College & Research Libraries News

Faculty rank, status, and tenure for librarians: Current trends

by Shannon Cary

The issue of faculty status for academic li- brarians has been discussed within the profession for many years, and opinions have been expressed in both support of and op- position to the notion.

In 1990, ACRL adopted the “Guidelines for Academic Status for College and University Libraries” and the board stated that “ACRL supports faculty rank, status, and tenure for librarians.”1 And in a 1992 article, Bede Mitchell and Bruce Morton argued that librarians should embrace the academic model and strive to become full members of the academic community.2 However, detractors also have voiced their opinions. Recently, Blaise Cronin wrote that the “obsession with [faculty] status merely detracts from customer service and weakens the profession’s public image.”3 Because this issue is of continuing interest to academic librarians, ACRL decided to illuminate this discussion by gathering data on faculty status.

Conditions for faculty status

In 1999, ACRL conducted its second annual survey of academic libraries. The survey included a series of questions designed to ascertain the extent to which institutions offer faculty status to academic librarians. Because there is no uniform definition of what constitutes faculty status, the survey questions asked which of the nine conditions listed in the ACRL Guidelines for Academic Status were provided by the institution. Therefore, using the definitions in the ACRL standard, an individual institution may be providing complete faculty status, a limited version of faculty status, or no faculty status at all.

The data show that most academic librarians are provided some conditions of faculty status by their institutions, either fully or partially. But there also are some conditions that many librarians have not yet been granted. The data also illustrate the different academic conditions faced by librarians working at different types of institutions. In this article, we look at some of the key findings in the 1999 survey titled “Trends in Academic Libraries: Faculty Rank, Status, and Tenure for Librarians.”

The nine conditions that constitute faculty status in ACRL’s survey were:

1. Librarians are assigned professional responsibilities.

2. Librarians have a governance structure similar to other faculties on campus.

3. Librarians are eligible for membership in the faculty governing body.

4. Librarians have salary scales that are equivalent to those for other academic faculty.

5. Librarians are covered by the same tenure policies as other faculty.

6. Librarians are promoted through the ranks via a peer review system.

About thr authors

Shannon Cary is director of Research and Special Initiatives at ACRL,

Percentage of Institutions Providing Faculty Status Conditions

Prof.Resp. Govern. Structure Eligible Gov. Bodies Salary Equiv. Tenure Peer Review Leave of Absence Research Funding Acad. Freedom
Not at all 24.7 21.5 30.4 43.3 35.5 35.2 21.1 13 0.3
Partially 29.2 25.7 39.1 18.1 20.9 19.4 40 15.6 91.6
Fully 46.1 52.8 30.5 38.6 43.6 45.4 47.9 71.4 3.1
#of 802 879 800 842 845 826 835 797 976


7. Librarians are eligible for leaves of absence or sabbaticals.

8. Librarians have access to funding for research projects.

9. Librarians have the same protections of academic freedom as other faculty.

The condition that almost all institutions grant their librarians is academic freedom. Of the respondents, 99.7 percent indicated that their institutions granted librarians the same protections of academic freedom as they did other faculty. But surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of respondents felt that this academic freedom was only partially granted.

Librarians also appear to be gaining equality with teaching faculty in the areas of leaves of absence and research funding. The respondents indicated they receive these conditions partially or fully (87.9% and 87%, respectively), with 71.4 percent indicating they have full access to funding for research projects and professional development on the same basis as other faculty.

The area in which librarians most often responded that they are not on equal footing with their teaching counterparts was salary scale, benefits, and appointment period, with 43.3 percent responding that their institutions did not provide equivalent salaries and benefits for librarians as they did for other academic faculty.

Tenure and peer review were also areas where a significant number of librarians indicated they are not on equal footing with other academic faculty, with 35.5 percent indicating they were not covered by the same tenure policies as other faculty and 35.2 percent indicating they were not promoted through the ranks on the basis of professional proficiency and effectiveness via a peer review system with standards consistent with other faculty.

Discrepancies by type of institution and faculty

By comparing the conditions of faculty status given to librarians at the different types of institutions, some discrepancies become clear. According to the survey, salary issues are the most prominent area in which librarians and faculty are not being treated equally. Librarians at institutions granting bachelor of arts degrees report the most inequality in this area. Only 48.4 percent of librarians at this type of institution indicated having full or partial equity with other faculty in the area of salary scale, benefits, and appointment period, compared to 75.7 percent of librarians at institutions granting associates of arts degrees who responded that their institutions provide full or partial equity with other faculty regarding salaries. Moreover, librarians at institutions granting bachelor of arts degrees were less likely than librarians at other types of institutions to be covered by the same tenure process as other faculty. Only 48 percent of these institutions were reported as having full or partial tenure processes for librarians, whereas 66 to 67 percent of the other types of institutions were reported as partially or fully providing this condition. Overall, institutions granting associates of arts degrees were the most likely to partially or fully provide the conditions that define faculty status to librarians, and institutions granting bachelor of arts degrees were the least likely to provide these conditions to their librarians.

Role of the librarian still evolving

Regardless of the controversy over the role of librarians in the academic community, it is clear that many librarians are receiving the rights and responsibilities of faculty status. As librarians’ roles on campus continue to evolve, it is possible that certain conditions of faculty status may be seen as more or less appropriate for librarians. According to the ACRL statistics, the academic community has already agreed that librarians should receive research funding and academic freedom. But these institutions also have been slower to provide librarians with tenure and salaries that are equivalent to other faculty. By analyzing these data, academic librarians can gain a more complete picture of the state of the profession with regard to the criteria that define academic status.


  1. “ACRL Guidelines for Academic Status for College and University Libraries,” 1990. Available online at guides/acstatus. html.
  2. Bede W. Mitchell and Bruce Morton, “On Becoming Faculty Librarians: Acculturation Problems and Remedies,” College and Research Libraries 53, no. 5 (Sept. 1992): 389-
  3. Blaise Cronin, “The Mother of All Myths,” LibraryJournal 126, no. 3 (Feb. 2001): 144.
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