Open Access Tenure: A Climb Yes, But Not Impossible

Posted April 28, 2015 By Abigail Goben

It is always interesting to get feedback on my blogging, particularly when I’m writing about tenure. What surprises me is how frequently someone says “Oh, I could never do that-that’s just too hard.”

When I started this and throughout my blogging-about-tenure, my goal has not been to scare people off by shining the light on what I’m going through at my university. Yes, it consists of many hoops; yes the stakes are frighteningly high. And I won’t try to lie and say that it’s super-wonderful-Parmesan-goldfish everyday, because you are smarter than that.

And ultimately, I can’t tell you yet whether I think it’s worth it.  Will I, from some future other side, be able to look back and say that being hauled through it was right and as it should be?

Some say yes: it helps us learn the process that other faculty are going through; it usually mandates research requirements that we might otherwise put off; and it gives us seats at tables we might otherwise not be.

Generally I agree, though that first point I argue dumps us squarely back into the service category–thinking about our subject faculty or the all-revered researcher other–rather than on us and what we contribute.

Some say no: we’re in a service profession and we should be focused on that; “good researchers” will always find time/be passionate enough to write; respect doesn’t come from your title.

Generally, I agree with them too–though to the second point, I’ll note that many workplaces don’t allow for writing and research time unless/even if it’s a requirement. Expecting everyone’s priorities to be “and then in my free time I’ll do research and write” is unrealistic.

I have further thoughts about librarianship/service profession/where we align with tenure but I don’t want to get too far off track for this post.

Anyway, my goal isn’t to horrify future coworkers about the experience of tenure track positions or to make it sound like the most miserable experience ever (remind me that I said that about a year from now). I write about this because too often it is entirely opaque. We give candidates our norms: vague documents about achieving excellence–but from outside the academy it is nearly impossible to fully grasp the practical of what “getting tenure at MPOW” means. We say there is a process but don’t have a good way to actually step people through it-particularly during the interview-, so no matter what they end up blindsided a bit. We–the academy we–need to do better about that, but in the short term, you have me blogging.

Beyond that, I am only describing my tenure process at my institution. Every other librarian I’ve spoken to who is going through the tenure process at another institution is going through something different. And that includes within my own sibling university–UIUC has a different process/different weights than what I’m facing. One example: at MPOW, what year you are in is considered a very personal and private thing. This is, I’m told, to allow people privacy if they are granted an extra year on their clock due to health/family/etc issues. However, this can be kind of limiting in terms of offering peer support. Obviously I’m pretty open about where I am in the process both to other librarians and to other faculty.  But to contrast, at Warmaiden’s POW, they have “the 17″ –the new tenure track faculty from across disciplines starting at the same time she did are cohorting together openly. (Also, if you’d really like to feel like a slacker, see her recent post on what she’s working on.)

Every university has it’s culture, process, and norms.  Everywhere is different and I would venture that everywhere will be difficult.

Ultimately though, I hope that you will take what I’ve written and see it as a challenge. If you’re applying for a tenure track position, I hope you’ll use what I write to probe into their process during the interview process. Please, know more than I did, and ask for more things than I knew to.  Try to get a junior faculty member or two alone to ask questions. Getting tenure is probably not going to be easy. It’s a long climb and I don’t know yet if the mountain peak view is amazing, but I sincerely hope so and hope you’ll consider climbing too.

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Open Access Tenure: Conferencing

Posted April 22, 2015 By Abigail Goben

I’m in Minneapolis, where the Research Data Access Preservation Conference starts tomorrow morning. I got in mid-afternoon and friends and colleagues have been trickling in all evening, leading to fun encounters in a restaurant, on the street, in the elevators.

I love this conference because it is small and because it is targeted at a very specific group of librarians. Also, because I come here to learn.

ALA Annual and Midwinter are amazing behemoths. There’s such huge variety of things to take in and so many people to see from around the world that just reading the conference program can be overwhelming. As I’ve become more and more involved with LITA, the conferences have become more about working on committee things for me and, unfortunately, far less about getting to learn. At ALA Annual last summer, by the time I’d given my pre-conference, gone to 2 board meetings (as a guest), and attended my own other obligatory meetings, most of the conference was a wash.  It’s part of being in an organization and the work has brought incredible experiences but it does tend to isolate you off from the rest of the conference, working hard to ensure good things for others.

RDAP–even having helped a bit in the planning this year (truly, just a bit, Carolyn and Margaret have done the vast majority of wrangling) and even though tomorrow afternoon I’ll be speaking for a few minutes–is a learning conference for me. Last year, my first year attending, I volunteered for nothing, I spoke about nothing, I just attended, listened and learned. Met people who were facing problems like mine, laughed over dinner and drinks, commiserated and came away stronger.

RDAP is a professional soul-feeding conference for me. I hope to leave on Friday somewhat reaffirmed in the work that we’re doing and refreshed. It’s not quite as good as a rest–I still could really use a vacation that doesn’t involve obligation travel (e.g. wedding)–but for now it will do.

And the chance to hang out with this many cool people doesn’t hurt either.



Open Access Tenure: Every Day

Posted April 14, 2015 By Abigail Goben

Earlier in the year I noted to myself that come April, I would need to think about my tenure process every day.  It didn’t necessarily have to be a huge amount of thinking and some days it could be thinking though many it should be activity as well as though, but it had to be daily.

It’s mid-April now and while I’m not sure I’ve hit every single day, it’s certainly started to ramp up.

Why now? I’m coming to another crossroads: my next internal vote.  Granted, the vote itself is not until next February (ish, I think, based on last year’s calendar), but there’s much to do in the interim.

My paperwork adviser from the P&T committee is retiring next month. Yes, this would be the third person on my P&T support team (two paperwork people and Madame Mentor) who have retired. I like to think it isn’t me personally…after all Madame Storyteller isn’t retiring until this fall, nearly five years after I left her august supervision. But that means as I’m starting the dossier process again, I’ll be switching around one adviser. In advance of that, I’m meeting with my current one in a couple of weeks as a kick start to all of this.  Somewhere in the next few days my daily thinking will need to be the activity of starting to pile things up (electronically) to show her so that she can make recommendations.

There are a number of my colleagues who are heading into their first round of review this fall, so I’m not alone navigating the trepidation, though it’s a different round. I imagine there will be some mutual pulling-our-hair-out-over-coffee-while-wordsmithing happening around early October.

From here on out, it’s basically 2 years of constantly working on promotion and tenure concerns:

  • April-August: start updating my statements (librarianship, research, service), list of accomplishments. (I’d include update my CV, but I keep a live running version of it and update at least once a month.)
  • August-October: have my teaching observed, rewrite my statements 6 times. Try to find a smaller but still legible font to meet the 1 page limit.
  • October-ish: Evaluation of Librarianship committee stuff, statement of librarianship, CV, and accomplishments should be finalized-mostly
  • November: Obsess over dossier
  • ~December 1: Turn in dossier
  • December-February: Worry about the discussions in P&T committee and the vote
  • February-May(ish): [assuming a positive vote] Start panicking–I mean preparing— for packets that go to external reviewers
  • May-August: Worry about external reviewer comments that I will never see
  • August-December: Sit under my desk eating Snickers bars* waiting for the next vote
  • December: Final internal vote [includes external reviewers comments]
  • January-April: [assuming a positive vote] Whatever other prep is necessary for my papers to go to campus. Somewhere in here (I assume) I’ll have to move my dossier from the 2015-2016 packet that I’m filling out currently to the 2016-2017 packet. They like to tweak things.

Somewhere around April 2017 my case should go before campus and at that point I truly can’t do anything else with it.

What is not listed but inherent throughout this is (a) continue researching, writing, and presenting–we can include additional papers up until things go to campus; (b) everything else in my “real” job; (c) keep doing all the service stuff.

That’s my thinking about tenure for today.  Now it is back to obsessing over when I’ll hear back from that journal that we sent a paper to and it’s out for review and why haven’t we heard yet and maybe the email system is broken and it’s updated only on their website, I’ll just log in and check one more time.

*Madame Mentor said she opted for M&Ms during this period.






Posted April 12, 2015 By Abigail Goben

The longer that one waits to write a blog post, the more it seems that whatever blog post is written must be painfully significant, deeply thought out, and making changes in the library world.

This is not that blog post.

This is giving myself permission to write again, a reminder that I like blogging. I do. I think about the blog often, but usually at the end of a day where I’m squashed on a train and wondering which parts I can actually write about and what parts I need to let slip by. Can I mention that thing? Is that impolitic? Should I be writing my various and sundry thoughts or is it just easier to crawl back into the audio of whatever Terry Pratchett I’m re-listening to.  Recently, the late Sir P has been winning hands down.

But it’s now late spring and things are coming at me very fast whether I’m ready for them or not. The end of the semester is bringing graduation of the class I came in with from the College of Dentistry. A larger project, for better or worse, is about to wrap up and I need to spend time with the other project leads to write up the experience. It will kick off two other projects, of course, but those are not yet actually beating down my door.

Committees, professional service, all these things clamoring at my to do list and inboxes, rendering my weekends into a haze of staring at a computer screen.

Oh, and I’ve reached that point where I need to think about tenure every day again.  Right. That too.

And there, now I’ve written a page, I can recognize that yes, it’s nice to be writing again. But only briefly as the to do lists and everything else awaits.


The 10 Year Mark

Posted January 12, 2015 By Abigail Goben

I graduated from library school ten years ago this month.  Of my cohort of under-30s from when I started library school, two had graduated the semester before and MF and I finished up in December for January degrees. I did not walk that spring, the idea of going back and spending that much money at a time when I was supporting myself with a part-time job in New York seemed ludicrous.

I had a lot of problems with my program, though there were some highlights: the database design course, learning Dialog (blue sheets!), interning at NYPL Lincoln Center. Nearly all of the faculty have changed since I graduated, so I can’t speak to the program these days, though I’m sure it’s improved. Other than asking me for money, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to engage as an alumni.

Librarianship has changed a lot in those ten years already. It was during graduate school that I got my Gmail account– given out only to those with invites and highly coveted. Much of my communication with peers was via email lists (who else remembers NexGenLib and the various kerfluffles that led to it’s start?). Cell phones were ubiquitous but smart phones weren’t really yet a thing beyond Blackberries, which I perceived as only for email.  Many of the tools I remember learning about or interacting with are gone or seem painfully unusable. Journals were moving towards electronic access but much of it was still heavily print based.

And yet much remains the same. Patrons want seamless access–whether that be print books shuffling around the NYPL system (still the best I’ve run across in terms of moving holds), getting electronic books (I was a very early Overdrive user), finding articles. Libraries are collaborating with their communities in new and innovative ways. Libraries and librarians struggle to find the right messages to demonstrate their value. We’re still working on equality of access to information and advocating for children to have access to librarians in their schools.

My own trajectory in librarianship thus far is not one I could have begun to project then. Work for CPL for 7 months and get a crash course in urban librarianship? Live in La Crosse, WI for 3 years and organize a several hundred person all day knitting event annually? Jump into a medical librarian career and teach dentistry students or write about open access and have regular research meetings with people in other states and countries?

I’ve met and worked with amazing people over that decade as well. Some are friends from those very early days of listservs; others keep showing up all the time. I’ve moved from being the newbie at every table to getting to make introductions. More of my friends are moving into management positions. Twitter and Friendfeed are an everyday habit–while I keep pruning the listservs I am still willing to subscribe to (when 3 in 5 messages is an ILL request that blatantly violates the policies of the listserv).

It’s unclear what librarianship will look like in another ten years. I don’t expect libraries to disappear nor do I think librarians will be unneeded, but I do expect a lot more change. While I assume now that I’ll still be in library-work of some sort, I assumed 10 years ago that I’d still be in New York and we can all see how that worked out.  I have some goals and ideas and am working towards those, and I’m waiting to see what amazing surprises come next.

Ten years down…