Librarian faculty status: what does it mean in academia?

Author:Hosburgh, Nathan


The issue of faculty status for academic librarians has been a hotly debated topic ever since its inception. There are those who believe that librarians have no business operating under the rubric of faculty, while there are others who just as fervently assert that librarians have rightly won the status and must do anything in their power to keep it. Central to the issue is how faculty status is defined. In actuality, "faculty status" manifests itself in a wide variety of ways across different arrangements and institutions. This paper will focus not on whether faculty status should be implemented for librarians, but rather on the various manifestations of faculty status found across academic institutions and its many ramifications. Other types of academic statuses will be discussed in relation to faculty status as well.

The ACRL Standards for Faculty Status

In order to talk about what it means to be a faculty librarian, it is helpful to have a benchmark that enables us to compare and contrast the extent to which a particular person is indeed faculty. The most useful and widely accepted measuring tool is the Association of College and Research Libraries' Standards for Faculty Status for College and University Librarians. First laid down in the early 1970's, these guidelines have been revised over the years, with the latest revision approved at the American Library Association Annual Conference, June 2007 and prepared by the ACRL Committee on the Status of Academic Librarians (ACRL, 2007). Institutions of higher education and their governing bodies are urged to adopt the following standards, which basically delineate various facets in which librarian faculty status is deemed equivalent to the faculty at large on a given campus.

  1. Librarians perform professional responsibilities.

  2. Librarians have an academic form of governance for the library faculty.

  3. Librarians have equal representation in all college or university governance.

  4. Librarians receive compensation comparable to that of other faculty.

  5. Librarians are covered by tenure policies.

  6. Librarians are promoted in rank based on a peer review system.

  7. Librarians are eligible for sabbatical and other leaves in addition to research funds.

  8. Librarians have the same academic freedom protections as other faculty. (ACRL, 2007)

    The standards entailed above represent the best case scenario, the optimal situation for library faculty or at least the situation that would most nearly equate them with other campus faculty. In truth, all eight standards are rarely seen implemented fully at any given institution. Rather than being a yes/no dichotomy, it is clear that "faculty status" for librarians may be implemented in a variety of ways, with some facets apparent and others absent. The degree to which each facet is implemented also varies and further complicates the issue of how well the ACRL standards are being met. It is beyond the scope of this paper to look at every academic library across the nation or even all members of a single subgroup. Instead, the continuum of faculty status will be examined and particular snapshots will be taken from this continuum and discussed when appropriate.

    The Continuum of Academic/Faculty Librarian Status

    There is much confusion and apprehension among new librarians entering the field when it comes to faculty status. The realization that faculty status is not a static state and may be very different across institutions should offer these librarians more hope in finding a particular library that offers the responsibilities and opportunities commensurate with their own skill set and attributes. Furthermore, a new librarian may opt out of faculty status altogether, taking a position as a staff member or one involving a non-faculty, yet academic status. These non-faculty statuses will be discussed briefly later in order to shed light on other options for professional librarians.

    There are various schemes for evaluating what type of status a given academic librarian might have, but one that is particularly useful has been laid out by Bolin (2008), who examined typologies of librarian status across American land grant universities, these being state universities that share the three pronged mission: teaching, research, and service. The approach is an attempt to provide deeper meaning than simple binary categorizations by examining individual characteristics and how those characteristics relate to each other (Bolin, 2008, p. 220). The following types of data were gathered proactively from the libraries' websites:

  9. Employee group (faculty or staff)

  10. Title of library administrator (dean, director, etc.)

  11. Rank system (professorial ranks, parallel ranks, librarian ranks, other)

  12. Tenure eligibility

  13. Representation on faculty senate

    From her findings, Bolin was able to determine that the status typology frequencies were: professorial 42%, other ranks with tenure 28%, other ranks without tenure 10%, and non-faculty 20% (2008, p. 223). "The rationale for this typology is that professorial rank is an obvious category, because it is the universal faculty teaching model" (Bolin, 2008, p. 223), while academic or professional staff status is the other option for those librarians who are not faculty...

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