Monday, October 06, 2008

Changing Academic Librarianship Scholarship Criteria

I am privileged to be serving as the Chair of our University Libraries Promotion and Tenure Committee.

In preparation for this responsibility, I have been catching up on various trends relating to scholarship and what is going on at tenure granting academic libraries. There is a great wiki site on the topic that appears to be managed by Chris Lewis, Media Librarian at American University.

Specifically, I have been curious about the criteria used to define and evaluate scholarship in tenure and promotion cases. This post is one of many I expect to write on the topic over the next year.

I have a healthy respect for the need and desire to keep the traditions of the academy. Still, I seem to be wondering aloud alot more lately about the increasing gap between how scholarship in academic librarianship is defined and the practices of the profession. As a profession we talk about the need to be more innovative and make use of emerging technologies. However, how can we ever expect faculty to push the innovation and emerging technology envelopes if the criteria we use to define and evaluate scholarship remains rooted in the dark ages of academia and librarianship?

I applaud a number of libraries in redefine how they define and evaluate scholarship. Here are just a few I uncovered:

From the Florida Atlantic University Libraries Promotion Guidelines:
  • The research and development of courses or classes in librarianship or a scholarly topic on which the individual has expertise
  • Obtaining grants and other funding, such as fellowships, internships or study leaves, which benefit the FAU Libraries or librarianship
  • Developing original computer software or successful adaptations of software for the FAU Libraries or professional uses
  • Developing original uses of other technologies to enhance FAU Libraries’ operations.
The above items caught my attention. Unlike some criteria I have seen, FAU does not appear to distinguish scholarship as being independent from job related activities. The creation of curriculum and courses relating to a specialty are considered. Grants and external funding in support of library services, not just the associated publications are considered. Software or technologies created or adapted in support of library services are also considered.

The University at Buffalo included many of the traditional contributions but included "Significant web based publications that can be peer reviewed." In evaluating such works, the document states:
    Peer review is characterized by the disinterested, critical review of the candidate’s research or creative activity by respected members of that community.
    What caught my attention is how they they do not define peer review. The document does not indicate peer-review as being a prerequisite to publication. One therefore could assume that peer-review includes feedback obtained after publication. What I like here is that one could define blogging as a 'significant web based publication' and comments and track backs becoming evidence of peer review.

    Oregon State University also has an interesting way of defining scholarship:
    In some fields, refereed journals and monographs are the traditional media for communication and peer validation; in others, exhibitions and performances. In still other fields, emerging technologies are creating, and will continue to create, entirely new media and methods.

    This definition seems to allow the library system maximum flexibility in accepting a wide variety of activities as scholarship, including the development of software, application of technology to enhance library services, and yes, even blogging. Sphere: Related Content


    Anonymous said...

    I have served on several P&T committees and I also supervise several librarians with faculty status. In my opinion, one of the biggest stumbling blocks in considering alternative types of scholarship is the "evaluation" of it.

    How does a committee evaluate the quality of it? Page hits? Number of comments to blog posts? Who links to it? Whether or not someone likes the content well enough to mention it on a listserv or their own blog?

    Some excellent examples of digital scholarship that struggle for ways to evaluate them:
    - a YouTube video on x topic related to their job duties
    - a web-accessible tutorial
    - a hosted wiki (or individual entries to a wiki hosted by someone else)
    - creation of a specialized Facebook group

    In venues where anyone can comment - anonymously or not - it becomes difficult to judge the qualifications of the commenters.

    Another concern to me is how much of the content is "original" or was truly written by the person taking credit for it. If the blog is a collection of links out to work written by others OR like your entry here a critical synthesis of what you are finding in your searches - it is a reflection of the overall quality of it.

    Criteria clearly vary at each institution and many have "unwritten" criteria (such as exactly how many publications are required for tenure). In my experience, the guiding force seems to be quality-related issues regardless of what medium was chosen. I have seen tenure files containing these types of publications - but in almost all cases (so far) they have been considered to be "complimentary scholarship"....not because of the medium but rather due to the less extensive nature of the content or their lack of visible impact on the profession.

    Eric Schnell said...

    I like the approach the Modern Language Association has taken in defining teaching and service as forms of scholarship as well.

    In their schema, intellectual work “is not restricted to research and scholarship but is also a component of teaching and service,” and citizenship, which “encompasses the activities required to create, maintain, and improve the infrastructure that sustains the academy as a societal institution,” comprises aspects of research and scholarship, such as participating in promotion and tenure reviews, evaluating manuscripts, and serving on committees in professional organizations or on task forces in one’s field.

    Essentially, applied scholarship.

    As MLA also points out:

    "Scholarship should not be equated with publication, which is, at bottom, a means to make scholarship public, just as teaching, service, and other activities are directed toward different audiences."