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September 17, 2009
A Few More Comments on the ALL-SIS Task Force's Recommendations
I would like to add some thoughts to Joe Hodnicki's excellent post on the ALL-SIS Task Force's Recommendations for ABA Standards Revision Relating to Academic Law Libraries. The Task Force is content to leave the standards for job security in place and cites a number of past situations where library directors were under attack on academic freedom grounds. These are located on page 12 in appendix 2, the AALL Statement of Faculty Status, July 2009. The report duly notes "Law library Directors must have the guarantee of academic freedom."
There is another set of circumstances which is a thornier issue and not really addressed by the report. I'll call it administrative freedom for lack of a better term. I remember a statistic from years back that the average tenure of a law school dean was three years. I'm not sure if that is still accurate. The regular turnover in the top administrator suggests that when law school administrations change it can affect the operation of the library. A new and potentially inexperienced dean can undermine an otherwise competent library director in many ways. There can be personality conflicts, disagreements with policies that were in place under a predecessor dean, or a lack of understanding of how a library is administered. It may be simple enough to say that the library and the director simply conform to new policies. The reality is not that simple.
Academic law libraries operate under professional standards. Deans are aware of this, but for whatever reasons, their concerns are not always in concert with that of the library director. The inevitable conflict can lead to a lot of unpleasant circumstances where the director is the one to suffer more than a dean. In over 30 years of experience I've seen first hand or become aware of situations where good directors had to deal with resources shifted away from the library, positions left unfilled, or library services curtailed because of law school administrative decisions. It's the director who typically has to deal with the brunt of the political fallout When this happens.
One might label this as the vagaries of employment law. It works that way in professional positions outside of academia. Contract terms rule and one hopes the term of the employment contract protects the signatories. The academic director, however, typically holds faculty rank in most law schools and can be subject to treatment that would not fly against the most obnoxious tenured member of the full-time faculty. I'm not aware of any dean who ever told a contracts instructor he or she was was going to bring in a consultant to evaluate the effectiveness of contracts instruction. When this happens to a library director it's usually code to suggest that the director start looking for another job. It's one thing to cull dead wood from the law librarian profession. It's quite another to compromise someone's career for just doing their job.
The ABA standards as they exist do not account for this situation. Maybe they should, and maybe AALL can address the same issue at some point. [MG]