Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln



Mary Bolin

Document Type


Date of this Version



Mary K. Bolin (2014), The Language of Academic Librarianship: The Discourse of Promotion and Tenure, in Delmus E. Williams, Janine Golden (ed.) Advances in Library Administration and Organization (Advances in Library Administration and Organization, Volume 32), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.213-264


This article examines the discourse of appointment, promotion, and tenure (APT) documents for academic librarians. Discourse analysis can illuminate the social role of language, social systems, and social practices. This qualitative research analyzes the APT documents for librarians from a group of US universities (n= 50) whose librarians are tenured faculty (n = 35). Linguistic features were examined to identify genre (text type) and register (language variety) characteristics. The documents showed strong relationships with other texts; vocabulary from the language of human resources (HR); grammatical characteristics such as nominalization; passive constructions; few pronouns; the “quasi-synonymy” of series of adjectives, nouns, or verbs; and expression of certainty and obligation. The documents have a sociolinguistic and social semiotic component. In using a faculty genre, librarians assert solidarity with other faculty, while the prominent discourse of librarians as practitioners detracts from faculty solidarity.

This research is limited to librarians at US land grant institutions. It has implications for other research institutions and other models of librarian status. This research can help academic librarians fulfill their obligations by understanding how values encoded in these documents reflect positive and negative approaches. Higher education and academic librarianship are in a state of flux. Understanding the discourse of these documents can help librarians encode appropriate goals and values. Little has been written on the discourse of librarianship. This is a contribution to the understanding of librarians as a discourse community and of significant communicative events.

Keywords: Academic libraries; faculty status; discourse analysis