Librarian-Faculty Enmity

I first read Kenneth E. Carpenter’s “The Librarian Scholar” at a time when I had real doubts about my progress in this MLIS program.  That may not have been the best timing.  So now, while my doubts are in (temporary?) remission, I’m revisiting this article for my last response journal

Carpenter quickly disabused me of the notion that “scholar-librarian” was a happy term that I might wish to drop in some light conversation one day.  Replace “happy” with “loaded.”  It’s always good to know where the linguistic landmines in your new field lie.  “Scholar-librarian” might be called a “stop word,” as in “stop” before you say this word!

[No luck accessing Karl J. Weintraub’s article “The Humanistic Scholar and the Library” in Library  Quarterly, by the way.]

I was struck by the suggested possibility–and I hope Carpenter was only half-serious–that librarians cease dialogue with faculty members.  Surely things aren’t that bad.  Perhaps the view of the outsider regarding conflicts is always going to be disbelief–“Why can’t those Palestinians and Israelis just get along?”

I was reminded, though, of the difficulties librarians have had in recruiting content for institutional repositories.  The existence of the institutional repository hangs on faculty contributions, and its use is dependent upon faculty as well.  In this situation, it has not seemed like a wise course of action to cut faculty out of the process altogether.  That option, while it might appear easier, is hardly better in the long run, for the IR really needs that faculty interest in and engagement with the services it offers them.  So, libraries have had to reach out to faculty:  to spend time with them, observing their research habits and talking to them about their scholarly needs.  The result?  Librarians are able to draw upon their increased understanding of faculty in order to tailor the services the IR provides to the specific needs of the scholars.  And, as far as the articles report, everyone was pleased with the outcome.

Perhaps this is an inverse illustration of what Karl J. Weintraub meant by “librarians’ unwillingness to draw the faculty into consideration of library problems and the formulation of solutions” (Carpenter 399).  When that unwillingness is overcome, all parties can benefit.

When I read Carpenter’s article, one part especially hit a nerve.  Carpenter speaks in a general way about people with Ph.D.s who somehow ended up being librarians, and who feel a bit above the position but have “settled” for it.  Now, I have a Ph.D., and I suppose this is my chance to vehemently protest that this state of affairs never happens.  However, a while ago I talked to a librarian who had a Ph.D. (in another field), and she stated, “I’m a snob,” a statement which could be disheartening to someone working hard on an MLIS.  I was duly disheartened.  Was that my fate as well, to work hard to get a library position, only to discover my inner snob?

Here’s the funny thing about academia.  It’s a wonderful environment, and a great profession for a narrow slice of the population.  It is not, however, the golden ring for everyone.  Many people are drawn to it, take advanced coursework, even earn advanced degrees, and then simply walk away from it, to do something, anything else.  Some work as church secretaries.  Some work in publishing and dream of being a costume designer (that’s a friend of mine with a Ph.D. in English).  Some hang their diplomas on the wall to look handsome and collect dust while they raise their children.  Some even become librarians.  It’s not that strange that they leave academia.  The ones I know may (or may not) have fond memories of their time in graduate school, but they aren’t pining away for an academic career.  Why this assumption that the academy is a type of Promised Land that, once glimpsed, makes everything else pale in comparison?

Reading “Finding common ground: an analysis of librarians’ expressed attitudes towards faculty” by Lisa Given and Heidi Julien made me reflect on their conclusion, in which they explain that faculty-librarian relations come down to a simple thing: respect. I’ve seen that attitude expressed (although not nearly as frequently or emphatically) by medical librarians, and I’m sure a similar sentiment exists among public librarians as well.

As much as we have read and talked about this topic, I wish I could conclude this post with a pithy, thoughtful comment that would set the librarian-faculty relationship to rights. But I’m a victim of late-night, end-of-the-semester brain drain. I will say, however, that as much as medical librarians want respect from physicians, they do not want to be physicians; they have no problem recognizing that their realm and area of expertise are separate from those of the physician. Academic librarians, though–not so simple. How can they reconcile a desire to be faculty with a professional mandate to serve faculty? The apparent incompatibility of those two creates a lot of tension–not only between librarians and faculty, but within the library community and, I suspect, within the individual librarian. The problem seems both professional and psychological, and much more could be said on the topic, but I think I’ll stop here.

It’s been a great semester, everyone. Thanks for reading. With any luck, I’ll post my bibliography and even final paper on the topic of institutional repositories here within the week.

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Published in: on December 6, 2008 at 3:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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Briefly . . .

Cover of Altick's "The Scholar Adventurers"

Cover of Altick

Near the end of “Information Literacy and Higher Education:  Placing the Academic Library in the Center of a Comprehensive Solution” by Edward K. Owusu-Ansah, I stumbled over the refutation of the charge that academic librarians may have insufficient training and experience to teach.  Is it really the best strategy to argue that the same goes for subject faculty?  If academic librarians are to teach information literacy in a more comprehensive, engaged way than before, then the stakes are higher, and the librarians’ teaching skills will be paid attention to, more than those of the subject faculty, whose role in the university is already established.  From what I have been reading, the librarians’ role in the institution is in flux, and so, fairly or not, they won’t be judged by the same standards and expectations as subject faculty are. 

As an indication of the changing role of the librarian, consider the hybrid or “blended” names out there:  scholar-librarian, teacher-librarian.  I’m reminded of the cool title of a cool book I never read, The Scholar Adventurers by Richard D. Altick.  (Read about it here.)

Published in: on October 4, 2008 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Faculty Perceptions of Institutional Repositories

Jean ArthurI got a lot out of the article “Institutional Repositories:  Faculty Deposits, Marketing, and the Reform of Scholarly Communication” by Ronald C. Jantz and Myoung C. Wilson.  In particular, I appreciated its scope, which included detailed discussions of open access journals, the differences between digital libraries and institutional repositories (IR), and the content of IR as well as the faculty who contribute to them.  All of this I found highly interesting, but my attention was caught by the comments regarding faculty reluctance to contribute to the IR.  The problem, after all, may inhere in the IR name itself, which “conveys a different meaning to faculty–suggesting something about institutions but not about faculty scholarship” (190). 

I’ll buy that.  After all, there’s the old joke:  “Marriage is a fine institution, but who wants to live in an institution?”  And who wants to contribute one’s scholarly work to an institution[al repository]?  That idea must have some validity, for the study’s authors end their article by suggesting a name change is in order.  Although I haven’t searched yet, I’m sure some clever blogger has already come up with a more faculty-friendly title, one that resolves into a better acronym than IR. 

What’s in a name?  Well, do you think the actresses Lucille LeSueur and Gladys Georgianna Greene would have become famous actresses if they hadn’t changed their names at the beginnings of their careers?  I’m glad they did, for I would hate to think of motion pictures without Joan Crawford and Jean Arthur. 

The name’s not the only obstacle to faculty contributions to IRs, but it may be a starting point.

The other intriguing thing in this study was the reported result that, of the items in IRs examined, “67 percent are by science faculty, 27 percent by social science faculty, and 5 percent by humanities faculty” (191).  That disparity deserves further investigation.  I thought the authors were absolutely right in suggesting that effective promotion of IRs will necessitate “an understanding of faculty research culture” as well as “the culture of scholarship in different disciplines” (193).  Although the trends among humanities faculty may be changing, in general humanities scholars have been shown to be less interested in new technological advances unless they can be shown to save the scholars time.  This is a wide generalization, I am aware, but it might help in determining an effective strategy to influence researchers in the humanities to use IRs. 

Also, my guess would be that humanities scholars might see less of a need for their work to reach a wider audience, an audience that would rely on open access and GoogleScholar rather than institutional affiliation and database searches, or even a subscription to the print journal.  In other words, if you conceive of your audience as largely academic, then what pressing need is there for open access?  Personally, I believe the archival function of IRs would be more of an enticement to researchers in the humanities.

Published in: on October 4, 2008 at 3:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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A few thoughts on publishing and tenure

I read a slew of articles last week about academic librarians, publishing, advanced degrees, and tenure. So many, I didn’t have time to write about them. A week later, however, I still have a couple of comments to make, and I’ll share them here.

First, concerning the issue of tenure–I wonder how many academic librarians want tenure and its concomitant stresses and demands. Certainly, as professionals we all desire reasonable salaries, respect from university colleagues, and the right to participate in campus governing bodies. My question, perhaps overly naive, is, are these objectives attainable only via the gristmill of tenure? My impression from the readings is that the distinction between tenured and non-tenured library positions is neither strict nor uniform. It depends on the institution, in other words.

Some academic librarians surely want tenure and are willing (eager?) to perform the activities needed to attain it, including publishing. From my experience, however, publishing is typically the province of doctoral-holding faculty in academic departments, so I would expect the faculty of LIS programs to be responsible for the bulk of research and publishing in the field. In English, those with master’s degrees do the majority of undergraduate teaching, working as adjuncts and instructors at universities or at four-year, community, and technical colleges; the demands of these positions leave precious little time for research, whether it is encouraged by the institution or not. These faculty typically will not be the ones publishing in the top journals or writing definitive scholarly monographs–this is for those at research institutions.

Perhaps there is some snobbery that accompanies the whole hierarchical structure, but there’s also the belief that doctoral-level work equips one with the knowledge, experience, and ‘seasoning’ (a combination of time and development of critical acuity) to compete as a researcher.  The doctoral student is groomed and ushered into that role.  Is there a different state of affairs in the field of academic librarianship?  Again, my impression from last week’s readings was that the MLIS does not consistently prepare its students for the demands of research and publication.  Some programs do, some programs don’t, and that appears to leave new academic librarians striving for tenure in a tough spot, relying on institutional programs, associations, and mentors to fill in the gaps. 

Although I have come across stray comments in the readings that disparage the general state of publications in the field, I don’t know enough to determine how accurate this assessment is.  However, it does make me question whether some adjustments need to be made in the MLIS, in mentoring/support/training for academic librarians, or in tenure requirements.

Published in: on October 2, 2008 at 8:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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