Thursday, September 11, 2008

Faculty status is about freedom.

ACRLog has a recent post on the old chestnut of whether academic librarians are or should be "real faculty." This go-round was prompted by Daphnee Rentfrow's essay "Groundskeepers, Gatekeepers, and Guides: How to Change Faculty Perceptions of Librarians and Ensure the Future of the Research Library" in the new report No Brief Candle: Reconceiving Research Libraries for the 21st Century. Rentfrow argues that misperception by faculty is the biggest challenge facing research libraries, and that MLIS programs aren't helping to meet it.

StevenB at ACRLog takes Rentfrow to task for providing solutions that are unoriginal and vague, and he's right that she doesn't provide a lot of actionable steps to take - it's hard to be concrete in combating a vague sense of disdain.

On the other hand, StevenB misses the mark entirely. He argues that we need to prove our faculty status by buckling down and getting on with instruction. In my R1 experience, those faculty that look down on librarians look down on teaching equally: teaching is for grad students and adjuncts. (Note that both adjunct lecturers and librarians are disproportionately likely to be women.)

I propose a different logic about why academic librarians need faculty status:
1. The purpose of faculty status is tenure.
2. The purpose of tenure is to protect academic freedom.
3. Librarians need academic freedom protections.

The commitment to intellectual and academic freedom is in our professional DNA. The ALA Code of Ethics binds us to "uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources." Librarians were willing to risk jail time to oppose sections of the Patriot Act. And I think that an argument that the people developing and preserving your research collections need political cover to include unpopular ideas can appeal to even some of the most inflated egos among the research faculty.


Barbara said...

Great post. And interesting that in the comments someone pointed to a Stanley Fish article about the freedom provided by tenure and its limits and basically said nothing we do requires that protection.

You make a good and concise argument for tenure and for academic freedom for librarians.

Laura Wimberley said...

Thanks! I was also really concerned by that comment, but I didn't want to try to rebut it directly, since I couldn't access the original Fish article (behind the Chronicle's paywall).

I'm grateful that the inaugural comment on this blog was so encouraging. :)

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