Universities just don’t know what to do with librarians. Are they faculty or staff or some weird combination of both?
Librarians often want to be faculty members, even though they don’t teach, do less research and publishing, usually don’t have PhDs in their field, and have more traditional work schedules than the real or teaching faculty. Comparing the two, it’s easy to see huge differences, but librarians want to be faculty because of the status.
On other hand, librarians aren’t quite like other university staff, either. They are often engaged in research and publication, active within professional communities, and have educational interactions with students. Many are academic dropouts with significant education and credentials.
In a lot of libraries – especially in state universities – librarians often have faculty status and in many other libraries have a similar process of rank and promotion, even if they’re not specifically faculty members.
While faculty status isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, and plenty of academic librarians function just fine without it, librarians with it consider it to be something of a slap in the face when it’s threatened. They see it as an attack on their professionalism.
At least that’s the way they’re viewing it at the University of Virginia, where the University Librarian has just declared that no new librarians hired will have faculty status, even though some group of librarians has had it for the past 50 years. The announcement was handled the way that all significant and sweeping announcements should be handled…via email.
Based on the news article, the University Librarian and the university librarians seem to be talking past each other. The statements from the director indicate that she doesn’t know what to think about faculty librarians.
“We hire all kinds of professionals, and it was never clear why someone should be called a faculty member versus being called managerial and professional staff,” Wittenborg said. “This is an important step to take to recognize the work all library staff does.”
Possibly someone could have made it clear, maybe by articulating distinctions. All library work is important to run the library, but not all jobs are the same.
Then a couple of odd statements:
The restructured title will offer all library employees the ability to accrue leave, Wittenborg said. The move will also create a more cohesive library community, she said in an email to employees.
It would be strange indeed if librarians were no longer able to “accrue leave” just because they didn’t have faculty status. As for the more cohesive community, I couldn’t say. Are there resentful staff who aren’t faculty librarians who will now be happy their faculty peers are being eliminated?
Or this one: “Very few universities offer faculty-level library positions.” If 50% or more is “very few,” then I guess that’s right.
I’m not sure the librarians come off any better.
Critics, however, cited the importance of the faculty designation within the University self-governance system…. Librarians who are faculty can participate in the General Faculty Council, which would not be the case for library staffers.
Couldn’t that same argument be made about any group within the university? This is basically saying we should be faculty because we want to be on the faculty council. It doesn’t address the UL’s questions about what practically distinguishes a librarian faculty member from a library staff member.
One librarian is concerned that “qualified professionals may shy away from joining the library staff in the future without the faculty designation.”
That seems unlikely given the persistent jobs crisis. Somehow I doubt a librarian on the market would take a look at UVA and think, “great library, but that no faculty status thing is a dealbreaker.”
“[The faculty title] helps professionalize what we do,” he said. “It may just be a title, but it also is a recognition of librarian professionals, [all of whom] have professional degrees.”
This one’s also a little tricky. One way to read it pretty much automatically eliminates librarians from consideration of faculty status.
Librarian professionals have professional degrees. You know who typically don’t have professional degrees? The teaching faculty. They have the terminal academic degree in their field. They don’t consider themselves professionals so much as professors, and there’s definitely a distinction. Professional degrees are what academics get when they can’t get jobs with their academic degrees.
The strangest thing about all this is that it’s the University Librarian taking the faculty status away. Usually it’s the teaching faculty and academic administration who can’t figure out why librarians have faculty status. But if even the head of the library can’t be convinced, it doesn’t bode well for the faculty librarians.