Tag Archives: academic librarians

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).



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Embarrassing confessional: I am the faculty we complain about

At the Canadian Health Libraries Association conference in Winnipeg this year, there was a fair amount of talk about getting librarians (particularly academic librarians) out of the library and embedded into classes. I’m all rah-rah and yeah, that’s right along with everyone else, until I think about my own classes…into which I don’t invite the librarian.

As background here, I have a librarian-researchy type job, which is my primary professional identity, and then at another institution I have a faculty-teacher type job teaching undergraduates.  At the institution where I’m a research librarian, they are very kindly tolerant and accommodating of my teaching fetish. At the institution where I’m teaching faculty, I’m really not perceived by many people as a librarian at all.  I am very part-time at that school, and I mostly just come in and teach my classes without getting too involved with the other stuff at the school. I am shamefully unfamiliar with the library there, in part because I have access to a much bigger collection at my other institution, and in part because I’m just busy and the need for increased use of and familiarity with that library hasn’t made a compelling case to me.

I feel like such a fraud.

I’ve been thinking about talking to a librarian there about designing a “library assignment” for the intro class I teach, but I haven’t done so yet.  Why? Hm. Well, I guess I just haven’t had enough time.

I’ve also considered inviting a librarian into my class to give some sort of talk, but, well, I am ashamed to say I don’t actually know my liaison librarian yet, and furthermore, when I look at my jam-packed syllabus it’s hard to think of an hour I can cut out. The students I have mostly do a pretty good job of finding scholarly sources — obviously I’d like it to be better, but frankly there are other issues I think need more focus for most of them.

Also – and it’s hard for me to believe I’m even admitting thisI don’t want to bother the librarians. There, I spat it out.  I know it’s a lot of work to run a library, there aren’t that many staff there, I’m sure they are really busy, and I figure I can do most of the stuff myself rather than bothering a librarian by asking them for a favour.

Yeah, I actually just said all that. I’m kind of appalled myself.

I should say here that the library at this institution is a very good library.  The building itself is great. The collection seems quite good for the size and scope of the institution. Everything I have ever heard about the librarians is positive. What I’m saying here has little or nothing to do with the specific library or library staff at the school.

What it does have to do with is the challenges academic librarians are really facing in reaching out and becoming embedded. Maybe, just maybe, when I revise my Intro class in a year or so, I’ll get around to adding that library project.  But I’m a librarian. If anyone is going to see the value of a library assignment, it’ll probably be me, right?

And still I’m saying these tired old things we bemoan in faculty attitudes:

  • I’m too busy
  • The class doesn’t have enough time
  • There are higher priorities
  • I can do a good enough job on my own
  • I don’t want to bother you

It’s not that I’d have any problem with inviting a librarian into my classes. It’s just that it seems like more work for uncertain payoff. And if I’m left to seek it out on my own, it may never happen.

I’ll have you know that I’m having serious “Bad librarian: no biscuit for you” feelings over this.

Obviously, I’m hardly representative of all faculty at all postsecondary institutions in all places.  And I do like to think that I put an emphasis on information literacy and research skills that is rarely seen in classes taught by non-librarians. However, if this is how I feel, when I really look at myself critically, I am quite concerned about what faculty who haven’t been through library school think about the value of bringing a librarian into their classes.

If we can’t even convince me, and I’m one of us, how the heck are we going to convince other faculty members of the value of working with librarians?

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