It looks like the ACRL got something right in its Environmental Scan last year. It probably got all sorts of things right, but I haven’t read the whole thing, only a bit prompted by a kind reader concerned about librarian tenure and attracting good candidates.
Here’s the bit:
At institutions where librarians have faculty status, the use of contingent (adjunct, part-time and non-tenure track) library faculty may increase in response to budget constraints and the need for flexibility. Other libraries may see an increase in the employment of part-time professionals, the use of temporary or special appointments, and other personnel practices that maximize administrative and budgetary flexibility.
Some of these developments would increase the number of official Library Jobs that Suck, which would include any job that is temporary and part-time but requires an MLS and experience. Libraries that post jobs like that should be ashamed of themselves, and the rest of the profession should boycott them.
In addition to the complete disregard for librarians as professionals demonstrated by Library Jobs that Suck, there’s the gradual chipping away at some of the things that make librarian jobs tolerable in the first place, which for academic librarians often means tenure.
The kind reader also sent me this job ad for a First Year Experience Librarian, which seems like a goofy title for a librarian, but maybe that’s just me. The conditions of employment are tenuous, at least for academic librarians:
Full-time position for non-tenure-earning renewable appointment of up to three years (annual renewal based upon satisfactory performance review, need, and funding).
The job is at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, which I’m also told often has trouble attracting job candidates.
I really don’t know why, since according to its Wikipedia article, “the University of Alabama has always had a strong cultural and historical impact not only in Alabama but in the United States as a whole.” There’s the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, for example. And Forrest Gump went there. Oh, and “Parts of the Burt Reynolds film Hooper was filmed on lots owned by the University of Alabama.” Burt Reynolds used to be a famous centerfold model and all, so that’s exciting stuff.
When you add in the sweltering heat (at the time of writing about 97 degrees Fahrenheit and 80% humidity) and the devastating tornadoes, what more could any librarian want? I’m surprised librarians aren’t flocking to Tuscaloosa the way they do to New York, Seattle, and Detroit.
But let’s assume it’s true, and that the middle of Alabama isn’t a high ranking destination for librarians looking for jobs. That’s why it makes perfect sense for librarians to have tenure.
Tenure is how colleges and universities attract faculty and librarians to places nobody wants to live. Tenure says to them, “We know you don’t want to live here, so we’ll offer you guaranteed employment for life!”
Wait, there must be something wrong with that. It’s more like this: “We know you don’t want to live here, but in a tough job market we hope you’ll choose us, and if you do at least we won’t chuck your sorry librarian bottom out onto the street whenever someone gets the urge to save a little money by making the other faculty and librarians work harder for no extra compensation.”
Or something like that.
If the trend continues, librarians will slowly devolve into the itinerant vagabonds that so many academics have become, working part-time jobs at several institutions with no benefits and poor pay. Or will they?
One thing I’ve noticed about people with PhDs is that they’ll put up with anything to stay in academia. They don’t listen to reason before getting their degrees, and by the time they’ve spent ten years at their underfunded university earning a degree they’re not suited for anything else.
But librarians? Most librarians theoretically have skills that are marketable outside of academia, and except for the ones that are failed academics who still don’t listen to reason and think they’ll get cushy jobs, those librarians aren’t necessarily wedded to academic librarianship. If they’re good enough to get jobs at all, they can probably gets jobs elsewhere.
I guess there are all the librarians who believe library schools and the ALA that there is a librarian shortage will still be desperate, like all the PhDs who mistakenly thought the world would owe them a job just because they wrote a dissertation on an extremely obscure topic.
Depending on how the profession goes, it might even be the same group of people, who go back to library school thinking, “no, this time, I really will get a job!” Because that’s exactly what librarianship needs, more people who failed at other things before “settling” for librarianship.
For everyone else, maybe it’s time to listen to reason. Public libraries are in trouble, and were never much fun to work at unless you really wanted to be a social worker but liked having a lot of books around. And now academic libraries are chucking the one thing that made them attractive to a lot of people. Librarians don’t get summers off, but at least they could get tenure.
And all those places that have trouble attracting candidates now, just get rid of tenure for new hires and hire a bunch of contingent faculty librarians alongside your tenured ones. That’s bound to be great for morale.
The less desirable the position, the less desirable the candidates, too. With faculty status and tenure, at least librarians could pretend that they were important to a university and their job status wasn’t equivalent to the custodians and food workers, even if real faculty knew they weren’t real faculty.
There are plenty of librarians who value job security and faculty status and put up with mediocre pay. But who puts up with mediocre pay with no job security? No, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. If academic libraries start treating their librarians like expendable widgets, their libraries will become as ineffective as other academic departments full of adjuncts, and the profession will be in an even sorrier state than it already is.
Then again, it’s just the library. Maybe no one will notice.
Thinking of becoming a librarian? Think VERY carefully. That’s my advice.