Not all of us can be the Best: How to measure your impact?



George Best #1, originally uploaded by sahmeepee.

I’m trying to follow Sarah Glassmeyer’s advice and start working my horrible Association Football analogies and metaphors into my library writing. (Soccer to the most of you.)

First I wast thinking about spinning Stanley Matthews into one. He was a vegetarian teetotaller and class-act. Instead, I’m going to use another English football great, and in many ways the antithesis to Matthews, as my model: George Best. He was one of the most talented players ever, but his career has hampered and cut short through his excess.

The reason I’ve been thinking of Matthews and Best, other than the fact I keep reading books about history of the game, is that I’m up for my promotion review. It’s a little daunting looking back at my quite brief career and trying to quantify not only what I’ve done, but what the impact of it all. Oh and only for calendar year 2010. That’s only 1/3 of my career!

So what is the impact? See, this is where I wish I was like Best. Or maybe Nobby Stiles. Everybody know what they did and what their impact was. In the 1960s, Manchester United (as much as I hate them), won the league twice, the FA Cup once, and the European Cup. Trophies! Best was European Player of the Year in 1968. I wish I was something like that. Do we have awards like that?

So yeah, without the trophies or the accolades how can one go about showing the impact of their work for a year? Did your research save your company lots of money? Did it save somebody’s life? Did it win the Henderson account? Librarianship is a weird thing to quantify in this way. I spend a lot of time sitting on the reference desk, building a sense of community, and raising the visibility of the research tools the students should use. Are there good metrics to show the impact of this? Well, we have lots of people in the reading room. Should I poll the room and see how many people know what TRIS is?

Then you get into the really nebulous area of impact – networking. This is sort of like a popularity contest. How many people read this blog? How many people listen to LibPunk? That I can sort of quantify, but is there impact? What about knowing people? In my brief career, I’ve rubbed elbows with some people important to both the library and transportation world. Having coffee with key officials in government is an impact, just not an easy one to quantify.

So what is a kid supposed to do? Since I’m not the George Best of the library world (which will never happen), how am I to gauge my impact? Even if I’m could be the Leighton Baines of the library world, which would be pretty sweet, it could be tricky showing impact without a neat record with win, losses, and draws. Maybe I could get an international call up?

Peformance based tenure – Here’s to good work!

Today’s AP wire had an article about Ohio State University, the largest university in the country, possibly changing the rules for granting tenure:

The leader of the country’s largest university thinks it’s time to re-examine how professors are awarded tenure, a type of job-for-life protection virtually unknown outside academia.

Ohio State University President Gordon Gee says the traditional formula that rewards publishing in scholarly journals over excellence in teaching and other contributions is outdated and too often favors the quantity of a professor’s output over quality.

“Someone should gain recognition at the university for writing the great American novel or for discovering the cure for cancer,” he told The Associated Press. “In a very complex world, you can no longer expect everyone to be great at everything.”

Emphasizing teaching over publishing would be radical. I’m intrigued by the idea because of bitter memories of a few classes where the professors clearly had no interest in teaching, treating it as a horrid obligation. Needless to say, I did not enjoy their lectures. I wonder how many undergrads are victim to that situation (and perhaps change majors as a result)?

Now of course, there are critics:

“The idea of awarding tenure based on teaching makes me anxious,” said Jennifer Higginbotham, an English professor at Ohio State who’s up for tenure in three years. By then, she will need to publish a book she’s writing about conceptions of girlhood in the Middle Ages to have any chance at the promotion.

“There’s a feeling, I think, that good teachers are a dime a dozen,” said Higginbotham, 32. “I’m not sure what you’d have to do to distinguish yourself enough as a teacher to get tenure.”

Are good teachers a dime a dozen or is this a mis-perception from faculty? Perhaps good is not an adequate superlative, how about great teachers? They exist. Students love them. Great teaching faculty engages their students and imparts passion and excitement for whatever discipline. Why do you think I graduated from Cal with a degree in Germanic linguistics? Professors Rauch and Shannon made it easy for me to fall in love with dead dialects.

So what are the implications for librarians? I think it could be great. It would be great if academic librarians were afforded the time to do great work for their library and publish when it made sense and they had something to share, rather than feeding the published article echo chamber because you need tenure. I wonder what this would do to some of the library world’s rock stars, but shouldn’t we all be rock stars for our libraries?

Tenure and Academic Freedom: Times are changing.

Last week I asked if academic librarians should be faculty. The issue of academic freedom came up, as faculty status (and tenure) should protect librarians. Is that really the case though? Is tenure the only way to achieve that? According to the American Association of University Professors it is.

The bottom line is that librarians (academic or otherwise) are unwilling, through their premier professional association, to shame those involved in the most egregious violations of intellectual freedom when the violations occur within the profession. This unwillingness to engage academic and intellectual freedom within libraries has resulted in a serious bifurcation: such protections exist for the users of libraries and in building, maintaining, preserving, and providing access to library collections of all types, but they do not cross the desk in practice to the professionals who must stock those collections and serve those users. Academic and intellectual freedom in the library workplace is, primarily, a rhetorical value and an object lesson to those who take academic freedom for granted or misunderstand it. It is a reality only for those librarians fortunate enough to be faculty members—and to be taken seriously as such.

John Buschman makes some good points in that article, such as the role of ALA in advocating for the rights of librarians (and how they may have let them down), but ultimately, I don’t agree with his point. He represents the broader interests of faculty and tenure, and as long as many institutions consider librarians faculty, they have to keep that line.

Tara Murrary linked to this Chronicle blog post about the broader issue of tenure and academic freedom. Is this going to be the end of tenure? The implications for professors seems to be more uncertain, but for librarians we’ve been doing this for years. I think this is a great time to reflect on what we do and what academic freedom actually means for librarians, rather than just invoking it in name.

I have a hard time even thinking what academic freedom means to me. Does this mean the freedom to pursue projects and initiatives? I have that. What about research? Well, I could if I had time and money. That has more to do with the staffing and funding constraints of my workplace (which is practically a universal), that I don’t think my lack of tenure has anything to do with it. I feel fortunate that the institute I work for values the library’s missions and what we do, even if we are examining things that won’t immediately affect our users. I think library administrations need to do a more effective job communicating the needs of librarians to campus administration, but that’s a whole other issue. (Maybe I should examine the trend of library administrators not being librarians?)

So what does tenure really protect? It might make people feel comfortable to exercise their academic freedom, but really it’s just the job security. Mess with tenure and people freak out, “Oh no! You can fire me!” Was tenure intended to protect people who weren’t doing their job? It shouldn’t be a shield for incompetence or an unwillingness to perform. For professors, I’m not sure what that means, but for librarians it’s very clear. You don’t want to change what you do to meet the needs of your users? That’s not a tenure issue. This is why I see them as two separate issues.

Academic Librarians as Faculty: Why?

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Disclaimer: This has nothing to do with the rights of faculty in terms of layoffs and firing. This is just my opinion about whether or not academic librarians should really be considered faculty.

I am not a faculty member. I am not a professor. Most people would never mistake me for one. I mean look at me. (I do get grad student too often, but I guess I can live with that.)

There has been a lot written about academic librarians and tenure and the desire for faculty status. Meredith Farkas blogged about this issue some years ago, and I think she sums it up well:

Why are some academic librarians so obsessed with being treated like academics? I know that the majority of people have no idea that librarians have Masters degrees — and sometimes even a second professional degree. And yes, we librarians have an image problem. But as long as I am helping people and doing a good job, I’m not going to worry about what people think about how educated or smart I am. Who cares if people don’t know we have degrees so long as they come to the reference desk when they need help? Will faculty members really be more likely to bring their students to our information literacy classes if we have tenure? I doubt it. The institutions I interviewed at that had a tenure track had the same problems with faculty that we have at Norwich.

Sure, I’d like to have the respect of faculty members, but I’d rather gain it by doing great work than by getting tenure.

Four years later I don’t think there’s really been an answer to this question. I work on a campus where we are not tenured faculty. Instead, we are unionized and have “academic” status, like the lecturers. Our criteria for promotion are similar to that of tenure-track faculty, but there’s more emphasis on service, rather than research and publishing. I think this is a good model because service is my game.

When you get down to the heart of it, service is the cornerstone of any library, not just academic libraries. So why do academic librarians feel the need to be treated as equals with faculty when our jobs rarely entail the same responsibilities? Is it ego? Faded dreams? It’d be unfair to try to simplify it all into a short phrase, but I will say yes.

Todd Gilman wrote about the issue of academic librarians and rank in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I found it to be a good overview for people with graduate degrees considering an MLIS. (Honestly, I would put this in my “failed academic” pool, which I admit is somewhat perjorative.)

OK, so there’s the background, here’s my reasoning and opinion.

I like the idea of academic librarians as administrative staff because I think the hurdles for tenured faculty are not in-line with our duties and mission. I became a librarian to facilitate research. I did not become a librarian to write lots of papers and be constantly worried about being published. If that was my goal, then I should have lived my dream of a Germanic linguist. Does this mean I don’t want to conduct research for myself and the profession? Not at all. What I take issue with is the fact that we seem to think we have to perform those activities to justify our existence when I think they probably get in the way of our main mission – helping users. I worry that the pressure to publish contributes to the library echo chamber, and too many publications to feed the faculty track out of necessity obscure publications that genuinely push us to innovate.

I also worry that too many people see librarianship as a potential back door to faculty rank and status. They focus on the glamorous side – publishing, research, conferences- to the detriment of many of our jobs – content representation, instruction, research assistance, access. I can’t really fault people if that’s what is expected of them to continue to be employed at their institution, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a movement to change this.

Just because I’m happy to not be faculty doesn’t mean I think academic librarians aren’t worthwhile or that I’m ashamed of the profession. On the contrary, I think faculty status often is a misnomer that hinders us from being the best library professionals we can be. I think it helps contribute to a culture where there’s too much concerned placed on what our peers think of us and keeping up with the trends, rather than engaging our communities of how best we can serve them.