Thursday, August 07, 2008

Rethinking Scholarship in Academic Librarianship

I was asked in a comment by Karen to to my Knol post if I had a promotion and tenure model in mind which took into account emerging scholarship methods. I didn't at the time. Since then, I have been doing some thinking, reading, and talking with colleagues.

The nature of librarianship and scholarly communication has changed drastically over the past decade while the definition of scholarship for academic librarians is stuck in time. Scholarship in libraries with tenure track librarians is still universally equated with research and publication in traditional peer-reviewed journal articles and monographs. In fact, there are disincentives to exploring alternative forms of scholarship since faculty are reluctant to pursue them since such activities have historically not been valued positively, or not weighed equally, during faculty evaluations.

The impact of the lack of exploration of alternative methods by faculty librarians may be more profound than one would imagine; a growing percentage of the output of our scholarly endeavors may no longer accurately reflect the changing nature and practices of our profession.

One has to really give the Modern Language Association (the other, other MLA) and their task force a great deal of credit for communicating how they feel scholarship should be evaluated and promoted by rethinking tenure - and much more. The inspiration for their approach was Ernest Boyer's Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities for the Professorate. Boyer's text also inspired Oregon State University (the other, other OSU) to also rethink scholarship and to change their guidelines.

Both MLA and OSU are broadening the view of scholarship beyond 'research." They are both articulating, advocating, and providing mechanisms for recognition of scholarship that is produced but not presented in traditional journal articles or monographs. The basic tenants of scholarship still exist in both their approaches by emphasizing the importance of validity, communicating to broader audiences, and ensuring that scholarship outcomes will be accessible and useful to others.

To help ensure that our scholarship remains relevant and in sync with changes to the profession, a revised definition of what constitutes academic library scholarship is needed. While not exactly a model, the following is a statement on the role of scholarship that is inspired by the MLA, and largely borrowed from it and the Oregon document (and acknowledged here as such):

The purpose of scholarship is to create something that did not exist before that is validated and communicated to others: a new understanding, new knowledge, new insights, new technologies and applications of knowledge that contribute to librarianship. Library faculty are expected to engage in scholarship, and each is also expected to perform responsibilities assigned their position. These assigned responsibilities typically include specific teaching, research, or administrative assignments.

Scholarship and creative activity derive from many activities , including but not limited to: research contributing to a body of knowledge; development of new technologies, materials, methods, or educational approaches; integration of knowledge or technology leading to new interpretations or applications; creation and interpretation in the arts, including the performing arts; and work on steering committees, funding agency panels and editorships where the outcome is a fundamental change in the field’s direction.

The kinds of scholarship for faculty across the range of positions at the library will vary. In some areas of librarianship, refereed journals and monographs are the traditional media for communication and peer validation; in others, presentations and exhibitions. In still other areas, emerging technologies are creating, and will continue to create, entirely new media and methods. Scholarship and creative activity its diverse forms must be based on a high level of professional expertise; must give evidence of originality; must be documented and validated as through peer review or critique; and must be communicated in appropriate ways so as to have impact on or significance beyond the library, University, or the discipline itself.

Peer validation and communication can occur in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, peer-refereed publications. In cases where validation and communication are not obvious, faculty must document how it was accomplished.

In certain positions, seeking competitive grants and contracts is an essential responsibility, and success in this endeavor—particularly when the grants are highly competitive or peer-reviewed— is a evidence of achievement in scholarship.

In consideration for promotion and tenure, scholarship and creative activity are not merely to be enumerated but are to be carefully, objectively, and rigorously evaluated by professional peers, including ones external to the University.

Sphere: Related Content


Anonymous said...

I wonder how quickly "work on steering committees, funding agency panels and editorships where the outcome is a fundamental change in the field’s direction" can be evaluated? How often do fields "fundamentally change"? and can that change be seen in the time frame a librarian needs for tenure review? I suspect a "fundamentally changed" field, historically, is sort of a career achievement award rather than the 2 - 3 year time frame of tenure review committees.
Just one example -- Greg Byerly, in Ohio, one of the first to articulate the OhioLINK concept. Would a tenure committee have seen his early work in the 1990s as the "fundamental change" it has become? I don't think most of the librarians in Ohio's colleges and universities would have predicted what OhioLINK has become. But card catalogs are gone; journal articles rather than books or whole journals have become our commerce of choice; door counts have dropped as we have put the library in student dorms and hands. Certainly "fundamental change" from what librarianship was and expected itself to be in the late 1980s.

Anonymous said...

Hope I shouldn't know this -- but how did librarians (and other faculty) get tenure in the days before journal publishing? Or have tenure and journal publishing grown up together?

Eric Schnell said...

Indeed, the fundental change that resulted from the OhioLink concept may not have had time to mature / age in short the 'tenure' clock.

Except in a few cases, faculty librarians have at least one additional level to achieve after tenure - full professor. There is no non-mandatory promotion clock. Byerly's concept would have time to age and the fundemental change that resulted from it would become clear.

The OhioLink concept may not have served him during the tenure process. It is so sigificant that it should warrant consideration as scholarship in subsequent academic promotions.

JesseShera said...

Dear Sir,
Greetings from Malaysia.
Am here to comment on your statement "...In certain positions, seeking competitive grants and contracts is an essential responsibility, and success in this endeavor—particularly when the grants are highly competitive or peer-reviewed— is a evidence of achievement in scholarship..."

How true, and am not in the know. I was developing an instument for my thesis on " Applying Boyer's scholarship model to academic Librarians role behavior" - I only so far read that librarians only come as far as research, teaching, information consulting and publishing - in their roles as supporting research. Now, that you mentioned 'seeking for grants" as another roles.Thanks for highlighting it.

In Malaysia, academic librarians roles more or less are the same as their counterparts in other type of libraries. Only resently, when our Ministry of Higher education (MOHE) listed 5 universities as research universities, the librarians were (sort of ) awaken to prepare for an overhaul of roles and functions. Basically, we are ready to accept new tasks - which may mean more research related meetings, programs, and embracing the new (for most of us) jargons of research methods (In Malaysia, the academic librarians' promotion or tenure is not based on research or writings or publishing - we have exams and interviews instead.