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The Pursuit of Tenure Track Status for Academic Librarians

by Mary Ann Venner

Abstract: The role of the academic librarian in faculty ranks has varied across university campuses. As librarians become more involved in faculty level work, there has been a movement to pursue tenure track status. However, this pursuit is not an easy one and presents many challenges as well as opportunities. This article will examine how the roles of academic librarians have changed and the expectations that have developed as a result. This article will describe the opportunities and challenges involved in an academic library’s pursuit of tenure track positions for academic librarians.

Introduction

Academic librarians with faculty status are unique. They participate in teaching initiatives, scholarship activities and service endeavors like faculty, but have differing workload percentages in those areas while functioning in year round library operations. For academic librarians classified as non-tenure track faculty but doing tenure track faculty work, challenges have existed regarding pay, workload, eligibility for faculty initiatives on campus and overall recognition of their work as faculty level work. The pursuit of tenure track status for librarian positions is an opportunity for library administrations and librarians to examine how their workloads, notably in the areas of teaching, scholarship and service, compare to other faculty on campus. Although differences may exist, their contributions to their field are comparable.

Librarian Roles and Workload

How academic librarians are classified differs from university to university. Some universities see their librarians serving auxiliary, supportive roles and have classified them as staff. Other universities designate their librarians as faculty, either non-tenure track or tenure track. For example, at the University of North Texas (UNT), academic librarians are classified as non-tenure track faculty. The differences in academic librarians as staff, non-tenure track and tenure track are most apparent in workload distribution. Librarians that function in staff roles on university campuses have a strong focus of library operations support in their workloads. Although scholarship and service endeavors are supported, they may not be a main component of their workloads. For librarians serving in non-tenure track roles, there is a strong focus on primary assignment and service. Again scholarship endeavors may be supported, but may not be required. Librarians at UNT, although non-tenure track, have elements of all three areas (primary assignment, scholarship and service) present in their workload distributions. A typical workload distribution for a UNT librarian is eighty percent focused on their primary assignment, ten percent on scholarship/creative activities and ten percent on service. Their scholarly contributions as well as their service initiatives cover various areas and roles. They have a terminal degree and are actively involved in the field of librarianship. As librarians in non-tenure track faculty roles expand their work endeavors in the area of scholarship especially, there has been a move amongst some academic libraries to embark on the process for creating tenure track librarian positions and eliminate the barriers encountered as non-tenure track faculty.

Pursuing the Tenure Track Option

Librarians serving in non-tenure track faculty roles have experienced several challenges. For librarians at UNT, one of these challenges was limited access to opportunities provided to other faculty such as grant funding, committee membership, salary increases and awards/recognition. Although librarians were classified as faculty, and were doing work in the areas of scholarship and service, when opportunities for faculty were advertised, those opportunities were only available to tenure track faculty. Pursuing tenure track roles for academic librarians was seen by library administration as a possible way to remedy this and eliminate the ambiguity surrounding the role of faculty status for academic librarians.

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges involved in pursuing tenure track for librarian positions involves gaining support from several areas: library administration, university administration, other university faculty and librarians. For UNT librarians, support from library administration, faculty on Faculty Senate, and librarians was present. This support was based on the efforts demonstrated by the librarians in their work. They served in their liaison roles well and collaborated with faculty on committees and research. However, not all librarians were wholeheartedly supportive of pursuing tenure. There were concerns regarding how being tenure track would impact workloads and percentages of time dedicated to their primary assignments. What also existed was the perception that although librarians were considered faculty in how they were classified and did do scholarship and service, their workload assignments, especially in the areas of teaching and scholarship, were vastly different. The concept of teaching for academic librarians was different to other full time faculty. Teaching activities for academic librarians took place outside of the classroom. This perception along with the amount and depth of scholarship produced played a role in getting support from university administration. Another concern was if librarian positions were made tenure track, how would the libraries transition. Would librarians need to reapply for their positions once they were designated as tenure track? Could two tracks of librarian positions exist where librarians who did not want to pursue tenure track could remain non-tenure track? How would pay and workloads be affected? A task force made up of librarians was created to develop a possible transition plan since these were questions that required much more research and investigation. The plan was presented to library administration and university administration. Given the complexities involved in pursuing tenure track positions for UNT librarians, the decision was made by the library administration to discontinue pursuing the option at that time.

Lessons Learned

Although the UNT Libraries ultimately decided not to pursue tenure track positions for their academic librarians, many lessons were learned as a result of investigative process. As part of the task force’s charges, a report was compiled which outlined the scholarship and service activities of the librarians. It was amazing to see the breadth and depth of scholarship and committee activities performed by the librarians. This report was shared with the librarians and provided an opportunity to share the great accomplishments achieved by our librarians in these areas. Also learned was the complicated nature of tenure and how it applies to academic freedom, policy writing, evaluation processes and transition plans for non-tenure track positions. The workload expectations for librarians who work twelve months is different to that of tenure track faculty who have nine month appointments. As the task force pursued potential transition options, it was important to keep in mind the role of the academic librarian and the vision the library and university had for that role. Scholarship and service were valued, but how heavily should the contributions in those areas be when there was a strong focus on the primary assignment? The main lesson learned was that scholarship and service enhanced the primary assignment in ways that were more broadly seen as the option of tenure track was investigated. Ultimately those areas would still be present in the workload for a non-tenure track, academic librarian at the UNT Libraries, but not as heavily as that for tenure track faculty positions. The benefits from those endeavors not only benefited librarians, but the field as well.

Copyright 2017 by Mary Ann Venner.

About the author:
Mary Ann Venner is the Assistant Dean for Personnel at the University of North Texas Libraries in Denton, Texas. She has worked in an academic library setting for over 20 years in various public services roles. Contact information: maryann.venner@unt.edu.