Retention Initiatives are Employed in Academic Libraries, Although not Necessarily for this Purpose

Laura Newton Miller

Abstract


Objective – To study methods that support retention of academic librarians.

Design – Exploratory research using an online survey; non-random sample.

Setting – Academic libraries, nearly all located within the U.S. (97.2%).

Subjects – A total of 895 professional academic librarians.

Methods – The researchers sent an online survey link to professional electronic mail lists and directly to heads of Association of Research Libraries (ARL) member libraries. The 23-item survey was available from February 19, 2007, through March 9, 2007, and contained questions about the professional experience of respondents, their libraries, and their universities. Subjects were asked to identify retention activities that were currently offered at their workplaces (both library-specific and university-wide) and to rate their satisfaction for each available initiative. The list contained fifteen initiatives based on the researchers’ literature review.

Main Results – Almost half (46.3%) of respondents were 50 or older and 7.5% under 30 years old, leaving 46.2% between the ages of 30-50 years old (although this percentage is not explicitly stated in the paper except in a table). Nearly half of the subjects were in the first ten years of their careers. 80.2% had held between one and four professional positions in their careers, and even when length of professional experience was factored out, age had no effect on the number of positions held. Most job turnover within the past three years (3 or fewer open positions) was in public service, while other areas of the library (i.e., technical services, systems, and administration) reported zero open positions. Only 11.3% of respondents noted that their libraries have deliberate, formal retention programs in place. Despite this, there are several library- and university-based initiatives that can be considered to help with retention. The most reported available library-based retention initiative was the provision of funding to attend conferences (86.8%). Librarians also frequently reported flexible schedules, support and funding for professional development and access to leadership programs. University-based retention programs included continuing education funding, new employee orientations, faculty status, and the chance to teach credit-bearing courses. Only 22.2% of subjects reported formal mentoring programs as a retention strategy. Librarians were very or somewhat satisfied with schedule flexibility (79.6%). They were generally satisfied with other initiatives reported. In response to 22 five-point Likert scale descriptions of positive library work environments, subjects most agreed with statements that allowed librarians to have control of their professional duties, that allowed for personal or family obligations, and that supported professional development. Librarians agreed less often regarding statements about salaries, research support, and opportunities for advancement.

Conclusion – Academic librarians are involved in and are benefitting from some library and university-based retention initiatives, even though retention may not be the primary strategic goal.

Keywords


academic librarianship; retention

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