What academic librarians need to know about academia

The world of academia is a strange and complex place, and I have found that understanding certain key aspects of its culture and norms has served me well in my current work and in contributing to conversations about the future of academic libraries.
Here are a few things that I find helpful to know/understand:

  1. A faculty members’ peers are NOT necessarily the other faculty in their own department or their own institution. A scholar’s peers are other scholars who do similar work. This is literally true for activities such as peer review, and tenure & promotion reviews. It is also true in terms of social identity and social networks. Knowing this, I might realize I can helpfully point out similar research happening on a scholar’s own campus; since they may reasonably not know about it. I also need to know this because when scholars talk about doing collaborative work, their collaborators are likely to be located all across the globe — and that has implications for how libraries support that work.
  2. Publications serve many purposes for faculty, but the primary purpose for most is to support tenure and promotion cases. Given that, faculty will publish their research in whatever venue has the highest prestige value in their field and their department. Understanding whether books or journal articles are more highly valued for a given department is helpful. It is also good to further understand which publishers and which journals are most important for a given department. Note that there will be variation within disciplines–what makes a good publication record for a tenure-track Sociologist at one university might not be so impressive at another school.
  3. For tenure-track faculty, virtually everything they do & every choice they make will be based on how it contributes to their chances of getting tenure. For example, if teaching plays an insignificant role in tenure decisions at my school, then I can’t expect tenure-track faculty to devote much time to innovative teaching. If I want to support tenure-track faculty, I need to offer services that help them do things that increase their chances of getting tenure. If I want to offer library support for their classes, I need to be willing to do so in a way that requires little to no extra effort on their part, and perhaps even provides them some free time.
  4. I’m sure there are plenty of other norms from the world of academia that academic librarians ought to understand. What am I leaving out?

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