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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Librarians losing tenure status caused a ‘collective trauma’

Photo by Kyle Heise

A row of books in Evans Library on April 1, 2023.

Texas A&M President M. Katherine Banks said that university libraries would serve as a service unit. This transition came as Banks released the “The Path Forward” report in October 2021. As a result, faculty would lose tenure if they stayed to become a staff librarian or could transition into another department, according to the report

Alyson Vaaler, an assistant professor and business librarian at Texas A&M wrote a guest post about the A&M library transition in October 2021. The blog, originally posted on Aug. 16, 2022, is featured on This Liaison Life, a blog page that focuses on library topics. 

Vaaler declined to comment further on the blog post.

This experience was difficult for Vaaler, she wrote. Everyone at the library felt the effects of the decision, as staff questioned job security and faculty weighed their options of staying or leaving, according to her blog post. 

“I can only describe this process as collective trauma,” Vaaler wrote in her blog post.

Bruce Herbert, a professor and former director of the Office of Scholarly Communications in the Sterling C. Evans Library, said he was surprised when he first heard the news about the changes to the library. 

“I was interested in the reasons why,” Herbert said. “What would be the justification?”

Faculty who chose to leave had to transition into an academic department on their own, Vaaler said. Due to the lack of guidance, faculty got into departments through their connections, she added. 

“You were expected to make your own connections and be able to negotiate your terms,” Vaaler wrote in her blog post.

Faculty Affairs met with each librarian who moved, Herbert said. The support from the students and student government was “heartwarming,” Herbert said. 

“Probably the hardest thing for many of the librarians was trying to find a potential home, a new department to go to,” Herbert said. “That was left to each librarian to negotiate.”

Librarians were not given enough time to decide, Vaaler said.

“For a decision that could potentially change your career, the process was incredibly rushed,” Vaaler wrote in her blog post.

Having the quick transition was like ripping off a band-aid, Herbert said. The transition was difficult so any length of time would have been hard, Herbert said.

“I don’t actually think that the speed at which the process occurred really would matter that much,” Herbert said. “It was always going to be difficult for my librarian colleagues, no matter if they went slow or fast.”

The two options forced Vaaler to choose what she valued, Vaaler said. She would have received tenure less than a year after the announcement of the report. Remaining at the library would mean she would not receive her tenure. 

“Faculty librarians were wrestling with an impossible decision: give up something that they had worked years to achieve [tenure] or pivot their career completely and start in a new direction in academia,” Vaaler wrote in her blog post. 

Librarian is the only career Vaaler said she has ever had and she was scared to look into other careers. 

“If keeping faculty status meant giving up the only career I had ever been in, I wasn’t ready to make that jump,” Vaaler wrote in her blog post. 

Some struggled with choosing between their profession, Julie Mosbo Ballestro, university librarian and assistant provost, said. Before, people were able to be faculty and librarians and with the change they could only be one, Ballestro said. 

“This was splitting and identifying what area you felt a closer kinship to than the other,” Ballestro said. “So it was a choice that someone had to make as to where their identity was.”

Vaaler said she is worried about the uncertainties of the future and about her new job as well as the vacancy of positions in the library. 

“I truly don’t know what the library will look like going forward,” Vaaler wrote in her blog post.

With the transition, there have been varying results, as some thrive and others have not done as well, Herbert said. 

“The librarians who stayed too also have a very challenging role,” Herbert said. “They are trying to run an organization with very few people.”

The library has maintained expertise and the librarians are “professionals” who are still dedicated in their role to the university, Ballestro said. Though some faculty left, the library has maintained relationships with them and hopes to work more with them, Ballestro said. 

“We still have a wonderful group of people who are working in the libraries who are dedicated, hard-working, and I think you’re really showing the passion that they’ve had for the university and for ensuring the students, faculty and the staff are getting what they need from the libraries,” Ballestro said.

Vaaler said that A&M is not alone in this issue. 

“But we are not the first ones this has happened to and probably won’t be the last,” Vaaler wrote in her blog post. “The way that it happened was particularly messy, but there is a trend to phase out faculty librarians at universities.”

Vaaler’s story was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, in March. The article details the struggles librarians are facing nationwide. 

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