Librarians are REAL Faculty

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At a recent conference that I attended, Jennifer Bartlett presented “You’re Not REAL Faculty! The Issue of Librarian Image on the College Campus”. Unfortunately, the relevance of her presentation was made all too apparent at our recent faculty meeting. On the agenda, were proposed changes to the faculty’s governance documents. Section 5 of the bylaws details the voting rights of the various faculty groups. Full-time permanent tenured or tenure-track librarians essentially receive the same voting rights as Visiting Faculty, Adjunct Faculty, Term Faculty and the Student Bar Association representative. The debate that ensued after one of my law library colleagues proposed a discussion was divisive and derisive. The strongest opponent wasn’t even aware that half of the law librarians teach credit-based, ABA-required courses at the law school.

Librarians have always had to advocate for recognition of their education, skills and services, especially during today’s tough economic climate. According to Ms. Bartlett’s research, the library profession’s push towards attaining a higher status began in the 1930’s. Today, most colleges and universities provide faculty status for their librarians and require that they possess a MLS or MLIS, which is the terminal degree in library science, from an accredited institution. I’m no exception. I received my Masters in Library Information Science from the University of Hawaii, which is accredited by the American Library Association.

At the University of Louisville, where I’m employed, librarians have faculty status and though we do have a separate governing document, we are held to similar rigorous standards pertaining to our tenure. Those include: 1) teaching, 2) research and publication, and 3) professional development. Each of the law library’s six faculty members possess a MLS or MLIS, half have a second Masters degree in another subject, and three have JDs.  Fifty-percent of the law library’s faculty teaches courses at the law school including all of the Basic Legal Research classes, as well as Advanced Legal Research, Legal History, Computers and the Law, Copyright, and even Domestic Relations. For the three of us that don’t possess the Juris Doctorate, our teaching comes in the form of reference and bibliographic instruction. For the purposes of attaining tenure, we too are required to publish our research in peer-reviewed journals. One of my colleagues has had his research published in journals outside of the legal and library professions. Another maintains a blog that’s considered one of the premier resources for Brandeis scholars. And yet another is the editor of the state library association's quarterly publication. Lastly, we must engage in professional development. We attend conferences, enroll in webinars, teach continuing education courses and hold board positions in our professional organizations.

There are of course fundamental, educational, and administrative differences between the teaching faculty and library faculty. For example, the teaching faculty receives 10-month appointments, while the librarians work year round. The teaching faculty is required to have a JD, which is reflected in their compensation. The salaries of permanent teaching faculty range from $65,000-$260,000, while librarians’ salaries range from $38,000-$151,000. Despite my substantially smaller salary and lack of a JD, I find it offensive to be considered “second class faculty”, as was the sentiment that was expressed at our meeting. Therefore, I wonder if this isn’t really a debate about professionalism, but instead one of classism.

In her presentation, Bartlett advocated that librarians and teaching faculty be “integral partners in the education process”. I also assert that an environment that fosters collegiality and one that is built upon mutual respect better serves the entire community. By working together collaboratively and cooperatively, we can supply our student body with the education, skills and experience that they need to be successful in their chosen careers and as leaders in their communities, which is a common thread that unites us all in academia.