My beef with tenure status for librarians

My 20+ year career in librarianship has been varied: I’ve worked in large academic libraries, small academic libraries, for a library systems vendor (twice), and in a large corporate library. In addition I have worked part-time as an adjunct lecturer, teaching online courses in library and information science. One of the biggest problem areas I’ve seen throughout that time is with academic librarians with tenure status. I am not in favor of this status, at all. One of my previous places of employment had that status for its librarians but, full disclosure, I left before I had to go through the full tenure review process. My departure was for family reasons and not because of the tenure review process. In my current position, I have faculty status but am non-tenured.

So, what is my beef with tenure status for librarians? Essentially, my beef is that it’s a system that tends to stifle user-focused service, curiosity, and ongoing professional development. What triggered me to write about it now is a recent blog post by Gavia Libraria that articulates her view of the one skill that is imperative for librarians to possess. She writes:

“All librarians, archivists, and information professionals must possess sufficient actionable curiosity to encounter, assimilate, and work with novelties in their professional environment.”

I wholeheartedly agree.
I’ve observed the downsides to the tenure system ever since I was a grad. student in library school, and it was there that my dislike of it began. But I’ve observed it in many different contexts.
Over and over again, I see librarian colleagues so obsessed with making tenure that user needs are routinely ignored in favor of getting more tenure-worthy things done, like writing an article in a peer-reviewed journal, or publishing a book chapter, or something like that. I remember observing how difficult it was to interact with a real “live” librarian at a service desk or helping users because they were too busy doing their own research to achieve tenure status.
I see librarian colleagues who, once they achieve tenure status, simply stagnate or worse, believe it is then their privilege to actively obstruct and tear down anyone else in their organization who wants to implement user-focused change.
I see librarian colleagues with tenure status who routinely mistreat and look down upon their paraprofessional colleagues in an attempt to convey their own superiority. (This isn’t unique to the tenured librarian system, unfortunately.)
I see librarian colleagues in a tenure system who can check all the boxes of the tenure process (“ten scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles — check”), yet whose research focus adds nothing substantial at all to the service of their library organization or to the library profession as a whole.
I see librarian colleagues who have tenure who believe they are therefore the equals of their classroom faculty colleagues, and in reality, they often aren’t and frequently never will be perceived as equals.
I see librarian colleagues who go to all professional association meetings, and get appointed to one committee after another, year after year, but don’t really contribute very much.
I could go on and on.
Please understand, I am not at all against librarians publishing, researching, participating actively in professional organizations, etc. Far from it. But I think this activity should be a natural outgrowth of our passion for our work and for our users, our innate curiosity and desire to learn/grow/stretch ourselves, as articulated by Gavia Libraria. It should not be something that is forced upon us to achieve tenure.

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