more degrees for the same pay

In a recent Chronicle article, Todd Gilman complains about the lack of job postings for librarian subject specialists who have secondary master’s or doctoral degrees. While I think he makes valid points for why subject specialists should have post-graduate education in their fields of study, particularly if they are in tenure-track positions, I think he misses the mark as to why libraries are hiring folks without those degrees.

In that job posting and many others, the most attention paid to subject expertise (in the form of a master’s or Ph.D.) is a brief mention in the list of “preferred” qualifications. That is a strong indication that the hiring institution will settle for less — much less. In fact, I’m told that in a number of recent hires, Ph.D.’s and M.A.’s — some with years of professional experience working in top academic libraries in addition to having an MLIS — have been passed over in favor of candidates straight out of library school whose only previous degree was a bachelor’s.

Were they passed over because they asked for more compensation than what the institution was willing to pay? I suspect that may play a much larger role than what Mr. Gilman is giving it.

Libraries are usually the first target for budget cuts, and one of the biggest expenses in a library is staff salaries. Someone who has post-graduate degrees beyond the MLS will likely expect to be compensated for the additional skills and knowledge they bring to the job. University administrators either don’t understand or don’t care about the value that these folks add to collections and instruction, and as a result, they are unwilling to meet the compensation demands of these “better qualified” candidates. Recent graduates in any field will cost the university less in the salary department, and that short-term benefit is the only one that (mostly short-timer) administrators care about.

Given all that, would you go through the trouble of getting a second master’s degree or a doctoral degree, knowing that unless you are already in a tenure-track position with fair compensation, it is unlikely that you’ll be payed any more than you are already? Probably not, unless you were particularly passionate about research in your field of study.

Even so, that research might not help you with tenure, as some colleagues of mine discovered when their institution’s tenure requirements changed so that scholarship in their primary field (read: library science) alone counted towards tenure and post-tenure review. Nevermind that they focused most of their scholarly research in their secondary subject specialties.

All of the above is why I took myself out of the tenure-track world. I have no interest (at this time) in becoming a subject specialist in anything but what I do every day: librarianship. I’m happy to let others make decisions about content, so long as they let me focus on my areas of expertise, such as delivery platforms, access, and licensing issues.

Harvard & the Open Access movement

A colleague called the Harvard faculty’s decision on making all of their works available in an institutional repository a “bold step towards online scholarship and open access.” I thought about this for a bit, and I’m not so sure it’s the right step, depending on how this process is done. Initially, I thought the resolution called for depositing articles before they are published, which would be difficult to enforce and likely result in the non-publication of said articles. However, upon further reflection and investigation, it seems that the resolution simply limits the outlets for faculty publication to those journals that allow for pre- or post-publication versions to be deposited in institutional repositories. Many publishers are moving in that direction, but it’s still not universal, and is unlikely to be so in the near future.

I am concerned that the short-term consequences will be increased difficulty in junior faculty getting their work published, thus creating another unnecessary barrier to tenure. I like the idea of a system that retains the scholarship generated at an institution, but I’m not sure if this is the right way to do it. Don’t get me wrong — repositories are a great way to collect the knowledge of an institution’s researchers, but they aren’t the holy grail solution to the scholarly communication crisis. Unless faculty put more of a priority on making their scholarship readily available to the world than on the prestige of the journal in which it is published, there will be little incentive to exclusively submit articles to publishers that allow them to be deposited in institutional repositories beyond mandatory participation. There are enough hungry junior faculty in the world to keep the top-shelf journal publishers in the black for years to come.

to tenure or not to tenure

Meredith Farkas of Information Wants To Be Free has a great essay on one of the great conundrums of academic librarianship: Should we strive for tenured faculty status or should we embrace a support staff role within the context of the university? She leans towards the non-tenure side and makes some excellent points for it.

I’m a bit ambivalent. On the one hand, I do view myself as a colleague of the teaching faculty in that I use my expertise to educate our students just as they do. On the other hand, I’m more of a behind-the-scenes librarian, and most of my work is focused on providing research tools that are useful and functional. In that respect, I am more like support staff than faculty. As for my tenured librarian colleagues, I wish that there was still something that could light a fire under them because they often appear to be apathetic and uninterested in improving themselves or the library.

I will continue to jump through the hoops towards tenure, because in the end, that’s how I make myself a better librarian (and keep my job).

curriculum vitae

Recently I went through the process of reappointment at my current place of work. Unlike my first post-graduate library position, this one is tenure track. I was a bit unprepared for what would be required of me in this review process, particularly with regards to converting my résumé into a curriculum vitae. Too bad I didn’t know about this helpful document put together by the University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries.