Many academic libraries in the United States have two groups of employees: faculty and staff. The dynamics of their relationship may vary from one institution to the next, depending on factors such as: (1) whether faculty have the option of tenure; (2) the disparity of wages; (3) whether faculty can become staff or vice versa if their position changes; (4) whether either group is unionized; and (5) what portion of each group is in management positions.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the dynamics between these two groups (Full disclosure: I am staff.). There are certainly administrative reasons* for dividing library employees into faculty and staff, but is there justification to divide them functionally? That is, is it beneficial for the organization to say “the faculty are expected to perform all the functions listed in Group A and the staff, all the functions in Group B.”

For example, Group A might include (1) information science research; (2) department liaison work; (3) subject-based collection development or reference; (4) director-level responsibilities; (5) assessment. Group B might include (1) managing daily operations of staff and facilities; (2) student supervising; (3) paraprofessional work; (4) systems work; (5) communications and/or marketing.

I can understand that dividing faculty/staff along functional lines is beneficial to the individual: e.g. faculty can focus on areas of responsibility that help in gaining tenure; staff can focus on areas of responsibility that do not have that added pressure. But is it beneficial to the organization? Does it help us to be nimble? To be innovative? Does it help us get things done?

One might argue that we divide faculty and staff because their education and experience  tends to be significantly different. Most faculty jobs require an MLIS and some experience working within a subject field. But as the management qualities, technological skills, and outreach/programming needs of library organizations become  increasingly more complex, as it becomes easier for full-time employees to pursue an MLIS, and as the landscape of higher education changes each day (especially with regard to digital technologies), how can we expect that the needs and expectations of our organization will line up with skills of our employees as defined by the faculty/staff divide?

Thus, my proposition to you:

If the academic library continues to work within this construct, one that divides staff and faculty not only administratively but also conceptually, it will be unable to adapt, unable to move quickly in response to the needs of its students and faculty. Moreover, it will be unable to get ahead of the game and become a strategic leader on campus.



*”Faculty” often means the option of tenure. I am not arguing for or against tenure here. For a more complete discussion of tenure in academic libraries, I recommend John Budd’s The Changing Academic Library (Chicago: ACRL, 2005), especially p. 265-270.

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