Academic Administrators: Beware If A Librarian Is On Your Search Committee

Once again, academic librarians get no respect. I came across this quote in an article in today’s online version of the Chronicle . It’s from a disgruntled job seeker who’s been the “faux finalist” for one too many searches. This refers to an institution that has already decided to hire an internal candidate, and the interview process is just a sham held to document that the search was truly open to all. The author (a pseudonym is given) seeks to provide a public service to other academic administrators by providing the warning signs that one is probably a faux finalist. Here’s the offending one:

It all starts with the search committee. Beware if it’s filled with people who have no campus authority, such as untenured faculty members, librarians, nonacademic administrators, or anyone hired only a few months ago. If it is, that’s a signal that the more senior people with real clout have better things to do with their time. If the search were truly open, then deans and top administrators would want to have some influence over the decision.

Admittedly, we don’t wield the same power as a dean or vice-president, but this strikes me as an extension of an unfortunate stereotype to suggest that academic librarians have no campus authority. I guess we do nothing all day but sit around and read books, which makes us ideal participants for sham search committees so we can ask polite questions like, “So what books have you read lately?”. I suppose like all the negative stereotypes we encounter it is best to have a sense of humor about it, and to simply do what we can each day on the job and in our relationships with our academic colleagues to dispel ridiculous notions about who we are and what we contribute to the academic enterprise.

The Debate Over Conference Participation

There is a fascinating discussion going on across the biblioblogosphere (and on the ALA Council list) about Jenny Levine’s comments about ALA policy regarding compensation for presentation at conferences. While some are posing this as a “generational” issue, or as an unfortunate financial reality that we should all simply accept, there are a wide range of thoughtful (and not so thoughtful) comments posted on multiple blogs linked through Jenny’s posts.

Having been a conference presenter and organizer for ACRL and ALA (and AASL), I know the problems that come with ALA’s strict policy regarding compensation. Likewise, I know that many people have complained about the multi-layered costs of membership in our professional associations (with ALA dues forming the foundation onto which divisional dues are built) and the financial demands made of those wishing to participate at all owing to equally arcane rules about attending both Midwinter and Annual every year during which you serve on a committee (kudos to those sections exploring virtual meetings and virtual committee membership!). All are symptoms of a larger problem affecting our association(s).

We talk a lot about wanting to increase active participation and about recruiting the next generation of leaders for our libraries and our professional associations, but policies like these provide a real hurdle to people dealing with stagnant salaries and declining budgets for travel and professional development. I have been lucky to be able to participate in a number of ACRL programs and I have benefited greatly from that participation, but it came at a high price and I can see why others might balk at it.

I hope that ALA Council will take these concerns seriously and I hope that ACRL will remember them when related concerns come up at meetings of ACRL Leadership (as they have in almost every meeting I’ve attended over the past few years).

High Anxiety

Lots of interesting stuff in this week’s Chron on technology and libraries. One piece in particular is a paranoid’s dream. James G. Neal, in “Information Anarchy or Information Utopia?” offers a long list of our current phobias. Now I’m worried because hardly any of this stuff frightens me.

An example: “The relationships between libraries and faculty members will be disruptive. We must more effectively integrate the library into the academic enterprise. Libraries must be professors’ partners, not their servants.” Wow. When I showed up for work twenty years ago as a member of the faculty nobody asked me where my maid’s uniform was. If that was disruptive, I missed it.

And this: “And the weak leadership-development efforts in academic libraries will produce chaotic administrative turnover. Where will we find the next generation of academic-library leaders?” Um, how about looking at the librarians we’re hiring? They’re not wearing maid’s uniforms either. In fact, most of the ones I know are expecting to lead, and excited about it. If leadership is reserved to administrators who have to be removed from libraries to receive special training, we’re in trouble. You know how they do it in the sciences? They mentor new scientists and they do so assuming they are all part of the same glorious enterprise. That’s leadership development with integrity.

Anxiety is one of the most potent levers available for making your agenda into a significant social issue. (If you want to know how it works, read Philip Jenkins or Joel Best. Fascinating stuff.) Librarians are as prone as anyone to sound the alarms in order to raise the profile of something they care about. But on most of the issues listed in this article I think our profession has a much better record than Neal suggests. It’s the Wrong Platform Syndrome. We are perennially afraid of being left behind, even when we’re ahead of the curve.

Maybe it’s just a simple misunderstanding. Anarchists are utopians. They believe people are capable of acting in the insterests of others. The majority of librarians and library workers I know fall into that camp (without being perceived as servants) and they don’t think change is disruptive; it’s simply the most rewarding part of the job.

ACRL/Harvard 2006

ACRL has opened registration for the ACRL/Harvard Leadership Institute 2006. Reviews of earlier Harvard programs have been strong, and this year’s program again promises participants the opportunity to explore their own leadership style and to critically evaluate how well-positioned their home institutions are to meet future challenges.

There are a variety of leadership development initiatives now available to librarians, including regional programs like TLA’s Tall Texans, IT-infused programs like EDUCAUSE’s Frye Institute, and programs designed to prepare leaders for specific initiatives, including information literacy instruction, and scholarly communication. And, of course, there’s Senior Fellows. I’d be interested to hear from program alumni what they gained from these programs in the area of leadership and, for those who have attended more than one, how they felt the different programs complemented one another.

An addendum: given all the resources dedicated to these programs, it’s also worth asking how effective they have been in terms of actually helping to prepare the current/next generation of library leadership. I remember some work that Mark Winston did some years back tracing the career trajectory of Snowbird alumni, but haven’t tracked any similar studies that may have been done of regional program alumni, etc.

ARL/ACRL Announce Scholarly Communications Institute

Building on the successful professional development model found in programs like the ACRL/Harvard Leadership Institute and the Institute for Information Literacy Immersion program, ACRL will be teaming up with ARL to provide an Institute on Scholarly Communication in July 2006. From the brochure:

“As a participant in this 2.5 day immersion program, you will become fluent with scholarly communication issues and trends so that you are positioned to educate others on your library staff, engage in campus communications programs and other advocacy efforts, and work collaboratively with other participants to begin developing an outreach plan for your campus.”

No information yet on program faculty, but applications aren’t due until April 1, 2006, so there’s time for much more content to be delivered. Mark your calendars!