). So I put my ego on the line, and was surprised and pleased to find that even a librarian could be elected to lead the Faculty Assembly at my academic institution.

Transformation — can the rituals that celebrate change and tradition encompass jazz harmony in shared governance and even librarian participation? Does our trust in the significance of academic citizenship invite us to think more deeply about the role and opportunities of librarians in the academy? I’m thinking about this as we prepare for Commencement here. Do we, to quote Goia again, “…dream of a future so fitting and so just/that our desire will bring it into being?” How do librarian status, service, and shared governance play out at in your academic community?

Wearing Different Hats: Academic Service and Librarianship

Like many academic librarians, I’m on the tenure track, and with that comes the opportunity and requirement for academic service. I genuinely enjoy most of my service work, which ranges from membership in our faculty governance body to work on committees dealing with academic technology and curriculum development, among others. Right now I’m in the midst of a five-year commitment on a large grant-funded pedagogical project at my college. My time is devoted either to the project or to my work in the library on different days of the week, with some exceptions. I joke about taking off one hat and putting on another from day to day or meeting to meeting.

My library days are structured along similar lines as they were before my involvement in the grant project. But on my grant days I often don’t feel like a librarian: no library instruction, no reference, no information literacy program planning, no library meetings — only work related to my other service obligations. On those days I sometimes wonder: what does it mean when I spend more time outside of the library than inside?

Despite occasionally feeling as if I’m being pulled in different directions depending on which hat I’m wearing, I’m certain that my service work augments my work in the library. College service makes me feel connected to the institution, and allows me to gain a more complete understanding of and contribute to the college’s mission, going beyond the work I do in the library. I also think that academic librarians taking on service commitments can bring more visibility to the library on campus, almost a stealth form of marketing. Faculty in other departments whom I’ve met on various committees will sometimes contact me to ask a question about the library, and I hope that makes them more likely to send their students to the library as well.

My academic service outside of the library also helps inform my work as an information literacy librarian. In my roles on college-wide projects I’ve become much more familiar with the programs and majors available for our students, which facilitates making connections across the curriculum and planning information literacy outreach. College service work increases the number of faculty from other departments whom I meet who can be potential collaborators, too. I’ve drawn on these colleagues when we’ve wanted to pilot different initiatives for library instruction, and have sometimes sought feedback from them on our programs and efforts.

I hope that being in this space at the intersection of multiple identities can help push me to think in new ways about the role of academic libraries and about myself as a librarian and an academic. But despite the benefits of college service work, the crowding of these multiple identities that I inhabit is not always entirely comfortable — sometimes I wish I had two heads for my two hats. If you’re a librarian involved in academic service, what strategies do you use to reconcile your two roles?

Is A Response Even Worth Our Time

A Facebook friend messaged me to say “ACRLog needs to take this on”, in reference to this comment associated with a Slate piece on why tenure should be abolished. Andrew Sullivan who blogs for The Atlantic shared a few paragraphs from the Slate piece with his readers. It generated a fair number of comments in favor of and against tenure. No one in the academic librarian community seemed to care much about the original piece or the bulk of the comments until one of them attacked our right to have tenure.

My personal inclination is to ignore this comment completely. What I would like to take on is why academic librarians get their panties in such a twist so worked up about this sort of thing? This is an off-the-cuff comment to an opinion piece. It’s not like it’s a well researched, well thought out essay in The Chronicle that might actually dignify a response. For all we know the comment is from a disgruntled librarian who got turned down for tenure and now holds a grudge against librarians who have tenure. Are we so insecure about our professional status and our right to claim tenure status that we have to defend it against every feeble critique. And what’s the point of doing so anyway? Is there anything any of us could write that would change the commenter’s mind – or the mind of anyone who’s against tenure? We’ve all seen dozens of impassioned arguments for and against tenure. Have you ever read a single response or comment along the lines of “What you had to say actually made me change my mind on this issue”? I sure haven’t.

You answer, “but Steven, we should respond not to change this writer’s mind, but to make sure that all the other people who read it know that tenure for librarians is a good thing – and that we conduct really valuable research and that we are really, really busy helping faculty and students and that we really deserve tenure – and that if nothing else we have to correct misstatements and attack outright lies”. I understand that argument – we want the truth to be known. But who is it that we are so worried will read this tripe and believe it? Our faculty colleagues? Our academic administrators? Do we have so little faith in their ability to think critically about the issues that we feel the overwhelming urge to offer up a counter-argument? Do you think your provost will be swayed by this comment’s exquisite logic and well documented arguments? “Hmm, according to this anonymous comment, our librarians don’t have anything to do now that all research can be done with Google. Why did we let them have tenure in the first place? Maybe we should rethink that.” I’m sure that’s how it’s going to go down. Didn’t this article convince us that our academic administrators really do like us and that they have our backs – or are we going to let our inferiority complex get the best of us once again?

My preference is to just ignore this negativity all together. Rather than taking the time to write an impassioned essay defending an academic librarian’s right to tenure (which has already been done anyway) or justifying why we deserve to have our jobs, I suggest we all put our effort into doing what we do well every opportunity we have which is making a difference in our academic communities in service to our students, faculty and staff. If we do that well I think we’ll have no reason at all to constantly allow ignorant fools to push our buttons and manipulate us into responding just the way they know we will. So get your panties untwisted take a moment to think about this and then get back to work.