A paper by two of my colleagues has just been released in pre-publication of College & Research Libraries (C&RL), one of the top library science journals, particularly for academic libraries. The article, Fostering Research and Publication in Academic Libraries, presents results of a survey my colleagues had been working on for the last two years. I like this article for more reasons than the fact that I know & respect the authors...I like that it was replicating research completed 35 years ago, and thus providing good comparisons over time. This is so rarely done in social science research (and even in natural sciences). Replicating research is important to verify findings, validate instruments, and provide data that can be compared over time. So I'm proud of the authors for doing the work and proud of C&RL for publishing (one of the biggest reasons replicating research is not done is because it is usually not published).
I also like the purpose of the article, which was to get a sense of the support that is being provided to librarians who are expected to publish research. This is important because "not all academic librarians are
prepared to meet these requirements because of time constraints and a lack of training." Think about it...teaching and research faculty in the social sciences have to complete at least 60 more hours of classes, including research methods and statistics, conduct some kind of research project, write a dissertation or several articles, and then either support the dissertation or submit the articles to the peer review process. Few librarians go through a program that provides that same experience.
I appreciated my education at Texas Woman's University in the mid- to late-1990's, where we were required to take a research methods course and a social sciences statistics course. We did have the choice of completing a research project or a professional project, but we had to write a "professional paper" - which, for those of us who opted for the research, was on the level of a master's thesis. Then we had to participate in a poster session where we had to support the project to the dean himself (yes, I was nervous when he stopped by my poster). My understanding among my peer librarians is that this was not a common educational experience.
So what kind of support do the 70% of ARL deans (who responded to the survey) who expect their librarians to research and publish provide? They say that their libraries provide "library work time for research and publication" - although a few do not support that. Yet so often I hear from my colleagues (of this and other institutions) that they just don't have the time. There is a definite dissonance between what institutions say is provided and what librarians perceive is allowed. Maybe it's the amount of time that's allowed versus what is thought to be needed. The median amount of time provided is 1-5 hours per week (that's a big spread: 2.5% - 12.5% of a 40-hour work week). Interestingly, about 40% of the responding libraries provided 6-10 hours (up to 25%). Most libraries also offer sabbaticals, but the percentage of pay provided is down from 30 years ago.
What about funding? Well, nearly all library deans say they support internal funding for research projects, with most of them actually providing money, usually from the library's discretionary budget. Is it enough money? Well, the amount provided has increased by 50% in the last thirty years - is that enough? A quick look at the inflation calculator shows that the total inflation rate between 1980 and 2012 was 191%.
While most deans provide support for training and informal mentoring for research activities, only about half provide formal mentoring programs for their librarians. And even fewer provide "library research committees", defined by the authors as groups "organized to support the research and writing activities of librarians." Only about a third of the responding deans indicated that such activities were provided at their libraries. And what's more, the gap between what was supported by the deans and what was actually provided was notable for the formal training and mentoring activities.
The vast majority of responding deans provide their libraries with "project support" - as in computers, photocopying, mail, even financial incentives for survey or focus groups. Less than half, however, provide support for student assistants. This is down from 30 years ago.
OK, so what does all of this mean? What did my peers conclude? Well, more ARL libraries provide faculty status for their librarians and, concomitantly, require their librarians to conduct research and publish for promotion. While the stated dollar amounts of internal funding have increased, it did not keep up with inflation. More deans state that they think it is right to provide support for research and publication, but fewer state that their libraries actually do provide it.
Time seems to be the biggest concern for librarians. Yet, as mentioned by the article's authors, this was so even for a university that provided upwards of 20% of work time for research activities, as well as sabbaticals. I'm very interested in this phenomenom. My colleagues in this article mention other comparisons of work schedules and division of tasks between academic librarians and other academic faculty. They particularly point out that faculty have been found to have variations in the divisions of their time within the year and between years, depending on their research activities. So maybe the issue is that librarians do not schedule these variations themselves; instead, they continue to provide their services year-round, continuously which leaves only 5-10 hours a week. And not much can be accomplished with this kind of scheduling. Rather, librarians should consider taking "sabbaticals" from their regular duties (akin to academic faculty who have a lighter teaching load one year) to focus 50-75% of their time to a research project. Can this be done without affecting quality of library services?
I think that the main support feature of interest to the authors, though, was the "library research committees," if only because that is what has been attempted at our library. We have a larger committee that attempts to coordinate training and support groups aimed at different foci of research. Some groups are more active than others, and evaluation of their success is difficult to measure. I lead a small group, and I know that it is hard to find the balance between support and pestering, finding just the right amount of pressure to apply to each person. I think the reason these groups have a hard time catching on and producing measurable results is that they require excellent leadership, which is hard to find, and the right mix of people, which can vary year to year.
Overall, this was a very good article and I'm interested to see what others will do with the information. Will deans realize that they need to do more than say they think support should be provided? Will other libraries attempt some kind of support group or formal mentoring program? Will librarians change the way they devote time to their research activities?
Of course, the whole issue of whether research & publication should even be expected of practicing librarians is for another time...