Thursday, April 11, 2013

Librarians, Tenure, and Research, by Kirstin Dougan

The question of whether academic librarians should be part of a tenure system on par with teaching faculty is not a new one, and this post will not debate the pros and cons of the issue. However, I offer the thoughts of a librarian who went from an academic position in which librarians did not have faculty status or tenure (but instead had something called continuing appointment), to one in which librarians have faculty status and are held to standards as rigorous as those for other faculty.

For some background, the AAUP/ACRL recently put out a revised statement on college and university librarians and tenure. All in all I agree with this statement. However, I do so with some lingering ambivalence. You see, this is my third professional position (three different institutions), and the only one at which librarians have tenure. Over five years ago I came to this aspect of the job reluctantly, but willing to tackle the challenge of research and tenure in order to have the job I want, at an institution I admire, and to be back in a part of the country I adore. Now, more than five years later, my tenure papers will start their long process forward. I am excited about the research I am doing and questions I am examining, and I can truly say that the research part of my job keeps it interesting and thought-provoking.

The biggest challenges I faced were the need to develop a research agenda and learn how to implement it in a relatively short amount of time. If you look, you’ll find that there are many articles in the library science literature that address this topic, but here are a few guiding principles. How does one decide what to research? First, think about questions that intrigue you. What issues do you face in your job on a regular basis that would benefit from exploration and data collection? My research questions all come directly from my daily work as a public services librarian in a large academic music library. Whatever you choose, make it something that interests you and that you want to spend some serious time with.  Ideally, it will be something that you can analyze in pieces and get more than one project/publication out of. Next, think about how you can gather data on your question. You must match the methodology to the question at hand or your work won’t produce meaningful results. There are several good resources on research question development and research methodology, and the one that really got me thinking was Practical Research Methods for Library and Information Professionals by Susan Beck and Kate Manuel. Also, it’s likely that your campus will require institutional review board training/applications for research projects involving people (surveys, focus groups, observational, etc.) so plan ahead for this.  Many campuses offer faculty and staff funding opportunities as well as survey and statistical support for their research, at a minimum.

Make research and writing a priority. Many productivity advocates say to write every day to keep the ideas and words flowing. Set weekly writing “dates” with a colleague, either a librarian or another faculty member. Share your goals with each other at the beginning of the session and check in when you’re done. Get advice from colleagues about projects and ask them to read your work throughout the process. Not all library tenure systems are the same. Some, like ours, include elements of librarianship, research, and service to the school and/or the profession, and have expectations equal to that of teaching faculty. Keep those expectations in mind and prioritize your efforts. If publication is a primary requirement for your tenure case, don’t do conference presentations unless the proceedings will be published or you can turn that work into a peer-reviewed article.

Of course, research and publication isn’t limited to those librarians who need it for tenure. I’d encourage anyone to consider taking on a research project that is important to them. The opportunity and support to do research has informed and transformed my librarianship, and I would like to think that the publications I have produced have increased the profession’s knowledge base.

Kristin Dougan is the Music and Performing Arts Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She tweets both @kmdougan and @mpalillinois. This is her second post for this blog. The first was “How to Prepare to be a Subject Specialist Librarian.”

[Editor's note: Kristin recently gave a presentation on this topic. A Google doc of the slides is available.]

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this post! I just accepted a position at a tenure track institution and I'm a bit nervous about the process. The tips and resources you've provided here help so much.