Should academic librarians have faculty status?

The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) “supports faculty rank, status, and tenure for librarians” (2011a). While the organization has developed separate sets of guidelines for academic librarians with and without such status, the two documents are remarkably similar in the preferred conditions of employment they describe. Both take the view that librarians contribute much to the scholarly functions of the institution and should therefore be included in the shaping of those functions. Nevertheless, the question of whether academic librarians should hold faculty status is a source of continuous debate within the profession.

Before outlining the pros and cons of faculty librarianship, it is necessary to acknowledge the variety of ways faculty status for librarians may be defined. At some colleges and universities, the idea of faculty status refers to a system of rank within the department, wherein librarians may be promoted along a similar trajectory to that of tenure-track teaching staff, from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor and Professor. This system of peer review and promotion for librarians may include tenure and may use the same criteria as those used to evaluate other faculty working toward tenure: teaching, research, and service. At other institutions, librarians may only be granted a nominal type of faculty status as a way of acknowledging their important contributions to the academic community.

The possible benefits for librarians with faculty status are numerous. When librarians receive even nominal faculty status, some argue, they are met with greater respect by administrators and other faculty on campus. If librarians are viewed as peers by other faculty, their ideas are likely to carry more weight, and the sense of collegiality may lead to fruitful collaboration. When librarians are assigned a more substantial form of status that carries the same privileges and responsibilities as those of teaching faculty, the possible benefits are more tangible as well. Serving on committees and on the faculty senate alongside professors gives librarians a real voice in campus governance and policy making. Limited studies have suggested that faculty status tends to come with higher salaries (Vix & Buckman, 2012), although “this has not been found consistently across various institutions” (Hosburgh, 2011, p. 5). Perhaps the most significant benefit of faculty status for librarians is the opportunity to take a sabbatical in order to pursue research interests and publication. As Gillum (2010) explains,

Academic librarians have a responsibility to contribute to their profession by adding to the canon of library and information science literature. This is especially important because some studies indicate that LIS literature is experiencing a downward trend in both quantity and quality. (p. 326)

In other words, paid time away from teaching and other ordinary duties is beneficial not only to the individual librarian or her institution, but to the LIS profession as a whole.

Some opponents of faculty status for librarians, on the other hand, argue that most new librarians are neither interested in nor prepared for conducting research or writing for publication. Others argue that the type of teaching librarians perform and their service mission are not comparable to those of academic faculty, so they cannot be evaluated for tenure on the same criteria of teaching, research, and service. According to Hosburgh, “The pressure to publish that often accompanies tenure-track positions can be an enormous source of stress and can actually limit the ways in which librarians are able to contribute directly to the university community (p. 5). This pressure may be compounded for academic librarians of color who, like other faculty of color, may labor under additional burdens, such as the expectation that they will serve as “diversity specialists” for their departments and institutions or hostility in their working environments (Damasco & Hodges, 2012, p. 282). Moreover, Bryan (2007) shows that other supposed benefits to librarians have also been disputed; the respect of the teaching faculty must be earned, not granted, and faculty status doesn’t necessarily guarantee fair compensation or intellectual freedom (p. 784).

While at least one small study suggests a trend toward increasing numbers of librarians with faculty status (Vix & Buckman, 2012), more research is needed to be sure. In the meantime, the question of whether librarians working in higher education should be considered faculty remains a contentious one.

 

References

Association of College & Research Libraries. (2011a). Guidelines for academic librarians without faculty status. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/guidelinesacademic

Association of College & Research Libraries. (2011b). Standards for faculty status for academic librarians. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/standardsfaculty

Bryan, J. E. (2007). The question of faculty status for academic librarians. Library Review, 56(9), 781-787. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/00242530710831220

Damasco, I. T., & Hodges, D. (2012). Tenure and promotion experiences of academic librarians of color. College & Research Libraries, 73(3), 279-301. DOI: 10.5860/crl-244

Gillum, S. (2010). The true benefit of faculty status for academic reference librarians. Reference Librarian, 51(4), 321-328. DOI: 10.1080/02763877.2010.501419

Hosburgh, N. (2011). Librarian faculty status: What does it mean in academia? Library Philosophy and Practice, 1-7. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libphilprac/572/

Vix, H. M., & Buckman, K. M. (2012). Academic librarians: status, privileges, and rights. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 38(1), 20-25. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2011.11.004

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6 thoughts on “Should academic librarians have faculty status?

  1. I’ve seen job postings for positions like you have described- librarians with teach status, tenure and research responsibilities- and have found them intimidating. You’ve done a great job at presenting the pros and cons of these positions and definitely have given me a greater respect and understanding of them.

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    • I learned a lot from writing this. At my academic institution, there is one sentence in the staff manual that suggests that librarians should be considered faculty, but that’s it. Now I know that, because our staff is so small and our hours of operation are pretty long, it would be really difficult for any of us to go through a tenure process similar to what the faculty do.

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  2. I think that this seems excessive and very intimidating. I did not set out to be a professor, and therefore I am not sure that I would want to serve on a committee or be a part of governance and policy making, as well as having to write for publication. I am not sure how I would feel about being evaluated on the same criteria facing academic faculty members up for tenure, etc. I can see how some academic librarians might want to do that, however, and garner that recognition and status. I have never thought about this issue before, and I can definitely see that there are numerous pros and cons to consider.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Ree. I’d never given it much thought before either. Now I know I’d want to be well informed about what faculty status meant for librarians at a particular institution before accepting that job.

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  3. I don’t have a problem with Librarians having faculty status. I think the reason for this is due to the fact that librarians are called upon to teach and instruct at times throughout the semester. They interact with faculty and help provide resources for faculty to use for instruction in their classes. I think that giving librarians the status of faculty is appropriate and in some cases warranted.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Marna. I agree that faculty stats for librarians makes sense in the ways you describe, though if I were applying for a job with faculty status, I would definitely want to know what it meant at that particular institution.

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