Promotion and tenure for academic librarians

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  • Updated.jpg 16 June 2017


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"...scholarly work is expected of all librarians. Unlike traditional faculty research, a librarian’s scholarly work usually derives from professional practice. Candidates for tenure or promotion will engage in scholarly work appropriate to academic librarianship with the fundamental expectation that the results of scholarly work will be shared with other members of the profession and the academic community..." — Schrader, 2012

Promotion and tenure for academic librarians is a topic of some controversy and debate in Canada and the United States for both countries confer and symbolize faculty status within the academy in different ways; sometimes it's through a solid teaching record, and sometimes it's through publications and research. Typically, academic librarians apply for and assume a tenured position after a period of two to three years which can vary from institution to institution. During this probationary period, academic librarians enjoy the full benefits of annual salary increases, and merit pay on top of the regular steps in a given rank or classification. However, the tenure, or confirmed appointment, process will generally be triggered by an academic librarian's immediate supervisor in year III of their appointment. At the end of that timeframe, the academic librarian will submit to an evaluation of his/her work. In preparation for this evaluation, the academic librarian will build a portfolio of letters of support, teaching, service and publications, and will use this dossier to stand for tenure. Once the academic librarian has successfully passed through this process, he/she will hold a confirmed (or tenured) appointment at the university.

Academic librarians in North America generally have faculty status unless their institution has opted for a different system for their members. Due to some changes in academic institutions in North America, academic librarians' roles have been undergoing some seismic shifts and consequently there has been a move away from faculty status and tenure-track positions. Some universities now utilize more mixed models where academic librarians are hired on a tenure-track basis whereas others are hired for a fixed term contract. There are universities where professional librarians comprise a mix of faculty and staff positions. In the United States, there is a tradition of academic librarians using their position titles as well as taking an academic title. For example, an academic librarian may be hired to manage a service unit, and a group of professionals; he/she may be called the head librarian of that branch, or division, but may also use the academic title of assistant or associate professor. This tradition does not seem to be used with any regularity in Canada although there are a few exceptions.


  • ACRL issued guidelines in 2010 for the appointment, promotion in academic rank, and tenure of academic librarians, with criteria for probationary appointment, termination, grievance, dismissal, and academic freedom and protection against discrimination. The ACRL documents often lead opinion in the academy with respect to academic librarians seeking promotion.
  • Generally, the process for promotion within an academic rank is to perform the professional level tasks within that rank at an acceptable level of competence.
  • For academic librarians, evidence for promotion in rank may include contributions to the educational mission of the institution: teaching (not necessarily in a classroom); organization of workshops, institutes or similar meetings; public appearances in the interest of librarianship.
  • Sometimes an assessment of the librarian by students and/or professional colleagues will contribute to the overall evaluation.
  • Contributions to the advancement of the profession can be used: active participation in professional and learned societies as a member.
  • Activities related to inquiry and research: scholarly publication, presentation of papers, reviews of books and other literature, grants, consulting, service as a member of a team of experts, or other means of disseminating professional expertise.
  • Evidence of high levels of performance may be judged by colleagues on the library faculty, members of the academic community outside the library, and/or professional colleagues outside the academic institution.
  • According to Jacobs in 2013,"...In spite of the increase in formal and informal expectations for research by Canadian librarians, there have been few—if any—Canada-wide initiatives to help support librarians in meeting research expectations...."
  • According to Schrader in 2012, "...A librarian shall have the right to devote up to 40% of normal workload to the pursuit of research, study, educational and other scholarly activities”; and that these activities are to be considered in performance appraisal, promotion, and tenure evaluation..."


  • According to Coker (2011), ...tenure for librarians was suggested as early as 1911, but it was not officially endorsed until 1946. In the 1970s, most universities as well as library and teaching faculty organizations began to acknowledge the essential work performed by academic librarians and began to support and grant librarians with academic and faculty status.
  • Tenure, or confirmed (continuous) appointment, is defined as an institutional commitment to permanent employment for an academic librarian. The employee can only be terminated for adequate cause (i.e., incompetence, malfeasance, mental or physical disability, bona fide financial exigency) and only after due process.
  • Tenure is usually available to librarians in accordance with provisions for all faculty of the institution. Criteria for tenure is closely allied to the criteria for promotion within an academic rank. The relationship between tenure and rank shall be the same for library faculty as for other faculty. The criteria generally cover performance, scholarship and service.
  • A candidate for tenure shall be reviewed according to established institutional regulations, which shall be similar to those described above for promotion in academic rank.

Faculty status

  • Faculty status means having the same privileges of the professoriat including rank, promotion, tenure, compensation, leaves and research funds.
  • When faculty status for academic librarians is discussed, the sharing of the same relative position as teaching faculty is what is most important.
  • "Faculty status" is interpreted in the academy as having an academic "rank" and the possibility of tenure; for academic librarians, faculty status carries a slightly different connotation.
  • Faculty status for librarians refers to rank (e.g., Librarian I, II, or III) and the same rights and privileges of teaching faculty.
  • Creating a body of theoretical knowledge is critical to the vitality of librarianship as a profession, and faculty status promotes knowledge creation and scholarly writing.
  • For more information, see Chait's Questions of Tenure, a collection of papers dealing with practical questions such as the costs and benefits of tenure, what it takes to convince faculty to change from those systems with no tenure, and how faculty governance differs at institutions with or without tenure. Academic librarians are not specifically discussed but every point in the book can be read with libraries in mind. Statements made with respect to other faculty point to areas where research for library faculty might usefully be undertaken.
  • Another useful paper is '"Faculty Status for Librarians in Higher Education" by Bodrero Hoggan; it touches on the reasons for and against faculty status and tenure for academic librarians.

Building capacity & support for academic librarians

  • "...This paper explores how a support group has contributed to building a culture of research practice at Flinders University Library. The brief of the Research Working Group (RWG) is to develop a culture of research and professional reflection in the library's professional staff. The RWG has three broad goals against which to measure its impact: to develop the professional staff's skills with regard to research engagement; to encourage analysis and investigation of the library's services and resources; and to engage more widely with the library profession and the wider higher education community through presentation and publication of research results. Professional staff completed a questionnaire examining their participation in research, their confidence in undertaking research, and plans for future research projects. The results were analysed with reference to the first goal of the RWG. The importance of practitioners undertaking research is increasingly being recognised as a core value in academic libraries. Many support groups for librarians undertaking research have been described in the literature, but few have evaluated the impact of such a group. This paper seeks to evaluate the impact of the RWG on the professional staff at Flinders University Library to date...."

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