C&RL Spotlight

Wendi Kaspar is C&RL editor and policy sciences librarian at the Texas A&M University Policy Sciences and Economics Library, email: warant@library.tamu.edu

The slate of articles in the September issue of C&RL is another diverse one, representing the breadth in the profession and how academic libraries collaborate with other disciplines and departments in their institutions. Each and every one provides a valuable and unique contribution to the practice of librarianship.

However, one in particular happened to address one of my soapbox issues: Shannon M. Oltmann’s survey of library deans about the significance of intellectual freedom. Certainly, intellectual freedom is a fundamental value of the profession—there is no need for me to preach to the choir.

However, a component of intellectual freedom, as Oltmann also articulates, is academic freedom. This is a value very near and dear to my heart (and my livelihood). Where intellectual freedom focuses on the access to information, academic freedom is the creation of that information or new knowledge. It is a value, whether it is characterized as a right or a privilege (and we will talk about that a little later), one that is largely overlooked, misunderstood, and, at times, marginalized in academic libraries.

There are some who believe that academic freedom only applies in the classroom, as the right to exercise autonomy in the way that teaches students, in terms of method and specific content. Thus, it is argued, it does not apply to most librarians who are not teachers of record. AAUP asserts that “Academic freedom is the indispensable requisite for unfettered teaching and research in institutions of higher education.”1

Note that this is not just the transfer of knowledge (i.e., teaching), but it also includes research and innovation or the contribution of new knowledge. Now, there are some who would say, this also does not apply to librarians because they may have no requirement to do research, because the research they do is not original or does not contribute to higher education in a meaningful way, or because much of our research is so collaborative and dependent on organizational operations, projects, and priorities that it only confuses the issue for individuals to assert their academic freedom.

So what is academic freedom for? What does it do? Why do we care?

Many institutions have university-level committees that adjudicate promotion and tenure issues—and academic freedom is often thrown in there too. The reason for this is foundational—tenure is the formal mechanism that protects academic freedom. It safeguards faculty from arbitrary and retaliatory decisions, at least that was the intent. Some university committees will only address the big questions in academic freedom: whether someone was denied tenure unfairly. That is certainly the one with the most devastating consequences for the faculty member.

However, there many other situations that do not rise to that level, but do impede the exercise of academic freedom. If you can’t think of any, just read The Chronicle of Higher Education or look at AAUP website.

As a related concept, shared governance is intended to leverage the intellectual capital, expertise, and the talent of the faculty to contribute to the strategic directions and leadership of the university. It is interesting to see that shared governance shows up in the news more and more, and usually not in a positive way. That said, The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published its “Great College to Work For 2017”2 and collaborative governance was one of the primary categories on which organizations were assessed. Shared or collaborative governance is a concern at the forefront of academia.

So back to the question of whether academic freedom is a right or a privilege. I am by no means an expert, and certainly not the only one with an opinion on this issue. However, my answer to this question is, unequivocally, yes. It is most certainly both a right and a privilege. It is a freedom to which faculty (librarians included) are entitled. But they must also work for it and earn it every time they step into a classroom, practice librarianship, or do research. It is something that must be defended. If you do not exercise your academic freedom, it can be taken away.

  • Shannon M. Oltmann. “Intellectual Freedom in Academic Libraries: Surveying Deans about Its Significance.” Abstract: In this study, deans and directors of academic libraries were surveyed about intellectual freedom. The survey found that most respondents said they rarely think about intellectual freedom, yet said it was “somewhat” or “very” important in their libraries. Most did not have formal intellectual freedom policies. They often relied on statements from ALA or other library organizations. Copyright/intellectual property, privacy, plagiarism, and academic freedom were the most important concerns related to intellectual freedom. Although this study shed some light on intellectual freedom in academic libraries, further work remains to be done.
  • Lucy Campbell. “The Information Seeking Habits of Architecture Faculty.” Abstract: This study examines results from a survey of architecture faculty across the United States investigating information-seeking behavior and perceptions of library services. Faculty were asked to rank information sources they used for research, teaching, and creativity within their discipline. Sources were ranked similarly across these activities, suggesting broad and eclectic interests. While Internet resources and books were important across the board, e-books were ranked low. As an information source, librarians were also perceived to have less value than peers or even students. Librarians should consider ways to make libraries experiential and inspiring to add value and demonstrate continued relevance in an ever-expanding information field.
  • Megan Fitzgibbons, Lorie Kloda, and Andrea Miller-Nesbitt. Abstract: “Exploring the Value of Academic Librarians’ Participation in Journal Clubs.” Journal clubs are meetings where participants engage in discussion or appraisal of professional literature and research. This study investigates the perceived value of librarians’ participation in journal clubs. Using a hermeneutic dialectic process, we built a construction of the value of journal club participation based on interviews with academic librarians. In the construction, we demonstrate that librarians and their organizations benefit from the informal professional learning that takes place in journal clubs, by developing professional knowledge, building and strengthening communities of practice, increasing research capacity, and closing the research-to-practice gap.
  • Leo S. Lo and Bethany Herman. “An Investigation of Factors Impacting the Wellness of Academic Library Employees.” Abstract: The term “wellness” is fast garnering attention on how it affects one’s professional and personal life. This study explores the multidimensions of wellness and investigates factors that might impact the “wellness” of employees in academic libraries. The research topic was addressed through quantitative analyses of responses to multiple choice, ranking, and qualitative analyses of responses to open-ended items. With a total of 1,123 respondents, key findings include: there are statistical relationships between how respondents characterize themselves and how often they felt overwhelmed, the respondents’ age and how often they felt overwhelmed, the respondents’ age and how important they feel eating healthy is, the respondents’ current position and how important is being optimistic is to them.
  • Krista M. Soria, Jan Fransen, and Shane Nackerud. “The Impact of Academic Library Resources on Undergraduates’ Degree Completion.” Abstract: The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of first-year undergraduates’ (n = 5,368) use of academic library resources in their first year on their degree completion or continued enrollment after four years of study. Propensity score matching techniques were used to construct treatment (library users) and control (library nonusers) groups with similar background characteristics and college experiences. The results suggest that using the library at least one time in the first year of enrollment significantly increased the odds that students would graduate in four years or remain enrolled after four years, as opposed to withdrawing from the university. First-year students who used electronic resources and books also had significantly improved odds of graduation over withdrawing, while students who used electronic books and took a library instruction course had significantly improved odds of remaining enrolled over withdrawing.
  • Carol Tenopir, Elizabeth D. Dalton, Lisa Christian, Misty K. Jones, Mark McCabe, MacKenzie Smith, and Allison Fish. “Imagining a Gold Open Access Future: Attitudes, Behaviors, and Funding Scenarios among Authors of Academic Scholarship.” Abstract: The viability of gold open access (OA) publishing models into the future will depend, in part, on the attitudes of authors toward OA. In a survey of academics at four major research universities in North America, we examine academic authors’ opinions and behaviors toward gold OA. The study allows us to see what academics know and perceive about OA models, their current behavior in regard to publishing in OA, and possible future behavior. In particular, we gauge current attitudes to examine the perceived likelihood of various outcomes in an all OA publishing scenario. We also survey how much authors at these types of universities would be willing to pay for article processing charges from different sources. Although the loudest voices may often be heard, in reality there is a wide range of attitudes and behaviors toward publishing. Understanding the range of perceptions, opinions, and behaviors among academics toward gold OA is important for academic librarians who must examine how OA serves their research communities, to prepare for an OA future, and to understand how OA impacts the library’s role.
  • Sarah Thorngate and Allison Hoden. “Exploratory Usability Testing of User Interface Options in LibGuides 2.” Abstract: Online research guides offer librarians a way to provide digital researchers with point-of-need support. If these guides are to support student learning well, it is critical that they provide an effective user experience. This article details the results of an exploratory comparison study that tested three key user interface options in LibGuides 2—number of columns, placement of the navigation menu, and visual integration with the library website—to understand their impact on guide usability. In addition to informing our own design choices, our findings can serve as the basis for further investigation into the connections between student learning and the usability of the LibGuides user interface.


  1. https://www.aaup.org/our-work/protecting-academic-freedom.
  2. www.chronicle.com//interactives/greatcolleges17?cid=cp128.
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