Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Tenure and Academic Freedom -- What about Librarians?

The link in the title here is to an interesting online article by professors Barbara Bintliff and Dick Danner, in PDF at Duke University eprints. It's a good overview of academic freedom and tenure in universities generally, and looking at the importance of those privileges for librarians, in particular. I recommend going to the site and reading the article in full.

From my own experience, I feel very strongly that librarians need the protections of academic freedom and tenure more than many substantive law faculty. How many times have I been grateful for those shields against undue pressure when:

* I have to tell a faculty member that the book, journal or other item they pass along to me is not a good investment for this library; faculty have passed along deals from former students, fellow politicoes and friends. Sometimes the suggestion is good and I am grateful. But sometimes, it is a really bad deal or a title not appropriate for our library either due to the level of the product or the quality or the focus. The other side of the coin is selecting items to represent more than one side of politically sensitive issues -- something I think is an important duty of libraries. If I felt the pressure of termination hanging over me when I make a professional judgement about collecting for the library, I couldn't do a good job selecting and spending the budget I have for the good of the entire law school and university community;

* I have to make tough personnel decisions. If I felt that my decision would come back to haunt me, I would be constrained in doing my management as well as I can. The law school and university would not benefit from my experience and judgement in managing the library and its personnel;

* I have to make budget decisions about how to spend for library acquisitions, for faculty research support, and for continuing education and professional memberships for library staff. I try to take the long view on decisions both budgetary and other, thinking about the situation of the library and the school in one year, five years, ten and fifty years. If I had to look over my shoulder at every decision, I would have much more trouble looking at the long-term interests of the library, the law school, the university and the legal profession;

* I make decisions about protecting user information from unwarranted scrutiny by government agencies.

Danner and Bintliff make excellent points, commenting on the new impact of the USA PATRIOT ACT on privacy concerns in libraries. While tenure may not be comfortable for everybody, and the process is undoubtedly tough to go through, I hope to see it always available for librarians. Already available at most law schools for the director of the law library, tenure is a key component of faculty protection. I hate to see the movement way from tenure, especially for directors, but also for other librarians, and for clinicians, legal writing professors. One of the most chilling part of that movement is that all three groups are heavily populated by women. Am I paranoid?

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