ECU ends tenure hiring for librarians

As of November, there are only five UNC-system schools hiring librarians on tenure — and administrators at East Carolina University, the latest to stop doing so, say they will use UNC-CH’s hiring system as a model.

Only Appalachian State University, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Pembroke and Western Carolina University offer a tenure track for librarians comparable to what is offered to professors.

Matt Reynolds, digital collections librarian at ECU, said the decision to end tenure tracks for newly hired librarians was announced in early October.

Reynolds said the new system had not yet been decided upon, but that it would probably resemble the non-tenure system at UNC-CH.

Tiffany Allen, director of library human resources at UNC-CH, said she could not remember the last time librarians had tenure — and she has been at the University for about 15 years.

Allen said UNC-CH hires librarians on fixed-term contracts that are renewed based on performance.

She said the current structure has been in existence since the 1980s, and that a new mentoring program has been implemented to assist new hires in understanding the contractual process.

Allen said approximately 125 librarians are employed by the University, Health Science and Law libraries.

Reynolds said ECU’s provost and vice chancellor for health sciences were the administrators primarily in charge of the decision.

“The administration feels like librarians are not traditional members of the faculty. They don’t teach classes, and they have a different pay type,” Reynolds said.

Katy Kavanagh, interim head of research and instructional services at ECU’s Joyner Library, said she had concerns that the loss of tenure would reduce the type and number of opportunities available to librarians. Those on the tenure track are allowed a small travel budget to serve on committees and speak at conventions.

“Because I am required to publish to gain tenure, I have not only learned how to do something new and complex, but I have also made many contacts with other librarians and people on campus,” Kavanagh said in an email.

The majority of the UNC-system schools that offer tenure for librarians said they did so because the librarians’ workload seemed equivalent to professors, as they were required to complete a research publishing component in the same way professors would.

Barbara Wildemuth, associate dean of UNC’s School of Information and Library Science, said the lack of tenure reduces the pressure for librarians to publish their work, and without that requirement they have more time to carry out their day-to-day jobs in the library.

She said the downside was that non-tenured librarians do not have the protection of speech.

“For academic librarianship, librarians should strive for a master’s degree in library science and consider a second advanced degree in a specific area to help respond to students’ and faculty members’ questions,” Wildemuth said.

The ECU decision will not immediately impact any schools. The five colleges with tenure tracks for librarians stated that there were no plans for change anytime soon.

“Although a lot of us are disappointed in the decision, this isn’t going to affect the work we do,” Reynolds said.

“Our prime directive is connecting people with the materials they need. Without students, we’d all be working at Starbucks.”

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