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 â€” 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, Iâ€™m not going to worry about what people think about how educated or smart I am. Who cares if people donâ€™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, Iâ€™d like to have the respect of faculty members, but Iâ€™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.