This is an exceptionally busy time of year in academia, with the end of the semester approaching. For this librarian it means “the end of classes” which means “the end of long open hours” which means “Project Time”. One of my between-semester projects is to work on my application for continuing appointment — the elusive and demanding Tenure File. If all goes as expected, by July 1 of 2009 I’ll be a tenured librarian at the Associate Librarian rank, and I’ll be proud of that accomplishment. I realized when I was in my last position that if I stayed at that institution I could be tenured by 30. My mind boggled. Instead, I’ll be tenured at 33. Still, I boggle. Grandchild to academics, I know what Tenure meant in their lives. Tenure meant stability. Tenure meant accomplishment. Tenure meant respect.
But what’s it mean for me, really? On the one hand, it means I’ve met the criteria established by The Powers That Be at my institution for becoming a lifetime member of our faculty. It means I’ve accomplished enough work and produced enough scholarship to warrant being kept on indefinitely. It means I’m a valued member of our campus team who is being honored with a mark of rank and status commensurate to those accomplishments. More bluntly, it means I can’t be fired. Easily.
For a librarian, I’m not sure what it means. For our classroom faculty, there’s a culture of tenure and scholarship that defines their work in a particular way. I often feel that librarians are shoehorned into that structure, but that it doesn’t ever fit quite comfortably. My scholarship activities, while valuable to the profession and interesting to my colleagues, are not the same kind of research or style of writing done by my faculty peers in the Biology or History departments, but we will achieve the same rank as a result of our efforts. My daily work bears no resemblance to the work done by my peers in the English department or Music school, yet we will be given the same rewards for our accomplishments. I don’t know what to make of it, really.
But there’s something to be said for sitting down after six years of work and pulling together all the pieces of your accomplishments and really understanding what you’ve done in that time. It’s an opportunity for reflection, for introspection, and self-evaluation, and as I begin the process, I’m proud of what I see. I’m proud of myself.
And that’s worth more than tenure.