Library faculty and the myth of protected time

A few weeks back, a survey went out to all the librarians in my state university system asking us about “protected time.” Did we have adequate time to produce the research and publications that, for many of us, are a required part of our job? Also: did we want such time written into the librarian-specific portion of our revised union contract?

I don’t know how other librarians in my state felt about this survey but my reaction was basically: ugh.

I’ve been having similar “ugh” reactions to some of the higher education-focused newsletters that I subscribe to whose current publications are filled with advice for 9-month faculty on how to use their summers to focus on their writing and research. Because that’s what that time is supposed to be for. For them.(1)

For us 12-month faculty members, it’s in many ways just as hard to work on your writing in summer as it is any other time of the year. True, I’m not teaching right now or doing quite as much work at the reference desk (which is currently virtual) but because summer is perceived as a “slower” season, a lot of committee work and other projects get piled into this time and the general understanding is that it’s this work that must take the priority right now. Especially since a lot of this stuff has to be ready for when non-library faculty and students come back in the fall.

So while every librarian I know starts the summer with high hopes that they will finally have time to work on their writing and research, it never seems to happen that way. For me to get dedicated time to focus on my research, I had to take a sabbatical. Obviously, the ability to take a sabbatical is a huge privilege. But also writing and research are a required part of my job. I shouldn’t have to take an entire sabbatical just to do it.

Now, I say this as someone who’s managed to be pretty productive with my writing and research over the years. Even before my sabbatical, I had a pretty consistent publication record with plenty of peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, this blog, and more. Now I’ve even written a whole book (mostly while on sabbatical). So obviously whatever way I’ve found of squeezing my writing and research in around the other parts of my job has worked for me.

I’ve also been lucky enough in my current position to have people above me, including a dean, director, and department head, who generally value research and writing. That hasn’t always been the case. In the past, working on my research and writing during regular work hours was frowned upon, if not strictly forbidden, even though it was literally a required part of my job. These days, if I want to block out time on my calendar every week to work on a writing or research project, no one has a problem with that. But there’s still an underlying pressure to be flexible with that time. If something else comes up, maybe a committee meeting that needs to be scheduled or a reference shift that needs to be covered, I have to be willing to sacrifice the time I’ve reserved for myself to these higher priorities. Basically, it sometimes feels as if the more stereotypical “library” parts of my job are considered my “real” job and my writing/research time is considered more of an optional perk. Even though, as I keep saying, it is just as much a requirement of my position as those other duties.

And, like I said, all of that is in an environment where my research is generally supported, something that is not guaranteed to last forever. The next dean or department head or director may not be as supportive. Or we may someday get a Provost or president who feels that librarians shouldn’t be faculty at all, much less given time to produce research and writing. I’ve been in that situation too. It’s not fun!

Of course, the reason all of this matters to me is because my research and writing matter to me. I would go so far as to say it’s the part of my job that I most consistently enjoy. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy teaching and reference and other aspects of my work. But if someone came along tomorrow and told me I could only pick one part of my job to keep, librarianship/teaching, scholarship, or service, I have absolutely no doubt that though I would miss librarianship and teaching, scholarship would be my choice.(2)

Not everyone feels that way. I know a lot of librarians who are happiest when they’re doing library stuff. If they never had to write another article or book chapter again, they would be perfectly happy.

And I think that’s fine. We don’t all have to want the same things.

But if research is going to be a required part of our job, then we shouldn’t have to sneak it in among our other duties like we’re doing something wrong by dedicating time to it. We also shouldn’t have be time management ninjas in order to get it done.

Frankly, it’s a little ridiculous that librarians even need to be asked if protected time to work on their research is something they “need.” It’s also a little ridiculous that our union contract needs a separate section on librarians rather than just treating us the same as other faculty because we are, you know, faculty. I mean, it’s generally nice to have a union at all, even one that seems to mildly resent having to represent us alongside “regular” faculty. But come on.

Anyway. That’s my rant.

*

1) Obviously, this is a generalization that doesn’t apply to everyone, especially adjunct faculty.

2) I would not particularly miss service.

 

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