On being faculty


My library-school friend Kirstin commented last week about the expectation of faculty librarians to have a research interest. I spent part of this morning looking through my folders of research, prepping my reappointment “proof of scholarship” bibliography, and so I’m mentally engaged with the topic right now.

I never expected to be here on the road of mandatory scholarship, and, honestly, my institution doesn’t demand publications, just quantifiable participation in the intellectual life of librarianship and academia. (If I had a subject specialty, participation in the professional and academic life of that subject would be totally welcomed, as well.) And despite my struggle to find the time for it, mandatory scholarship isn’t a bad place to be.

When I left my previous institution, and was interviewing for my current position, I was asked what my research interests were. I made something up on the spot, harking back to my grad school interests as well as the crises I’d encountered as a professional, and said something like “I’m very interested in internet governance and how it affects our information culture, and also in how changing publisher behavior is affecting libraries and their budgets, as periodical prices rise.” Not the best answer, but not the worst.

Once I accepted this position, I sat down with various mentor-type-colleagues, formally and informally, and talked about the library and campus research environment, perspective, and expectations. I formed my own opinions on the subject, and then I moved forward, again with guidance from others on good directions to move in that would be interesting to me personally and have a benefit for the institution, as well as the larger profession. It was very much a collaborative decision-making process, and was informed very strongly by the culture of my campus and colleagues.

As a result, I don’t have a strongly focused research interest; I don’t have an overarching theme. I research and write about and present and teach on what I’m doing, what I find interesting, and what I think other people want to know about. To date, that’s included emerging technologies, scholarly communication and the small library, library-faculty interactions re: periodicals, allocation formulae, institutional repositories, weeding collections, and library as place in academia.

Among other things.

What I’ve come to believe, through my experiences, is that what matters most is the kind of environment you find yourself in. My previous institution felt that publishing in librarianship was something “other people” did, and that those “other people” should write more about people like us. My current institution and colleagues have expressed a wistful wish that more people were writing about people like us, but also encouraged that people like me should be writing about people like us. And we have a pretty clear set of expectations, the best research support system we can manage with the resources at hand, and an environment where innovation is encouraged.

I think that anyone looking for a faculty librarianship job, who isn’t already tenured or doesn’t expect tenure very, very quickly, should look at their potential institution and ask, is scholarship expected? Is it supported? Is it not supported, but not expected? Is it expected and supported? How well is it supported? How well supported is good enough for you?

Because we’re all different, and so are libraries, and their expectations. A good fit for me is a place in which my independent streak, my lack of research focus, my self-management skills, and my energy level and determination can mesh near-seamlessly with the expectations, timeframes, and resources of the institution’s research requirements. But that might not be the same for you. So think about what you need, and why… and then try to find that, or at least understand what you’re in for if it’s not the best possible fit.

And good luck, job-seekers.

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