The Librarian/Staff Divide

Every library I have worked at has had an uneasy caste system between the faculty and staff. While I understand this to extent, this delineation is used without rhyme or reason much of the time. The implication is that this means the librarians are treated as “career professionals” and the staff is merely “the help” (more on this in a minute).

I was pleasantly surprised to see the University of Iowa waive the MLS requirement for their current “Director of Information Technology” job posting (MS Word Document).

The University of Iowa Libraries seeks a creative, experienced professional to lead our information technology (IT) operations. Building on the Libraries’ current capabilities, the Director will provide innovative leadership in the use of technology to deliver information resources and services to the Libraries’ user communities. The Director for Library Information Technology reports directly to the University Librarian and is a member of the Libraries’ Executive Council contributing to overall strategic planning, program development and evaluation, and the allocation of resources in support of the Libraries’ mission.

This is a senior administrative position responsible for IT planning, the development of system-wide policies and procedures, and the coordination of information technology activities throughout the library system. The Director will supervise a department of 11 staff responsible for desktop support and technical training, systems administration and security/rights management, and applications development. Collaborative and advocacy activities with other library administrators and staff as well as members of the IT community on campus, the state, nationally and internationally are key responsibilities of this position. This Director serves as the Libraries’ liaison to CNI, EDUCAUSE, and similar organizations.



  • Bachelor’s degree

  • Minimum of 9 years of library information technology experience in a university environment

  • Demonstrated knowledge of current trends and best practices in the application of information technology in research libraries and higher education

  • Demonstrated experience promoting and working effectively in a diverse environment

  • Evidence of highly effective interpersonal and communication skills.

  • Evidence of analytical and creative problem-solving skills

  • Library-wide perspective and ability to contribute to planning and system-wide administration of the Libraries

  • Record of active participation in national pertinent professional associations

While I meet the “minimum requirements” for this position, I am not fully qualified… somewhere in this job’s requirements (maybe not actually written in it) is a healthy desire to live in or near Iowa City (which I do not possess). Still, this is very, very progressive for school of UIowa’s size. They are indicating that if you have spent 9 years of your life working in libraries and have shown the initiative to participate professionally and whatnot, you’re the sort of person who they want on their team. The idea being that the MLS is not a terribly good indicator of skills and (for this sort of position, anyway) may actually limit the pool of good potential candidates they may get.
When I was hired as “Web and Application Development Coordinator” at Emory, they stripped any “faculty-ness” from the position which, in turn, devalued the authority the position had — at least this seemed true in practice. The position could have been pretty similar to that of Iowa’s (I still would have been miserable at it), but the faculty wasn’t quite able to make the leap to label me a “peer”.

Just like my Emory position, though, Iowa is requiring that the position be a “manager” position to get invited to the “career professional” table. There are a lot of librarians at that table who are not managers.

This gap was made evident eariler this week here at Tech. I frequently hear about things going on in the library secondhand due to the fact that I am not faculty. Lord knows how much I never hear. We have a mailing list (lib-fac) where “career professional” sorts of announcements are made and, on Tuesday, a meeting was held for the faculty only to hear people report back what they had learned at ALA Midwinter.

My beef here is, why the faculty only distinction? If they were talking about tenure review or the sorts of things that couldn’t affect me by nature of my employment status that would be one thing. They are talking about things that I would like to know about, however, and could possibly contribute a voice in the discussion. I am not entirely sure why I should be left out.

It’s possible that I could be included just by asking to be. But why am I (or any other staff that has an interest in the profession, for that matter) being excluded in the first place?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s a little discouraging to work to be treated as a peer and a colleague in a national/international community and not in my own organization.

My intention here is not to single out Georgia Tech; this is prevalent throughout libraries everywhere (at least, from what I’ve seen it has). I’m just calling for the possibility of a third caste: those that are making a career in libraries, but have no desire for faculty status (or management).

  1. carol o said:

    It’s interesting traveling around these days and seeing similar, almost arbitrary examples of this divide. In some places it’s not the librarian/paraprofessional thing that’s so striking, but instead a public services/technical services divide. As if the latter can’t comprise “true” librarianship. I think setting up these kinds of ontologies (ha) might just be human nature.

    I do want to point out that our previous place of employment, paraprofessionals were invited to the internal professional development, information sharing thingies we had.

    Oh, and I wouldn’t use the terms “librarian” and “faculty” interchangeably. Those terms certainly aren’t synonymous for librarians or faculty, but perhaps they might as well be, from your distant view as “staff” 😉

  2. brian said:

    Even those of us “in the system” get left out of most of the decision-making discussions. Originally those meetings were designed for topics like promotion, travel, etc, but I think admin ran out of topics. I agree there is a divide. I worked para-pro for five years in circ and ref departments and felt excluded. I don’t know, perhaps as Systems rise into predominance continues, we’ll see more of the non-MLS like at Iowa.

  3. Tony said:

    The requirements for this particular position at Iowa seem rather odd….9 years is a very strange number to specify, why not 10 years?…sounds like it is written for an internal applicant who has been working at Iowa for 9 years and doesn’t have an MLS.

  4. Ross said:

    Yeah, I thought that, too…

    Although, I suppose if a /better/ candidate came along with 9+ years of experience…

  5. Ross said:

    Holy crap, another one!

    Now, “a healthy desire to live in San Diego”… that I might be qualified for… 😉

  6. Ed said:

    Historically, these sorts of Library IT management positions *not* requiring the MLS has actually been pretty common.

    Once upon a time, it was exceedingly rare to find “real” librarians with experience setting up mailservers, pulling ethernet cable, etc. (That’s probably still the case…)

  7. Andrew said:

    Still not nearly good enough.
    Why would a true IT director need _any_ library IT experience in a university environment?
    From all those qualified to lead an IT group (that happens to be attached to a library) – why slash the pool down to single-digits?
    It reminds me a lot of the bad side of the corporate world where technical experts are pushed into positions of management for which they have no skills…

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