Collective Agreements and Academic Librarian Research Opportunities

By Kathleen Reed, Assessment and Data Librarian
Vice President, VIU Faculty Association
Vancouver Island University

In this post, I’d like to consider the influence of the collective agreement on librarian research, and in particular, the choice to work in an environment in which research is/isn’t a job requirement. Experienced academic librarians may be familiar with collective agreements, but as a Baby Librarian, I had no clue that these documents governed whether or not I’d have to do research, and the support (or lack thereof) I’d receive to do so. This wasn’t something that was talked about where I did my MLIS, and yet it has significant influence on the lives of academic librarians. Thus, here’s a simplified, brief run-down of how collective agreements influence librarian research.

Librarians at academic institutions have a variety of academic statuses, which are articulated by the Academic Librarian Status wiki:

“Categories:

  1. Librarians with full faculty status and tenure = librarians have titles denoting their rank (e.g., associate professor or associate librarian); are likely required to publish; have seats on faculty committees; and are considered to be members of the university’s faculty with accompanying benefits.
  2. Librarians with faculty or academic status but no tenure = librarians likely have titles denoting their rank; have option to contribute to the profession but may not be required to; may have seats on faculty committees; and have renewable contracts with opportunities for continuing appointments.
  3. College and University Libraries with a mix of professional statuses = institutions that have tenure-track and non-tenure track librarians or faculty and non-faculty librarians, or a combination of each.
  4. Librarians without faculty or academic status = librarians have staff positions without the protections or privileges accorded to faculty or librarians with academic status.
  5. Librarians without faculty or academic status but with status similar to tenure = librarians may have formal ranks; may have option to contribute to the profession but are not required to; do not serve on faculty committees nor receive other faculty benefits; have renewable contracts with opportunities for continuing appointments.”

Many librarians that are required to do research work in rank and tenure systems, in which they are given a probationary appointment, a few years to prove themselves, and then go before a tenure committee which decides whether to grant them a permanent job (i.e. tenure) or not. Once tenured, one’s job is secured with the only way to remove someone being cause or special circumstances (ex. financial exigency). If tenure isn’t granted, one would most likely be looking for a new job. There is a mandate and pressure to undertake and publish research as part of one’s job, but there is also time and support allotted for this activity in collective agreements.

Where I work, faculty (which includes librarians) have academic status that’s similar to being tenured, but with official no rank and tenure system, and no requirement to do research. Technically, we’re a “special purpose teaching university” but in reality lots of faculty undertake research and scholarly activity off the side of our desks with limited support in terms of money and release available.

When I began to understand the tenure system, early in my career I mourned that I didn’t end up at an institution that had it; I’d have time and financial help to undertake research, which I currently lack. Six years in to my job, however, I’m now thankful that I didn’t end up at a place with rank and tenure. Research is done on a shoestring budget off the side of my desk, but I do research because I’ve got an insatiable curiosity about the world – not because I have to. It’s also led to deep collaboration with colleagues; there is no competition for first authorship or rank. Additionally, I have the freedom to pursue research opportunities that don’t relate directly to the LIS field – helpful at a time I’m finding myself being drawn back to my pre-LIS academic roots. Finally, I don’t feel the need to publish. More and more of my findings are ending up in grey literature – reports that never get published, but are helpful to the people or organizations with which I’m working at the time.

If you’re a librarian that wants to do research as part of your job, you should look carefully at the Collective Agreement in place at the institution for which you’re considering working. Whether research is required or not, and how much financial support and time is given are good places to start. Ending up at a place where research isn’t a requirement doesn’t mean one can’t undertake it; there are simply different positives and negatives that need to be considered.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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