The Loon has been rather disturbed by the strength of her own reaction to the Alabama job ad—a reaction so strong that it caused her to forget her usual rule about direct links to and named mentions of phenomena she doesn’t approve.
She is an irascible bird by nature, no doubt about that, but she also knows that she never reacts so strongly to an isolated incident. It’s always patterns, with the Loon: patterns of behavior, incidents that accumulate like algae blooms in polluted lakes. Worst of all, she can’t shed the anger until she articulates the pattern as best she can.
So she’ll have a go at that, because repressed anger is as hard on loons as on anyone else. By way of not burying the lede, here is the pattern the Loon believes she is seeing:
- At Research 1 institutions in the US and Canada, there is a still-small but growing movement toward casualization and deprofessionalization of academic-librarian labor.
- The cost of professional librarian labor relative to the cost of Ph.D-credentialed labor substantially drives this movement. Because of the well-known massive oversupply of Ph.Ds, particularly in the humanities, Ph.D-credentialed labor is worth even less on the job market than is the already-undervalued MLS. Indeed, the adjunctification of undergraduate teaching that has helped undermine tenure serves as an emulable model for academic libraries.
- The lone bachelor’s credential, of course, is also becoming more competitive with the MLS. Again, cost and commitment are the drivers, and crucially, this is not just happening in library IT, where there may be a more solid skills argument to be made.
- Cleverly and insidiously, current labor displacements are happening in marginal or marginalized areas of librarianship, not (usually) areas the profession considers core to its identity. Scholarly communication is the canary in the coal mine here, though digital-humanities support bears close watching as well.
Where is the Loon’s evidence for what admittedly sounds like a conspiracy theory? Well, consider a few things—and the Loon is making a considered decision to name at least some names:
- The Taiga Forum drumbeat for the last several years has been “fear for your jobs, academic librarians.” The Taiga Forum consists of associate university librarians and higher from (mostly, though the Loon thinks not exclusively) Research 1 institutions. The Taiga Forum has given no guidance whatever about what librarians who wish to keep their jobs should do, suggesting that the avalanche has already started and it is too late for the pebbles to vote.
- Rhetoric about library schools “not doing their job,” a perennial in library discourse, is getting louder and more public from these very same Taiga-ites of late. Convenient whipping-post, not so? If they can convincingly blame library schools for not producing good-enough librarians, they deflect scrutiny from their own hiring and management practices.
- Jeff Trzeciak’s firing spree at McMaster University Library started with a scholarly-communications librarian, the Loon recalls. The Loon didn’t consider that anything but a sad and scary coincidence at the time, but in light of The Ivy League Institution, Alabama, and two or three other de-MLSed job ads she’s seen in scholarly communication, repository management, and metadata management of late, she’s ready to call “pattern!”
- Even more scarily, no library administrator at a Research 1 institution anywhere has so much as quibbled with Trzeciak’s reign of terror, replacement of long-term MLSes with (cheap, disposable, and submissive due to their awareness of their disposability) short-contract postdocs, and avowed intention to continue such replacements. Are you kidding the Loon? They’re setting Trzeciak up with nice fat bully pulpits to preach MLS-labor casualization and deprofessionalization from, and they’re defending him as he does so.
- Trzeciak’s isn’t the only library-administrator discourse suggesting that academic librarians need to be taken down a few pegs. The Loon recently skimmed a conference paper she found thoroughly repulsive, essentially a collection of militaristic metaphors supporting the idea that academic-library administrators need to take less input from their librarians and (bluntly) crack more whips over them.1 Delightful stuff, truly. For certain values of “delightful.”
- As for rank-and-file librarians at R1s… the Loon is resisting yet another cliché Martin Niemöller paraphrase. Suffice to say, they aren’t scholarly-communications librarians and they don’t particularly believe in open access anyway (not least because it is potentially disruptive to existing librarian roles), so they mostly aren’t raising Cain profession-wide about this. (The Loon notes with admiration, incidentally, that Trzeciak’s library is fighting him on every front they can. Those librarians are taking a bullet for all of academic librarianship, the Loon believes, and she hopes they win, wounded though they are.)
- The other academic-library perennial, tenure/indefinite-appointment for librarians, is still rumbling like a banked volcano. Concretely, the Loon knows of one R1 library that has suspended all hearings for indefinite-term librarian appointments, um, indefinitely. “For budget reasons,” naturally, but without the least hint of under what conditions such hearings might resume. Never waste a good economic crisis, they say. Should a betting pool start vis-à-vis date of resumption of hearings, kindly place the Loon’s stake on “the thirty-second of Octember.” Once again, any reaction from other administrators, or the larger profession? Nary a peep.
- Quite a few digital-humanities centers at R1s are running off postdocs, usually with contract terms of two years or less. When will MLSes get into the action? Will they? The Loon isn’t sanguine—and let’s not pretend this has anything to do with academic preparation; plenty of academic librarians have advanced degrees and records of published research in the humanities. Bluntly, libraries have to commit to the continued employment of MLSes; they needn’t commit to postdocs, because casual short-term labor is how the postdoc game works. The Loon fully expects that in two to four years, the DH-center postdocs themselves will figure out they’ve been had, as the nirvana of stable academic employment once again eludes their grasp.
The Loon hasn’t discussed a potential elephant in the room: library IT. That one’s complicated, not least because an MLS-degreed librarian with tech skills often costs significantly less than someone with equivalent tech skills and no MLS. (Unfair? Absolutely! True? Absolutely! The techie-librarian’s MLS signals that non-library employers are not serious contenders for the techie-librarian’s labor, so libraries don’t need to pay librarian-techies the salary techies command in the larger labor market.) Still, the institutional-repository job ads that the Loon keeps bringing up like a loon-chick’s lunch at least suggest that IT-related positions aren’t immune to attempted deprofessionalization. That The Ivy League Institution seems to be having trouble hiring this way strikes the Loon as a smallish ray of hope.
The Loon suggests that library administrators at R1s look at the damage that faculty did to their own profession by casualizing undergraduate instruction before they get too gleeful at the stunt they’re (so far) getting away with. Taiga Forum pronouncements indicate that it isn’t just rank-and-file librarian jobs that Taiga participants fear for, but their own jobs too. Well, Taiga, the Loon thinks you’re right to fear, and she thinks your own hiring trend as demonstrated above is precisely why. Why should university administrators you yourselves are teaching not to value us value you?
Finally, the Loon pleads with those administrators to tell her—no, no, telling is meaningless; show her, rather—why she’s wrong about this. Why this isn’t the pattern. Why the pattern is something else entirely.
Please. Please. The Loon begs you. Please.
- Jones, Phillip J., and George J. Fowler. “The Limits of Democracy in Academic Libraries in a Revolutionary Age.” Presented at ACRL 2011. The authors’ positions and employers are listed in the paper. ↩
- Library publishing, epilogue: Cutting one’s teeth, disruptively
- Talking about reproducibility