The Hunt Library, Innovation, and Tenure

The Hunt Library at NCSU is an extraordinary achievement and I send out my congrats to Susan Nutter (the Vice Provost and Director of Libraries) and the many wonderful folks who made it happen. I had a chance to visit the Hunt recently and all you have heard about it is true.

This is an excellent video outlining the objectives of the library and the decisions made in realizing that vision:

All good. Except one thing.

During her presentation to the recent Designing Libraries for the 21st Century conference held at the Hunt Library, Susan Nutter said about her professional staff that “we couldn’t have done it with tenure.”

According to Nutter they (she) needed the hiring and firing flexibility that a tenure system for librarians would have precluded.

So does tenure ≠ innovation?

I’m troubled by Susan’s comment not because I think tenure is an unequivocally good thing but because it suggests (or in Susan’s case, demonstrates) that tenured librarians have become too comfortable, too reactive, and too inflexible.

Tenure, in my opinion, is important for many reasons. But one of them is not the power to be a roadblock or an anchor on innovation and change. The power of tenure is not that it allows you to put on the breaks but rather that it allows you to take chances, to risk new and wonderful things, and to explore the edges of our profession.

In other words, to build libraries like the Hunt.


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