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):
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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.