Advice LibParlor Contributor

Some Advice for Librarians on the Tenure Track

word cloud describing the tenure process

Trudi Jacobson is the Head of the Information Literacy Department at the University at Albany, and holds the rank of Distinguished Librarian. With Tom Mackey, she originated the metaliteracy framework to emphasize the metacognitive learner as producer and participant in dynamic information environments. She co-chaired the Association of College & Research Libraries Task Force that created the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.

Jane Kessler is the Head of the Reference & Research Services Department at the University at Albany.  She is currently completing a two year term on the University’s Council on Promotion and Continuing Appointment.

Colleges and universities often seem to be unclear about where librarians fit in the grand scheme of things. Faculty? Not faculty? Faculty but not teaching faculty? Faculty but not eligible for tenure? Eligible for tenure but not eligible for sabbaticals?  Wait—we are getting off track! We can envisage a diagram that includes all the possible ways academic librarians are categorized, and it would be messy.

We happen to work at a university in a state system (State University of New York) in which librarians are deemed academic faculty, and are subject to the tenure and promotion process that disciplinary faculty members go through. We have both earned tenure, and we have both served on the university council that reviews tenure and promotion cases. Such councils bring together senior faculty members from across campus to review and vote on whether an individual should be granted tenure and/or promotion.

The tenure process at your institution may look slightly different, but at ours, these are the stages of review a librarian must go through in order to be granted tenure. We have indicated one difference with the campus-wide process.

Tenure Review Stages

Library In our case, this is a review by all members of the academic faculty of the library. At other institutions, it may be that only tenured library faculty participate in this decision. Elsewhere on campus, this is a two-step process—first, a department review, followed by a college or school review. Because the library does not fit under another unit, the two reviews are collapsed into one.
University-wide council This is the body on which we both served, and its membership includes faculty from a range of departments across campus. As is common, the decision of this council is advisory to the provost/academic vice-president.
Provost Generally, but not always, the provost’s review mirrors that of the university-wide council, particularly if the council is agreeing with lower level(s) of review. The provost’s review is advisory to the president’s.
President Again, if there is consensus at lower levels, the president generally follows the advice of the provost.
Chancellor As part of a state-wide system, there is an additional step that might not be a part of your process. We have been told that the Chancellor’s decision always accords with the president’s, unless there has been a procedural error that would require a re-review at some step.

Serving on the university-wide council has been illuminating in regard to what happens when a case leaves the library.  Librarians serving on such committees generally are not able to be present when a fellow librarian’s case is being reviewed (the same is true for members of other departments), but much can be learned by participating in the discussions of non-librarian candidates.

Part of the review process involves sending the candidate’s dossier to external or unaffiliated reviewers for an assessment of the strength of the case. Each institution has its own guidelines for number and selection process of these reviewers, but typically they must not have had significant interactions with the candidate to ensure an unbiased review. Each institution will also have its own protocol for which components of the dossier reviewers should comment on. Some institutions are only looking for an evaluation of research or scholarship, while others request comments on the entire dossier. Letters may also be solicited from affiliated reviewers, individuals who have worked closely with the candidate and can comment on particular aspects of their record.

We both supervise and mentor non-tenured librarians, and have found it doesn’t do to make assumptions about what is common knowledge concerning the tenure and promotion process–we’ve been surprised more than once. We hope that the following will be helpful.


Because different campuses have different requirements, be sure to read and thoroughly understand the requirements for promotion and tenure at your institution. Most institutions evaluate candidates based on three criteria: research or scholarship, teaching or librarianship, and service.  Candidates are usually required to write statements (which may be called narratives at some institutions) for each of these criteria. If you have any questions about the tenure or promotion process, ask your supervisor or mentor, and also check to see if your teaching excellence center or the Provost’s office might offer workshops related to tenure and promotion.  If possible, serve on the promotion and tenure committee at your library or institution. Some libraries include slots for non-tenured (junior) library faculty members on their tenure committees. It is unlikely that this will be the case on campus tenure committees, but pre-tenure librarians are still able to benefit from the knowledge and experience of tenured colleagues who have served on such committees.

We give a brief explanation of what each of the three common criteria (research or scholarship; teaching or librarianship; and service) means, and how a committee might evaluate your record on each one.

Research or Scholarship

Attainments in scholarship are demonstrated by publication of research in one’s field, the development of educational and research materials or software, or creative contributions in the arts.  Mastery of subject matter is also considered scholarship and may be demonstrated by advanced degrees, licenses, honors, grants, awards, reputation in the field, and continuing professional growth.


Our institution’s criteria for promotion and continuing appointment of library faculty call for evaluating candidates on their effectiveness in librarianship, noting that it is analogous to the disciplinary faculty’s criterion of effectiveness in teaching, and that it is the most important criterion by which librarians are judged. A librarian who teaches credit bearing classes can also be evaluated based on student and peer evaluations, development of teaching materials or new courses, and other pedagogical components.


At our institution, library faculty are expected to engage in service while on the tenure track.  This can be participation on committees at the departmental, college, or university level, professional service activities, or public and community service related to the candidate’s scholarly qualifications.


At most institutions, candidates for tenure and promotion are required to submit statements about how they have met the criteria for research or scholarship, teaching or librarianship, and service.  These statements are included in the dossier provided to those reviewing a tenure case, and serve to explain the candidate’s research, their philosophy of teaching, and their service contributions to their institution and their discipline.  Statements should be written with care; this is your opportunity to convince your institution and outside reviewers that you are worthy of tenure. Don’t just repeat what is to be found in your CV, make connections between elements and emphasize the value of what you are doing in your field, and beyond (if feasible).

It can be helpful to read other statements before you begin writing your own.  Colleagues who have already received tenure may be willing to share theirs.  We also recommend starting to write your statements well before they are due so you’ll have plenty of time to revise and polish them.  When writing, remember that your audience will be a mix of librarians and non-librarians, so avoid library jargon.  In addition, make sure to follow all institutional requirements, such as using a specific template, page limits, etc. Generally, these should be found in the section of the institution’s website that is targeted for faculty members. If you don’t see them, ask your supervisor or mentor.

As you select research projects, long before you write your statements, keep in mind that reviewers will be looking for an impactful, cohesive research agenda with a trajectory.  This doesn’t mean all your research has to be on same topic, but you should be able to explain how your research agenda has evolved, and why your research matters.   If you are also able to show a theme that threads between your research, your teaching or librarianship, and your service, so much the better.

Tenure is granted based on past accomplishments and the potential for continued scholarly productivity and engagement. Faculty who vote on your case need to feel confident that you will continue to be productive. Your research statement should include your plans for the future, including a discussion of works in progress, to show that you will continue to be productive after receiving tenure.


“If traditional teaching is not a component of your position, it is quite likely that you teach in other ways, such as through reference service, consultations with students, or creating guides for student use.”

For librarians, writing the statement on teaching or librarianship can be the most difficult.  Non-library faculty generally have no trouble writing their teaching statements, as most of them do teach courses on a regular basis. If one of your primary responsibilities is teaching credit-bearing courses, your promotion and/or tenure packet will look similar, at least in part, to those of other teaching faculty members under review. It will contain a list of courses taught, grade distributions and possibly student assessment scores. Council members will recognize these elements. However, if you teach course-related sessions or other types of classes that do not generate grades or student assessments, you will need to explain the importance of the teaching you do engage in, as this model may be less familiar to those reading your statement once it has left the library.  If traditional teaching is not a component of your position, it is quite likely that you teach in other ways, such as through reference service, consultations with students, or creating guides for student use. These aspects of teaching will need to be carefully elucidated for council members. It may also be possible at your institution to label your teaching statement in such a way that it makes it clear that the emphasis is on librarianship. This helps to alert council members that they will be applying different criteria for this particular element, if indeed they are. Again, it all depends on the requirements at your institution. Disciplinary faculty are often unaware of the many specializations within librarianship, such as collection development, reference, or information literacy. Your statement should clearly explain your answer of specialization and how your work contributes to the mission of the library and the larger institution.

It is extremely helpful if the administrator assigned to the tenure and promotion council understands and clearly explains the requirements for librarians. Just as other departments have their own expectations (some expect book publication, others articles; some don’t blink an eye at co-authored pieces, others expect single authorship, and on and on), so too does the library.

If your institution requires service from junior faculty, you will want to get started right away building a record of service.  Writing about service is usually more straightforward than scholarship or teaching, as long as you have something to write about. Look for opportunities to serve both within and outside the library.  You’ll meet people who can serve as affiliated reviewers and can comment on your contributions.  You may want to start by serving on committees on campus and  for local or regional organizations.  Seek opportunities to be a reviewer for a journal in your particular area of interest, as this is something that teaching faculty will recognize as valuable.

Once you have statements written, ask others to review them, including your supervisor.  It would also be helpful to have a tenured faculty member from another department on campus review your statements.  She or he can be helpful in identifying library jargon or items that need a better explanation to be understood by those outside the field.

Going up for tenure and/or promotion can be extremely stressful, but it really doesn’t need to be. The earlier you start planning for it, the less you will be caught off guard when the time comes. Clearly understand the expectations at your institution, plan how you will show a valuable and coherent contribution, work towards that plan, and start thinking about making your case through the statements that will present your work to those who will be reviewing your case. Don’t hesitate to seek guidance and advice from supervisors, mentors, and others who have recently gone through the process. And once you get tenure, start thinking about how you will work towards promotion to the next rank!

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