Academic librarians and research: a response

Before you read this post, go here and read Mark Rabnett’s blog post, ““For academic librarians what’s hard to reach is time for research.”

I started leaving a comment there, but soon realised that my comment was likely to challenge the original post in length. Thus, I figured I’d just post a response here and link back. What follows is my more fullsome response to Mark’s post. Feel free to join the conversation either in comments below, or on your own blog, linking back.

Mark, since I first read this post, it has kept coming back to the front of my mind. Very timely.

As you probably know, I don’t have faculty status, in my unconventional, embedded-librarian job. Ironically one of my hesitations when I consider applying for other, more traditional academic library type positions, is that I know that in order to obtain faculty status I will likely lose the research time I currently enjoy.

You really hit the faculty-status-but-not-really-faculty nail on the head when you point to the conflicting expectations on academic librarians to keep specific hours, far beyond what other faculty are obliged to do, like office staff, yet also produce independent research (some types of which necessarily take one out of the office).

I’m sure the degree of autonomy varies greatly among libraries, and perhaps even among individuals at the same library system, of course. I wonder, though, how many academic librarians have as few time-bound duties as a typical “teaching” faculty member (i.e. regular office hours, regular class times, but beyond that whatever you need to get the job done goes).

I would add to your post a degree of despair at the quality and amount of actual research training and experience I have seen library school and library jobs naturally providing. If we are to be a more evidence-based profession, the quality of research training and mentorship really must improve. In my opinion, that – not more workplace policies to look over our shoulders – is what will improve librarians’ research.

I’m sure you are aware of this, but Manitoba’s policy of 12 “research days” seems generous compared with many university libraries. I recently asked a high-level administrator from a university library acclaimed for reinventing their librarian jobs where research fell in the scheme of things (since conducting research was not apparent in the new job descriptions). Said administrator told me that while it was a critical part of T&P, librarians’ research would typically be conducted outside a normal 40-hour work week. She likened this to academic faculty who are not limited to a 40 hour work week, but as you point out these academic faculty do not typically have a prescribed 40-hour week at all.

I know there are librarians who do not want strict requirements to do research, and do not think it’s necessary to conduct research in order to be a good academic librarian. My own experience has been that unless I do research, faculty certainly do not see me as a peer, and that collaborating on research has helped me create valuable relationships with faculty members.

As far as academic freedom is concerned, apparently this is not just a Canadian issue, as John Buschman has just published an article on this very topic – the watering down of academic freedom for academic librarians – in the AAUP’s “Academe Online: (link here – which I should say I only know about from a tip on the Library Juice Press blog).

-Greyson

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1 Comment

Filed under academic libraries, Blogroll, Other blogs, publishing, The Profession

One response to “Academic librarians and research: a response

  1. A belated response. Thanks for your thoughts on this fraught issue. You make the important point that through our research and our knowledge of theirs, we become known to and valued by our faculty colleagues.

    I know there are many academic librarians burning the midnight oil to do scholarly work because their day-to-day commitments offer little room for the “academic” part of their job title.

    You call “generous” the University of Manitoba librarians’ hard-won 12 days granted for the pursuit of research scholarly activities. Certainly, compared to what we had, they’re amazing. The trouble is: many librarians here, myself included, are unable to take them because we are “too busy.”

    If this were a Skype converasation, you would now see me shrugging resignedly with a wry grin on my face as I reach for the off button.

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