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Students walk in and out of Evans library.

Editor’s Note: The names of sources who requested to be anonymous have been altered or removed to protect their identities.

As more structural changes continue to unfold within Texas A&M, administration has been recently criticized for supposed plans regarding the future of University Libraries and its employees.

University Libraries currently consists of five campus libraries run by 147 faculty and staff members, 81 of whom are tenured or tenure-track faculty. With President M. Katherine Banks’ issuance of The Path Forward, multiple alterations have been made to the original recommendations from MGT of American Consulting regarding the functions and composition of A&M’s University Libraries as well as its many employees. However, rumors that administration intends to completely digitize the libraries have been denied by both Chief Operating Officer Greg Hartman and associate Vice President of Marketing & Communications Kelly Brown in comments to The Battalion.

“Despite the rumors, Texas A&M is not turning the library into an all-digital unit, nor will all of the library be turned into office space. Libraries will continue to play a critical role in helping our students and faculty excel,” Brown said. “We will still have physical books and will modernize technology both inside the building and outside for research and study, while also creating better accessibility to information online. We have amazing collections at both Sterling C. Evans Library and at Cushing Library, and those will remain priorities and protected.”

The original recommendation of the MGT report suggested placing University Libraries under the College of Arts and Sciences and creating a Department of Library Sciences. The final MGT report, published on Oct. 19, 2021, recommended a structural change to the University Libraries, transferring it to the new College of Arts and Sciences and headed by a University Librarian who would work with the Office of the Provost.

“Faculty-librarians will have faculty status in this new department. The Dean of the Library will become the Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and University Librarian. This new Associate Dean and University Librarian would continue to supervise all library operations and lead the faculty-librarians in excellence in teaching and scholarship,” the report reads.

Banks has, in response, modified that recommendation, suggesting the University Libraries instead transition into a service unit headed by a “University Librarian” who would report to the Provost.

“Due to library systems’ pivotal role in the success of any university, Banks rejected the MGT recommendation of placing the university libraries into the College of Arts and Sciences, instead modifying it to shift the libraries under a ‘service unit,’” The Path Forward document reads.

Banks further reiterated the importance of the University Libraries system but clarified her decision to alter the current status of the institution.

“There is no doubt that the libraries provide a critically important service for the entire campus. Therefore, I agree that the University Libraries does not belong within one college and Cushing Library should remain within the libraries,” Banks said in the document. “However, I do believe that a significant change is needed in the administrative structure of the libraries. The University Libraries will be administratively modified to become a service unit to efficiently and effectively provide top quality service to the campus community.”

Banks has assigned Working Group 14 to consult these recommendations which provide the librarians with two options: either remain as faculty and seek a new department to hold their tenure and tenure-track status or convert faculty members to staff, revoking their tenure and tenure-track status.

“As a service unit, the University Libraries will no longer serve as a tenure home for faculty. Tenured and tenure-track faculty currently in University Libraries will be accommodated in a new departmental home with a full-time appointment in the University Libraries service unit,” the document reads.

A professor at A&M, who will be referred to as “Dr. O” for the purpose of anonymity, said they don’t understand the omission of the research role or the need to designate the library as a “service unit.”

“By nature of a library, it is a service organization and they are service units. What worries me is the lack of the use of the word ‘research,’ because we are a Tier 1 research institution, and our library is one of the top in the country right now,” Dr. O said.

An anonymous faculty librarian, “Dr. E,” said there is an important distinction between faculty and staff librarians’ administrative status.

“As faculty librarians, we are able to apply for grants, collaborate with outside faculty,” Dr. E said. “A lot of what we do is in partnership with other faculty members outside of the library. It also affords us a seat at Faculty Senate and Honor Council where librarians can contribute to the academic mission of the university.”

In relation to the retention and recruitment of librarians, Dr. E said they are concerned there will be, “fewer librarians dedicated to help students with their research and to help faculty members with their projects.”

Another anonymous faculty librarian, “Dr. Y,” expressed their concern with student success and the ability of the library to provide resources with upcoming possible changes.

“I think it’s going to be not as obvious at first, and it’s going to be a slow bleed, especially for older students who are used to a certain level of help from librarians and the library staff,” Dr. Y said. “I don’t want to underestimate; our library staff [is] incredible. They’re going to see that go down.”

Dr. O said they participated in a separate focus group consisting of A&M faculty and MGT consultants outside of the official Path Forward Working Group and said a subject they were asked about by the MGT consultants in the group’s Feb. 25 meeting was the University Libraries’ digitization.

When asked about this additional focus group, Hartman said MGT consultants are currently conducting interviews for further research on the libraries. However, he said there is no plan to transition the libraries to all digital services.

“MGT Consulting, which of course did the original report, we asked them to do some additional interviews around libraries with the librarians and staff to kind of understand concerns, just go a little deeper on what’s going on in the library,” Hartman said. “It’s just gathering additional information for the sake of the working group.”

The University Libraries system has released a statement acknowledging the support for their library resources. The statement notes Working Group 14 and its work for the “library of the future.”

“Unfortunately, at this time, the only information we have is that we continue our work participating in The Path Forward Working Group No. 14, which is tasked with looking at the future of the Libraries’ faculty and now includes envisioning the library of the future,” the statement reads. “We have been told the answers provided by the stakeholders will be the basis of a report due mid-April. We thank everyone who has shown their support for the University Libraries.”

Dr. E said they are deeply concerned with the possible changes.

“My concern for this is twofold. I’m concerned about what that will do to retention and recruitment of librarians. Texas A&M is well-reputed for its library and that is because we are able to recruit and maintain excellent library faculty members,” Dr. E said. “I’m also really concerned about what moving librarians out of the library will do for the services, the collections and resources that the library gives to campuses. I’m concerned that this will have an impact on the teaching and research mission of the university.”

English sophomore Lauren Head, a representative of the Department of English, started a petition against the administration’s plans for the University Libraries. The petition has garnered over 2,600 signatures at the time of publication.

“In discussing this proposal with fellow undergraduate students, I have yet to receive a positive response. Rather, I’ve received great concern that this may be the first step to a larger movement for the censorship of literature here on campus,” the petition reads. “What we’re seeing is a radical devaluing of not only the book, but members of our faculty, and we won’t sit idly by as this decision is being made.”

Similarly, Elizabeth Parry, president of the English Graduate Student Association, wrote a letter to President Banks which was obtained by The Battalion.

“My colleagues and I rely on the expertise and hard work of librarians to help us identify research materials which are available either through [the library] system or the interlibrary loans [librarians] maintain with universities throughout the country,” the letter reads.

With the changes outlined to Working Group 14, faculty members have said they feel underappreciated and are looking elsewhere for career opportunities.

“I feel devalued. I think that the work that we do matters,” Dr. E said. “I think the work that we do matters to our faculty colleagues. It feels like no matter what option we choose, we will lose some of the opportunities to contribute to campus in the ways that we’ve tried to in so long. Every librarian that I have spoken to has been looking for jobs.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of faculty and staff who currently work for the University Libraries. The Battalion regrets this error. 

(5) comments

TexaninVA

Regarding tenure, the concept was originally set up to essentially protect free speech and ensure a full discussion of all viewpoints. However, we've seen free speech degraded and devalued across many American universities. Thus, time to repeal tenure and come up with a better way to protect free speech.. Also, cost cutting and consolidation is a way of life in the world inhabited by taxpayers. While i don't know the details, it's probably long overdue.

ltassinary

The purpose of tenure is to protect a professor's academic freedom. Now is categorically not the time to "repeal" tenure but rather to loudly reassert it's purpose and value. Hogwarts is actively under siege. American Universities will not survive and continue be beacons to the world if Disciplina praesidium civitatis is replaced by Sumptus Parvus.

It is a very good point that faculty librarians have the ability that staff do not to participate in grant applications and to collaborate with faculty. But isn't that itself upholding a false and ultimately elitist distinction? There are many very highly qualified staff members at this university with credentials equal to or surpassing some faculty members. Perhaps the problem isn't that librarians need faculty status to participate in research. Perhaps the problem is the gate-keeping that keeps staff members from being able to equally participate in research--those internal grant opportunities that require faculty status. It's as if there's a real need to keep commoners from stealing faculty vita lines rather than promoting opportunities for all qualified and motivated members of the larger community to participate in research. Well-qualified and trained academics end up in staff positions for many reasons, as any faculty member teaching or advising in a Ph.D.-granting program knows well.

carlsondavid

So Bank's rationale is: "The University Libraries will be administratively modified to become a service unit to efficiently and effectively provide top quality service to the campus community." First, this is no justification; it's a statement of the decision. Second, and more importantly, this statement shows a fundamental misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about libraries and what librarians do. Libraries are part of the academic structure of the University -- reporting to the Provost -- for a reason. They are part of the academic mission of the University. They are, of course, unique and different from a traditional academic department but their mission is still fundamentally academic in nature teaching students about how to find information, do research, interpret that research and evaluation of resources in order to form judgements. These are not the functions of a service unit. Why indeed, is Banks supportive of the newly-named University Libraries reporting to the Provost -- the Chief Academic Officer on campus -- if the Libraries is not an academic unit with an academic mission.

These changes proposed by banks are nonsensical and demonstrate nothing more than her fundamental misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about what libraries are.

I'm bemused at all the qualified anonymity in the Batt article -- Dr. E and Dr. Y. I don't blame them but it shows how intimated people are to speak. I am not. I retired as Dean of Libraries in 2021. I have often commented to colleagues that it was the best placed and the best library I ever worked. Indeed, it was. I can only hope it continues its upward trajectory in rankings internationally and its extraordinary service to campus. I see nothing in Banks' changes that will improve the libraries but only damage it.

Neverunlibrarianed

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I

Hey BATT, publish this IN YOUR BIGGEST PRINT! And then directly archive it in Cushing.

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