Academic Law Librarianship

18 Attaining Academic Tenure

Amy Emerson and Charlotte Schneider

Academic tenure is as old as the universities that created it. It is typically defined as an indefinite appointment as a faculty member that may only be terminated for cause. Tenure serves as a form of security for one’s position that allows for exploration of new ideas in research and writing, as well as protection for independent thought. It is frequently accompanied by the privileged status of being included in the internal faculty governance structure, including actively participating in discussion and debate in faculty meetings, as well as taking part in the faculty voting process, which often determines the outcome of curricular, administrative, and policy decisions. The rights and permissions that accompany tenure may vary significantly among institutions.

Key Concepts
  • Law librarian tenure differs in substance and procedure from doctrinal academic tenure.
  • Librarianship, Teaching, Scholarship, and Service are the four pillars of academic tenure.
  • The mechanics of attaining tenure include navigating logistical and political challenges.

The premise of academic tenure is quite simple in theory – members of a faculty body must have the academic freedom to engage in innovative thought and express their views, however different or challenging, without fear of retribution if they are to produce original work that pushes the bounds of their industry, elevates their institution’s standing, and furthers society’s progress through the value that comes from a multitude of perspectives. Within law librarianship, tenure also provides the added benefit of advocating for the law library and making important discretionary decisions about services and collections without succumbing to pressure from faculty or administration.

In practice, the process of attaining tenure can be rather complex. It requires years of scholarly rigor, from creating an in-depth portfolio of quality publications and supporting the law school’s curriculum through teaching to building a highly regarded professional reputation in one’s field or specialty. Furthermore, the specific requirements to attain tenure can look quite different between institutions and even between similar positions. Particularly in law librarianship, no single tenure track position looks exactly like another, and while there are common pillars supporting the steps to tenure, the importance of each will vary depending upon the unique needs and priorities of each institution.

Whether a law school offers tenure or tenure track status to its director or its librarians depends upon a complex set of circumstances that include funding, existing and historical law school and/or university tenure policies and rules, competing priorities, and many other factors. Some law schools designate law librarian positions as tenured or tenure track while others provide position security through other means, such as long-term, presumptively renewable contracts, sometimes colloquially referred to as “tenure lite” arrangements. In those cases, depending on a candidate’s experience and the final terms of negotiation, employment may initially begin as five successive one-year contracts that eventually lead to a five-year contract, or employment may begin with a three- or five-year contract or some other variation. Some contracts may be arranged with the law school directly, and others may exist between the librarian and the university. Other law schools and their universities may offer no security of position at all, but it is important to note that ABA Standard 603(d) requires that, “except in extraordinary circumstances, a law library director shall hold a law faculty appointment with security of faculty position,” and schools must minimally observe this requirement through tenure or a contractual arrangement with their directors. Ultimately, the choice to offer tenure to law librarians and directors varies significantly among law schools and may be implemented in a variety of ways. Law librarians should discuss all policies and expectations during pre-employment negotiations and receive written confirmation of all agreements before accepting a tenure-track position.

An offer for a tenure-track position in academia is not one to be accepted lightly, as an unsuccessful bid for tenure at the end of one’s appointment typically results in termination of employment with the institution. Nevertheless, the tenure standards for librarians tend to differ significantly from those for traditional, doctrinal faculty. The inherent focus on a law librarian’s unique knowledge and skills provides a strong foundation for one to enter a tenure-track position with confidence. In addition, where a law school or university offers a tenure track option for law librarians and is highly supportive of their success, the benefits of tenure are significant and may contribute to the growth of the law library profession as well as the individual.


Jasmine is applying for a tenure-track position at an academic institution. To prepare for the interview, she carefully researches the institution’s mission, vision, curriculum, staffing levels, and, if possible, strategic plan. Throughout the interview, she asks in-depth questions to ensure a clear understanding of the library’s role within the institution; identify the institution’s teaching priorities and needs; determine the expectations for tenure-track library positions and what support is provided to them; and (discretely) does her best to obtain an accurate picture of the institution’s financial footing.

Pillars of Academic Tenure

Pillars of academic tenure are the criteria on which a tenure-track candidate will be evaluated throughout the tenure process. The pillars of tenure, and the weight given to their importance, vary between institutions and between positions. Broadly, they typically include Librarianship, Teaching, Scholarship, and Service. Each pillar enjoys some degree of coverage in other chapters within this book and will, therefore, only be addressed to the extent relevant to the discussion herein.


Librarianship is naturally considered one of the most important pillars for tenure-track law librarians because it is inherent to their work. Standards for successful Librarianship are measured based upon the responsibilities set forth in the individual law librarian’s position description. For example, the quality of one’s Librarianship may be evaluated based on reference interactions such as those discussed in Reference Work, by Hickman, Kearney, and Leong, and in Working with Non-Law School Patrons, by Ahlbrand. It may also include faculty liaison responsibilities like those set forth in Faculty Services by Manriquez, Penn, Striepe, and Turner; selection responsibilities like those set forth in Collection Development by Sayward and Special Collections & Archives by Grimes, LeMay, and Valenzuela; acquisitions and collection management responsibilities like those discussed in Technical Services by Collins, Haight, and Smith; or other service-oriented responsibilities like those described in Access Services by Gordon and Sturgeon, Student Services, by Fischer, Pal and Wolotira, and Marketing & Outreach, by Almeida and Dyslewski. Depending on the primary responsibilities of a law librarian’s position, each of these duties, and more, has the potential to play a role in evaluating the quality and quantity of that individual librarian’s work.

Tenure-track director positions may differ from tenure-track law librarian positions in the kind of Librarianship responsibilities they require. Director positions typically focus heavily on managing library operations and providing broad oversight of the budget, personnel, collections, space, and strategic planning.

Law librarians and directors alike must demonstrate a record of excellent performance in their respective roles. Evaluation of their work and how well they conduct their responsibilities are often treated with significant gravity in the decision to grant or deny tenure.


Depending upon the institution, Teaching may be considered part of the Librarianship pillar, or it may stand alone as an independent pillar. Whether Teaching is included in Librarianship or stands alone is often directly related to the librarian’s teaching load. For example, where Teaching is included in Librarianship, it may be treated as optional, or it may have a lower threshold for success in preparation and delivery, such as an expectation of guest lecturing in colleagues’ courses. In these cases, the value of guest lectures should not be underestimated. These visits provide the opportunity to highlight librarian expertise and raise the profile of library services and resources, both of which are beneficial to the library as well as the librarian’s personal tenure efforts.

Where Teaching stands alone as a pillar, the teaching load may still vary but will typically be much more substantial. For example, a tenure track librarian may be required to partner with legal writing faculty to teach a first-year writing and research class or may be required to independently design and teach one or more independently graded, for-credit legal research classes each semester. Ultimately, whether Teaching stands alone as a pillar or is included in the Librarianship pillar will play a role in determining the relative importance of that pillar.

A tenure-track director position may, but will not necessarily, have a heavier teaching load than a tenure-track librarian position. Expectations and requirements will vary between institutions and are typically based on the law school’s history or curricular needs, such as the need to fill instructional gaps or expand instruction in new directions.

The terms of one’s teaching package are typically somewhat negotiable, and candidates should take care to have a thorough discussion about the institution’s short-term and long-term needs and how the candidate’s position will play a role in fulfilling those needs. There is a strong argument to be made that because Librarianship is not a pillar that is included in the expectations for doctrinal tenure-track faculty members, a tenure-track law library director or tenure-track law librarian position should be given a lighter teaching load to accommodate the additional work required by Librarianship.

Related to one’s teaching load is the common requirement that those on the tenure-track serve as faculty advisors to students. Depending on an institution’s expectations, advisor roles may be formal (assigned and structured) or informal (ad hoc) and can arise in a variety of contexts, including providing advice about course selection and graduation requirements, supervising student externships, serving as an advisor to student social groups, or supervising a student’s directed reading (also known as a directed research or independent study). In some institutions, law librarians do not supervise directed readings, but students are nevertheless required to meet with a law librarian to discuss their directed reading topic.

Librarians engage in many methods of teaching and it’s important to remember that again, there may be overlap between the Pillars. For example, research guides may be treated differently between institutions and have the potential to be seen as a teaching tool, as a form of scholarship, and/or as a form of Librarianship. It will be important to clarify with those responsible for reviewing one’s tenure requirements how they view items, such as research guides, that are unique to the library profession and may not have been raised in the context of a tenure review in the past.

Other useful chapters to consider include Pedagogy by Green, Mattson, and Nie, topics in Government Law Libraries, such as Public Educations, Programs, and Access to Justice at the Law Library by Metheny, and topics in Public Law Libraries, such as Proficiency in Practice: Providing Essential Research Skills for New Associates, by Klausner and Le.


Scholarship is always an important pillar in the tenure-track process. The topic of scholarship is thoroughly addressed in Chapter 28 by Margaret Butler, in which she discusses the role of scholarship in negotiation and promotion, provides recommendations for developing as a writer, and explains the need to identify a regular time to write while balancing time spent on scholarship with other position responsibilities. It is essential to underscore the usefulness of creating a scholarly research agenda and the importance of understanding the different values often assigned to different types of scholarship. Value systems vary between institutions, and it is vital to clearly understand where one’s work will fall on the spectrum of acceptable scholarship under their institution’s tenure expectations. Butler notes that journal articles, books, and book chapters are typically held in the highest esteem, and that book reviews, newsletters, and blog posts are often given less weight. Other items frequently authored by librarians that could be added to this spectrum include white papers, bibliographies, and conference proceedings, which tend to fall somewhere in the middle. Butler also notes the high value of publishing in a peer-reviewed publication, as well as the importance of the number of subsequent citation counts and press coverage one’s material receives after publication.

It is also significant to add that whether one chooses to write with a co-author can also influence the weight of their publication, and a tenure-track candidate will likely be responsible for identifying which portion of the material was written by them personally when submitting a co-authored publication to the tenure review committee for consideration.

A final tip worth adding to the discussion is to always archive one’s research. Some institutions require prolific scholarship; one way to accomplish this is by building upon one’s previous scholarship. Sometimes invitations to contribute to future publications will be based on prior scholarship, and keeping one’s completed research ready for a potential next step can prove invaluable.


Nia’s tenure-track position requires that she produce rigorous, high-quality scholarship, but she is a new librarian still finding her place in academia. She approaches her responsibility strategically by responding to a journal’s call for papers for an upcoming symposium, a special journal issue on a specified topic. Doing so will allow her to initially approach academic writing within the context of a pre-determined topic and present her paper at an event where she will be asked questions and given feedback, thereby strengthening the quality of her final written submission.


Service is often the pillar given the lowest weight in the tenure process, and each type of service may be weighed differently. Service is nevertheless important because it is invaluable to the profession and provides unique opportunities for networking, which often play a role in building your professional identity as a librarian. This topic is covered in depth in Chapter 27, Professional Development, by Tina Dumas, Catherine McGuire, and Holly M. Riccio.

Depending on one’s institution, the requirements of the Service pillar may be quite similar between librarian and doctrinal positions. They frequently include the responsibility to serve on internal law library, law school, and/or university committees, as well as to actively participate in one’s professional community through speaking engagements and external committee participation. Finally, service to the broader outside community may also be recognized in the form of board memberships and other volunteer work.

Any service conducted in the pursuit of tenure is demonstrative of what will continue to be expected of each candidate as a permanent member of the faculty and should be continued following the attainment of tenure.

Mechanics of Attaining Academic Tenure

Every law school that offers tenure or a tenure track position to a law librarian comes to the table with a unique set of circumstances that dictate the nature of the appointment they are able to offer. In addition, it is typical that a tenure-track offer made by the hiring administrator is subject to approval by a faculty vote.

Although it is common for a new librarian to be given six years to complete the tenure track successfully, law librarians entering a position with some existing experience or existing publications may be able to negotiate a shorter tenure track if they desire it. Typical tenure-track models consist of three consecutive two-year appointments or two consecutive three-year appointments, but endless variations exist.

The tenure track candidate undergoes an evaluation at the end of each appointment to evaluate the quality and quantity of their work and to determine whether they are making appropriate progress toward achieving tenure. Each evaluation provides an opportunity to provide valuable feedback to the candidate that will allow them to determine whether they are performing well, need to change course, or need to increase output in any of the pillars.

The Tenure Review Committee

A tenure review committee conducts evaluations. The committee’s composition typically includes faculty members and is determined by law school or university policy. Its membership may change from year to year in the form of a standing committee or, in some instances, an ad hoc committee may be convened as needed. Membership on the committee is limited to those with equal or higher rank, so at institutions that offer tenure to librarians, only tenured librarians are eligible to participate. Depending on the institution, the library director may not have a voting role on a committee reviewing a librarian for tenure and may participate only in an ex officio capacity.

There are two important points to make about a tenure-track librarian’s relationship with the review committee. The first is that there will be instances in which the librarian has served or is currently serving one or more committee members, such as in the form of a library liaison relationship. Although this may appear intimidating at first glance, this may also be viewed as an excellent opportunity to showcase one’s unique knowledge and skills.

The second is that it is not uncommon for review committee members to be unfamiliar with how a law library functions and are more acquainted with reviewing work completed by a doctrinal candidate. This disconnect can potentially impact all pillars of the tenure track process, particularly the Librarianship and Scholarship pillars. In order to bridge this divide, the tenure-track candidate should ensure that their ongoing reports and final portfolio provide sufficient context to educate the committee members about how their work satisfies the tenure requirements for their particular position.

Following its review, the committee may, in turn, submit its findings and recommendations to the faculty for a vote, but this does not necessarily happen every year of the tenure track. Instead, a faculty vote typically comes into play when an appointment renewal or promotion is at stake.

Reports and Evaluations

The tenure track candidate must provide a detailed written report at the time of each evaluation documenting the work they’ve accomplished in each pillar since the last evaluation. Such evaluations typically occur annually but may alternatively occur only at the point of the candidate’s reappointment.

For their final review, the candidate will be given a deadline to submit a comprehensive portfolio of their accomplishments. The portfolio’s contents will demonstrate the candidate’s achievements in each pillar, and each pillar will have a dedicated section with supporting documentation. Other contents typically include the following items: a personal statement detailing the highlights of the candidate’s accomplishments in each pillar; a current CV; copies of annual performance evaluations from supervisors; narratives based heavily on the performance of daily responsibilities; data or reports from the institution’s record-keeping software, such as Activity Insight; recommendations from superiors or supervisors, copies of student teaching evaluations; reports from those who conducted teaching observations; and outside reviews of the candidate’s portfolio. Outside reviews can again assist the review committee in understanding whether a candidate has met the standards and expectations of their profession. Adding a table of contents can be useful for organizational purposes.

At institutions where the candidate periodically undergoes a regular evaluation and reappointment process, the contents of the final portfolio typically may not include materials that have already been evaluated. Each reappointment can be thought of as a “pre-tenure” review because the packet for reappointment is the precursor to the packet for tenure. Therefore, compiling the final tenure portfolio will not be a new exercise for a candidate who has already undergone reappointment.

The Teaching pillar will be evaluated throughout the tenure track through student evaluations of courses taught by the candidate as well as through teaching observations conducted via scheduled class visits from tenured faculty members or via faculty members who invited the candidate to guest lecture in their classes. These faculty members will provide feedback to the tenure review committee and, ideally, directly to the candidate immediately following the observation.

The Scholarship pillar will be evaluated through reviews provided by readers. Depending on institutional policy, readers may be selected from within or outside the institution and will be identified by the review committee. Reviewers selected from outside the institution are often law library directors. In some cases, the tenure-track candidate may also be given the opportunity to suggest readers who have expertise in the topics covered in their scholarship, therefore, it will be helpful to bear this in mind when the candidate is networking and making outside professional connections through committee work and conference attendance.

The Scholarship section of the portfolio will include copies of the candidate’s scholarship. While published works of value speak for themselves as accomplishments, reviewers often look for a theme or a narrative that identifies a unified scholarly agenda. The candidate’s narrative may provide insight for readers outside of the professional law librarian field to better understand the value of their work. Reviews from readers outside of the committee also help to further the committee’s overall understanding. The number of published works required to achieve tenure varies between institutions but typically runs at about three or four publications of significant weight, in addition to a myriad of additional works of lesser weight.

The Librarianship pillar can be challenging to synthesize into a portfolio. It is of utmost importance to keep a constant running record of all of one’s work products and accomplishments. Some institutions may provide software, like Activity Insight, that assists candidates with keeping track of major projects as well as their daily responsibilities and accomplishments. The Librarianship section will also include a recommendation from the candidate’s immediate superior, whether the library director or a dean, that speaks to the candidate’s performance. Similarly, it is important to keep a record of contributions to the Service pillar so that they, too, can be easily recalled and accounted for in the candidate’s reports.


Ben schedules monthly time in his calendar to update his log of activities, including adding new projects and updating the status of existing projects, To keep a current, detailed record of his accomplishments that he can easily convert to a tenure report later. He includes supportive data, such as saving copies of laudatory emails, and relevant context, such as COVID-19 causing a shift in work, whenever possible.

Faculty Vote

The complete portfolio, including the opinions of the review committee and the recommendations of non-committee reviewers, are compiled and distributed to the tenured faculty. The review committee will formally present the candidate to the tenured faculty for a discussion and a vote. A favorable faculty vote moves the process forward, and the candidate will likely find out about this almost immediately, although, depending on the institution, this may involve additional levels of review beyond the law school. For example, at a large, multi-campus institution, after the faculty vote, the recommendation may thereafter be presented to the campus chancellor and, after that, to the university president.


Generally, tenure-track candidates are notified of the evaluation for tenure at the end of the penultimate year or the start of the final year of the tenure track so that candidates who are unsuccessful in their bid for tenure will have time to seek another position. At some institutions, this process may be initiated sooner by the candidate if the candidate feels confident in the quality and quantity of their work product and chooses to “go up early” for tenure, with the permission of the reviewing committee.

A tenure track candidate should never reach the end of their tenure track to learn, as a surprise, that they have not satisfied the expectations to receive tenure. Instead, the law school should offer the candidate significant support each step of the way, from assigning a mentor on the faculty, to offering workshops designed to further scholarship, and even providing a sabbatical or research leave (relief from all teaching and/or administrative responsibilities) for the law librarian to engage in focused scholarship. Such leaves do not toll the tenure clock. They may heighten the expectations of scholarly productivity; in fact, law librarians may be required to produce a report on their productivity following a research leave or sabbatical. On the other hand, taking parental leave or experiencing uncertain working conditions caused by events such as a global pandemic, may toll the tenure clock and, in such cases, there is not the same immediate heightened expectation of scholarly productivity.


The successful candidate is now tenured and promoted. The tenured librarian or library director fulfilled the obligation to further the mission of the institution through Librarianship, Teaching, Scholarship, and Service, and has earned job security and a role in faculty governance. Although the tenure-track can be a significant investment in time, if one has already committed to the responsibilities of the law librarian profession, they are already well on their way.

  • American Association of Law Libraries ALL-SIS Continuing Status/Tenure Committee. Tenure, Faculty Status, and Law Librarians – A Bibliography. Last modified May, 2013.  (This was updated in 2021 per an email from the committee that shared the new, revised spreadsheet, but the update is not yet reflected on the AALL website. We’re inquiring about this.)
  • Carol A. Parker, Tenure Advice for Law Librarians and Their Directors, 103 LAW LIBR. J. 199 (2011).
  • Christine M. Stouffer, Job for Life – Tenure and Other Sticky Situations, A, 16 AALL Spectrum 11 (2011).
  • James M. Donovan and Kevin B. Shelton, Tenure and the Law Library Director 61 J. of Legal Educ. 406 (2011-2012).
  • Elizabeth G. Adelman, et al., Academic Law Library Director Status since the Great Recession: Strengthened, Maintained, or Degraded? 112 Law Lib J. 117 (2020).

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Introduction to Law Librarianship Copyright © 2021 by Amy Emerson and Charlotte Schneider is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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