Academic Librarians of the Night

In the past year, and I know it is not a new topic, there has been much discussion over involvement in ALA and other professional organizations and the myriad of reasons why speakers end up as speakers. Just a couple of days ago, the Liminal Librarian had some nice thoughts which promoted me to get this draft out of the not ready yet box. Dorothea, in writing about conferences recently, discussed the two types of conference speakers, people who get paid and people out for whuffie, name recognition of sorts.

The thing that always comes to my mind regarding speaking at conferences is something that Dorothea barely touches upon. There is the general complaint that many of the speakers are academic librarians, but we are the ones who have the most access to funding, though not always much, and we are the ones who have to have whuffie to pass our reviews, get tenure, and keep our jobs. This process makes academic librarians, in many cases, much like paid whores, only we do not get paid.

For many of us, we need a collection of things to pass tenure. We must be involved on a national level in something that enhances the profession. We must write meaningful things that other people will read and that are so profound, we might be asked to give an actual presentation down the line. We must also serve our home campus and library on mindless committees which suck the time out of your day and sometimes the life out of your job.

This is, of course, a very pessimistic view. Some academic librarians have it worse than others, the process tends to vary, but some aspect of the above items is needed to keep your job beyond about three years. This means that we are desperate to be asked to speak, to get our article published, and to get appointed to an ALA committee. Sometimes these things are easy, sometimes it is who you know, and sometimes you are just SOL. Thus we run around, begging for attention, essentially whoring ourselves out to anyone who will take us, so we can pass our reviews, keep our jobs, and put food on the table.

I am lucky and actually like the committee and interest group of which I am a member. I have been lucky enough to have some good opportunities come my way. The only thing I have left to do is sucker someone into letting me have a microphone for a small expanse of time. Karaoke anyone?

However, I still feel like I can not say no to things and that this pressure to perform leaves me with no bargaining power. How can I advocate in a meaningful way to be paid for my time when I am trying to procure something I need so badly I will do anything to get it. (well, within reason) I can not refuse speaking at ALA, TLA, or whatever if they will not pay me because I have to do it to keep my job. I have no power to assess myself worth and charge accordingly. Thus, I become a lady of the night with no limits and no economy will change my value, because I have none.

This is a hard reality for new librarians to face.

I am not saying that our tenure process sucks, but it does and not just for librarians. Any process by which you are promoted based largely on how many people recognize your name as opposed to how well you actually teach the next generation is a faulty system in my mind. In fact, my campus community just adopted this brilliant plan for evaluating professors. Can’t teach? Who cares!?

–Jane, I care