i dream of being possible

Librarians, tenure, and de-professionalisation

So I made a comment on Twitter earlier that somewhat surprised a colleague (see storify), where I stated that I harboured a secret hope that I might try to convince my current employer to switch my current position from part-time Librarian, to perhaps a library assistant position (while full time would be awesome, I’d even accept just a few more hours).

Now, this may simply be a pipe dream, since I’ve not actually looked into the rules of my workplace, so I don’t know if it would make the difference I seek. What I’d really like, is to get a wee bit more job security (as in become properly part of the staff), benefits would also be great, and I want to continue doing my job as is, more or less.

I mentioned that I didn’t want tenure. And I really don’t. I’ll admit that when I was facing the switch from doing a PhD and looking for a viable alternative, the fact that many academic librarians were either tenured – or went through a tenure-like process – greatly appealed to me.1

Now that I’ve been in the academic library world for a few years? Much less interested. More than anything the case of librarians presents one of the more interesting challenges to the utility of tenure. In institutions like mine, where librarians are full faculty, the tenure requirements are pretty much the same. Publish in the right journals, etc.

After working in areas related to scholarly communication and knowing what a mess it is, across the board, in part because of entrenched values for tenure and promotion, it seems to work against a general goal to shift scholarly communication to a different mean of production, as well as updating our understanding of what scholarship is, in these wild times of ours.

How, exactly, are we going to convince research faculty to shake up their publishing practises when we end up having to invest in the same system?

I know a lot of people in our field have a great deal of anxiety about de-professionalisation and the rise of para-professionals. Shifting academic librarians away from a tenure model would, no doubt, cause a massive outcry2. But. What need do I have for academic freedom?

Also… If not being faculty means that I can also dodge (as I have somewhat been doing) sitting on committees as part of my ‘service’… Well, I would be happy to demote myself. Pretty much the only place where I somewhat enjoyed meetings was at UPEI, where the team was small, agile, and dedicated enough that things were accomplished and it felt like time reasonably well spent3.

Now, I should point out that some of my reservations aren’t inherent in librarianship. I think they actually may arise from trying to stuff a round librarian into an academic square. However, the institutions offering a tenure-like process do a better job of accounting for what librarians actually do.4

It does make me wonder though… How do we actually start making proper steps out of this (for the people who are so inclined). I have little desire to only do contract work for the rest of my life, but it strikes me a slightly absurd that there is apparently no middle ground for academic librarians. However, since there doesn’t really appear to be an alternative, I’m curious to, perhaps, think of different ways that academic librarians can actively attempt to disrupt the tenure/promotion process. Only publishing in OA journals? Only using OA journals for our research?5

Or we could just do away with tenure for librarians….

  1. I think I also have vague memories of writing a paper or something examining the situation of tenure in Canada, since much of the literature is about the US. Many places in Canada offer either tenure or something that closely resembles tenure. 

  2. And I’m certainly not anticipating winning any friends with my opinion. 

  3. Although, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Mark Leggot also provides a great deal of leadership and facilitates the group at UPEI to actually be successful. Also, both a discussion with Mark and my experience there, really taught me just how much the usual markers for ‘prestige’ in academia don’t apply to librarianship. Especially not for library tech. Because I can definitely see how structures at large research institutions do much to… How to put this delicately, demoralise the staff? Make change a long and somewhat tedious process? 

  4. In case anyone is wondering, yes, I realise that this would involve getting paid less. I’m fine with that (although, I mean this in terms of my personal career alone – definitely not saying that anyone should be content to get paid less when librarians are already underpaid as far as I’m concerned). I personally have modest needs and would find the saved aggravation worth the loss of income. 

  5. Suddenly realizing that part of my problem here is that I’m not a reformist. It is incredibly difficult to effect substantive change in a system you necessarily need to buy into in order to participate. Could also be that I’m simply not creative enough to think of probable methods…