Academic librarians are “scholar-practitioners.” We have a valued tradition of service (practitioner) but increasingly we also teach full-time and undertake extensive research (scholar).
If the value of the PhD is still uncertain in academic librarianship, does obtaining one actually advance your career?
Thirteen academic librarians (four library directors; nine librarians in various roles) were asked to respond to five questions about the PhD. Of these, six were LIS PhDs, five hold doctorates in a variety of disciplines (higher education, art, business, political science, and education), and two are still in process (communications studies, humanities).
In their own words, here are excerpts from their comments.
How did the PhD advance or impact your career?
Having a Ph.D. gave me the experience of understanding research and the faculty perspective from the inside out. I think it has given me credibility sitting at the table of deans at both Texas A&M and McGill.
Colleen Cook, Dean of Libraries, McGill University
I’m not sure if having the PhD advanced my career in any way as it has not been a requirement for anything I’ve done, nor has it been pointed to as a reason for any career advancement. Working as an academic, I think having a PhD does give you some further credibility among faculty ﴾whether deserved or not!﴿. More library director positions do seem to be looking for someone with a PhD, so if I ever decide to go down that path, having the PhD may help.
Denise Koufogiannakis, Associate University Librarian, University of Alberta
I’m not sure it has materially advanced my career. Afterward I was promoted to the librarian equivalent of full professor, but a doctorate was not a prerequisite.
Rumi Graham, Graduate Studies Librarian, University of Lethbridge
It made no difference to my actual job, but as a result of my advanced degree I had the opportunity to write a book (coming out early in 2017) and to teach at the School of Library and Information Science.
Margaret Law, Director, External Relations, Library, University of Alberta
It is an enabler. Many senior leadership – University Librarians/Dean of Library postings in North America indicate a preference for a candidate with a PhD or other doctorate.
A current University Librarian in Western Canada
It’s still in progress so I am not sure at this point. I cannot say it has resulted in any career advancement in the sense of what we might think of as LIS progression; however, my doctoral studies have changed the way I think about my own work. The PhD work has also impacted my publications and research. For example, the last two articles I published are direct results of PhD research and I have used methods I studied in my doctoral program in my work. They are in an LIS journal, even though my PhD is not LIS-based.
Stacy Allison-Cassin, W.P. Scott Chair in E-Librarianship, York University
The experience was transforming and transformative. This experience built on and deepened my prior knowledge and education. I am wiser. I believe that this experience has enriched and enhanced my management/leadership abilities and my proficiency to facilitate change. Having a PhD does seem to help, and rightly so: academics recognize the PhD – they understand the process and appreciate the significance of the accomplishment; it is representative of a shared language and experience, and as a consequence, there is mutual respect.
Nancy Black, Executive Director, Library, Nipissing University & Canadore College
It hasn’t, at least not yet. I have seen no evidence that a PhD helps to advance an academic library career. Through the PhD experience, librarians develop considerable insight into the thesis process and gain a first-hand understanding of faculty and graduate student needs, not to mention high-level research/methodological expertise. All of this can enhance their ability to make significant contributions, particularly in areas focused on graduate/faculty research support and scholarly communication. As more librarians pursue a PhD, I hope that administrators will work with them to develop non-traditional positions that allow them to fully draw on and contribute what they learned.
Pascal Lupien, Research and Scholarship Librarian, University of Guelph
The PhD opened doors in the Faculty of Graduate Studies. In addition to continuing all my responsibilities as the Humanities Librarian, I am also a full member of the faculty in the graduate programs in History and Humanities where I am serving on several PhD supervisory committees.
Scott McLaren, Associate Librarian, Humanities & Religion, York University
I really have no expectations for my PhD to advance my career, or to have a large effect on my career. I see my PhD as a personal, not professional, goal. I feel like I am better acculturated into the academic environment, but even then, I am not sure that the PhD was a necessity in that acculturation.
Selinda Berg, Head, Information Services, Leddy Library, University of Windsor
For me, the PhD provides an opportunity for self-development and personal growth. Being on the other side of comprehensive exams, I can attest to the scope and intensity of the mental rewiring that takes place when pursuing this level of non-professional graduate work. I am greatly benefiting from an enhanced ability to communicate with the university community.
Andrea Kosavic, Acting Associate University Librarian, Digital Services, York University
Definitely. Shortly after graduation I secured an executive leadership position, outside of the library, in a university.
Vicki Williamson, Dean of Libraries, University of Saskatchewan
Michael Ridley is a librarian and the director of the First Year Seminar Program at the University of Guelph. The former chief librarian and CIO at Guelph, he is currently a part-time LIS PhD student at Western University.