I’m happy to share this post, written by Ione Damasco and Dracine Hodges. It is based on their survey study of academic librarians of color. It provides a clear description of some of the obstacles and challenges for academic librarians of color, and recommends solutions. If you’d like to look at a more in-depth account of their research, it is freely available online. Please read:
Damasco, Ione & Dracine Hodges. Tenure and Promotion Experiences of Academic Librarians of Color. College & Research Libraries, vol. 73 no. 3 279-301. http://crl.acrl.org/content/73/3/279.full.pdf+html
Inspired by our own experiences as faculty librarians of color on the path toward tenure, in 2009 we decided to undertake a research project that would qualitatively explore the experiences of academic librarians of color who were either seeking tenure, or had completed the process for earning tenure and/or promotion. After reading some studies that explored the unique, and often challenging, experiences of teaching faculty of color, we wondered whether those experiences would be echoed by their librarian counterparts whose professional lives were governed by tenure and promotion policies. We felt it was especially important to explore these issues since the recruitment and retention of librarians of color had become a focal point for our profession. Unfortunately, we did not find much research that looked specifically at academic librarians of color, so we deliberately chose to conduct our research from a critical race theory standpoint. By taking this approach, we placed the experiences of librarians of color at the center of our research, rather than in relation to the experiences of White academic librarians.
Our research was guided by three specific questions:
- What are the obstacles to earning tenure and/or promotion from the standpoint of librarians of color?
- What initiatives, resources, programs, etc. are in place to ensure tenure-track librarians of color successfully achieve tenure and/or promotion?
- What is the relationship, if any, between the tenure and/or promotion process and the retention of academic librarians of color?
In order to answer these questions, we constructed a survey designed to look at the key areas that impact academic librarians of color trying to earn tenure and/or promotion: tenure policies and processes, scholarly activities, service, professional development, perceived obstacles to earning tenure or promotion, and organizational climate. The full study is available to read online at http://crl.acrl.org/content/73/3/279.full.pdf+html
The survey started off with an examination of tenure policies. Were they being distributed to new hires in a timely manner? Did these librarians have a clear understanding of the expectations and criteria outlined in their policies? Then we asked about specific activities that typically make up the bulk of the work by which academic librarians are evaluated. We looked at the scholarly/research and service activities of the respondents to our survey. Were they actively engaged in research and writing activities? What types of scholarship (articles, presentations, poster sessions, etc.) were they producing? How much time did they spend on scholarship, beyond their day-to-day duties? Service at different levels (library, institution, statewide, regional, or national) is also often a big component of tenure evaluations, so we asked respondents about the amount and type of service work in which they were engaged, and how their service compared to their colleagues.
The survey then asked about the different types of professional development the respondents had undergone. We asked about formal and informal mentoring relationships, continuing education opportunities, leadership development programs, peer support programs, and writing support, such as workshops on research methods or how to write for publication. Respondents shared with us how important they felt those types of opportunities were, versus how effective they actually were. Disappointingly, we found a disparity between how highly these programs were valued by respondents and how ineffective they actually found many programs to be.
As we conducted our literature review for the study, we found several studies that have shown teaching faculty of color have often experienced working in hostile or “chilly” workplaces. These faculty have also expressed feelings of isolation and lack of support from their colleagues. Furthermore, this type of racial climate can negatively impact retention rates for faculty of color. We wanted to see how academic librarians of color characterized the climate and culture of their organizations, and how that impacted their experiences trying to earn tenure. The survey asked respondents to comment on the climate and culture of their libraries to explore these issues. Was racial discrimination an issue at their libraries? Did the respondents perceive unfair differences in the ways in which they were treated or evaluated? Did they have access to the same resources and networks as their White counterparts? Respondents shared with us very mixed experiences, ranging from explicit racist attitudes from colleagues or supervisors, to race not being seen as a factor at all in their work or interactions with colleagues. Notably, however, was the number of librarians who stated they were asked to engage in library diversity initiatives or undertake additional liaison work to diversity groups on campus beyond the library, presumably because of their race. The additional burden of diversity service expectations could surely negatively impact their ability to manage their time and workload effectively.
We also asked respondents to share with us what they thought were obstacles to earning tenure, as well as commentary about their overall experiences with the process. Several topics came up repeatedly throughout their comments: the challenge of conducting research and writing for publication, the need for better mentoring relationships and more peer support needs, and the role of race as a part of their tenure experiences. Issues of time management, research and writing skills, and mentoring are certainly not limited to librarians of color; racial climate and racial perceptions are factors that are implicitly interwoven into their lives in ways that can complicate those issues.
Summary of our findings and recommendations
The initial intent of this research was to study the experiences of librarians of color engaged in tenure and promotion activities. However, our investigation also revealed challenges librarians of color faced during the process. Some of the challenges such as the difficulty of balancing day-to-day workloads against research and writing for publication are typical for all librarians pursuing tenure and promotion. However, there were also issues unique to librarians of color such as obligations to perform service to provide “diversity” at their institutions. Many respondents also shared their struggles with both subtle and overt occurrences of racism. The survey findings also stressed the unfortunate need for many library faculty of color to develop survival skills in order to navigate these issues.
Our findings allowed us to highlight specific areas where leaders of academic libraries with tenure and promotion tracks might improve the supporting processes and subsequently the organization’s culture. Recommended activities include:
- Regular policy and process assessment for strategic alignment and transparency
- Follow-up of mentoring or peer support program participants to gauge program effectiveness
- Creation of opportunities to develop successful grant writing skills
- Recognizing contributions of librarians of color engaged in diversity research and service activities.
Even with informative findings and recommendations resulting from this study we recognize the need for additional research. One goal would be to provide a more granular view of the range in experiences of librarians in specific racial and ethnic categories as well as White academic librarians. Another focus could be the exploration of other facets of diversity such as gender and ability as an added layer of complexity created for academic librarians of color. There are many opportunities to create richer scholarship for the profession on this topic—not only as it relates to recruitment and retention of librarians of color, but also to better inform leadership and practices that create professional equity.
After graduating with a B.A. in English from Ohio State University and holding down various jobs (including working in a bookstore!), I finally found my calling as a librarian and earned my M.L.I.S. from Kent State University in 2005. Since then, I have been working as a Cataloger Librarian at the University of Dayton. I happily earned tenure and promotion to Associate Professor in 2011. I am mostly focused on cataloging, metadata and digitization projects, as well as collection development for several subject areas. Over the years I have served on many different committees, worked on a variety of projects, and implemented several public programming grants. I have also engaged in several research projects that have emerged from personal experiences I had as a newer librarian. Those projects resulted in two co-authored articles on the role of practicums in cataloging education, and most recently, a large survey project that resulted in a co-authored article on tenure and promotion issues for academic librarians of color. I am very committed to issues of diversity in the field, and plan to continue conducting research on the intersections of diversity, librarianship, and higher education.
I am a tenure-track faculty member and Head of the Acquisitions Department at The Ohio State University Libraries. I provide leadership in the procurement of collections materials in all formats and oversight for related policy and procedures. I am also an active member of the ALCTS division of the American Library Association where I’ve served on multiple committees and presented at the ALA Annual Conference. I am grateful for the experiences I’ve had as a participant in the Minnesota Institute and ARL’s Leadership & Career Development Program. My research interests include the e-book market, usage-informed collection development, and diversity in academic librarianship. I received my MLIS from Florida State University and BA from Wesleyan College.