Faculty Librarians

This post by Stephen Bell on the ACRL blog has caused some stir since yesterday.

Here’s the gist: At institutions with tenure-tract librarians why are librarians called faculty? What makes a faculty librarian faculty?

(BTW: A lot of the comments from Bell’s post are very informative, especially Anne-Marie Deitering’s; go see her own post about this).

In an interview recently for a library faculty position one of the committee members asked: “What do you think it means to be a faculty member?” Although I can’t remember what I said (I was totally caught off guard), here is what I came up with later:

  1. A faculty member researches and publishes
  2. A faculty member teaches and instructs
  3. A faculty member serves in the academic/professional community

From what I have seen this is also in order of professional significance. Now some may be offended by this but that is just what I have observed (and I’m not saying I agree with it either). The platitude is “publish or perish” not “serve on a committee or perish.” Anyway, beside the point…

This list shows that no matter what Stephen Bell may say, the relationship with students is not really what faculty is about (unfortunately; again, I’m not saying I agree here). Of course administrators will require professors to “mentor” students and “assist them in learning” but those are nebulous charges. Only publishable research resulting from student-interaction is what goes into a faculty portfolio. There is little/no weight given for any academic status/rank advancement system that I know of that counts how many hours were spent consulting with students in an office. Again it is not that consultations are unimportant, it is just that they have no weight in deciding status/rank (unless one or more of the students write glowing notes about you to the dean; even then are the weight of student reviews even with publications when it comes to advancement?). It all boils down to the three things above: research, formal teaching, and citizenship.

Do the ‘teaching faculty’ do those three things? Yup. Do faculty librarians? Yup. However, that is only what makes faculty librarians faculty. That is not what makes them librarians.

I got into academic librarianship because I felt that, unlike professorial faculty, a librarian’s weight and worth is measured largely on relationships with patrons. We really are about helping with research and encouraging learning in both formal and informal settings.

Faculty librarians have a responsibility to do the three things above–no question, so that may be what makes them faculty, but they are librarians because of their relationships with patrons.

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