Save the Time of the Faculty | From the Bell Tower

New research sheds light on how faculty members spend their time. The bottom line is they have too little of it to do all that is expected of them. This creates opportunities for academic librarians to save them time.
Steven BellNew research sheds light on how faculty members spend their time. The bottom line is they have too little of it to do all that is expected of them. This creates opportunities for academic librarians to save them time. Ranganathan’s fourth law of library science (save the time of the reader) makes no reference to faculty. But the advice applies quite well. Academic librarians do many of the things Ranganathan had in mind to achieve efficiencies that save community members time. As hard as we try, though, our sometimes confusing systems and methods result in time wasted. For example, I encountered a student who was unable to find a book with a WZ call number location in our stacks. She told me there were no WZ books at all. I imagine she spent more than a few minutes trying to prove to herself that she wasn’t going crazy and actually knew how to use the library. A quick check of our online catalog gave the obvious answer. The book’s actual location was our medical library—where they use WZ. The information was correct, but owing to human failures—both ours and hers—we broke that fourth law. We always knew faculty were busy, but now, equipped with some research data on the many functions competing for faculty time, academic librarians must make an even greater commitment to find ways to uphold the fourth law for our faculty colleagues.

Too Little Time

Faculty members lack the time for all the reading they’d probably like to be doing if they could fit it into their day. According to some emerging research on how faculty allocate their time to different tasks, their time is stretched across many competing functions. While reading wasn’t one of the primary functions specified, when you look at the data, it’s a wonder where faculty find the time for it. The Time Allocation Workload Knowledge Study (TAWKS) project run by John Ziker, chair of the anthropology department at Boise State University, and Matthew Genuchi, a professor of psychology at Boise State, is an effort to obtain accurate data on how faculty spend their time. The project’s origin is a recent policy adopted at Boise State requiring all professors to spend 60 percent of their time teaching. TAWKS is the system for collecting data on how faculty time is spent. A representative group of faculty tracked their daily activities over an academic calendar year. Ziker shared some early results and findings with Inside Higher Ed. What the data show is that faculty are doing much more than just teaching or research, and are finding it difficult to accomplish all that is required of them in the course of a routine work week.

How It’s Spent

Among the functions faculty were asked to track beyond teaching, research, and service were administration, mentoring, advising, professional association activity, and transit to and from campus. Faculty reported, on average, working 61 hours a week, with about 10 of those occurring on weekends. For those surveyed, teaching consumed the greatest percentage of time, about 35 percent. If you hear your faculty colleagues complaining they spend too much time in meetings, it’s actually about 17 percent of that 61 hours a week—which does sounds like too much. The majority of the faculty work weekends, but it’s typically time spent keeping up with teaching responsibilities as opposed to research projects. Research isn’t being ignored, though. Faculty devote more average time on weekends to research than they do during the weekdays. It can shoot from just a few hours each day to nearly 25 percent of their time on weekends. Ziker said that, though the topic needs more research, despite all the talk of interdisciplinary projects and collaboration, the data suggests that faculty do most of their work alone. Reading and literature review did appear on a list of time spent on secondary academic activities, but at barely 3 percent of the total time faculty report. Putting together all the numbers leads to the conclusion that faculty have little time to waste.

Where Academic Librarians Can Help

In their article “Ten Timeless Tips for Keeping on Top of Teaching Technology”, Poling and LoSchiavo refer to the difficulties faculty face in finding the time to keep up with the latest developments in teaching technology. Ziker didn’t even ask faculty how much time they spend on this endeavor, but given all the other activities that compete for their time it could hardly amount to much, perhaps not even 1 percent of their total work time. That’s where the opportunity lies for academic librarians. With so little time to spend on discovering new technologies, particularly those that could become time savers, faculty could sure use some help from librarians. Many academic librarians who work with faculty, usually on a research assignment or an in-class instruction session, could share a story about how they introduced that faculty member to some totally unrelated technology. It might be a reference manager, Google Docs, a software feature that saves a few steps, or a technology or app that makes keeping up with reading more efficient. No doubt many faculty would like to help their students become better researchers. High quality research leads to writing worth reading. It also means faculty spend less time on corrections and plagiarism checks. Time saved! But faculty lack the time or experience needed to help students develop those effective research skills. You see where this is going. The opportunities are there for academic librarians to do exactly what Ranganathan recommended to them with his fourth law—tweaked slightly for the 21st century. Go forth and save the time of your faculty.
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