The Procrastinator's Guide to the Tenure Process for Librarians

by Dianne Hirning

Being a lifetime expert in the practice of procrastination, I have come to the conclusion that it is much easier to talk about doing something than it is to actually do it. The tenure process is certainly not something you can simply talk about and be successful in your application. You need to make a commitment to yourself to follow through. Currently I am preparing my portfolio so that I can apply for tenure at the end of this year. I have some tips to share that have made my prior lack of planning seem more manageable.


If you are as close to your deadline as I am, set aside about 3 hours per week in your calendar to work on your portfolio. I find it easier to do a 1 hour block 3 times a week. It seems to be easier for me to make the time when I have an appointment with myself. Plan to do this work in a quiet space with limited distractions. It is difficult for me to work on this at home with 4 children offering their unwanted assistance, so I schedule time where I stay late at work and shut my office door. It is quiet and uninterrupted without all the distractions of things that need to be done around the house.

Get Organized

Most articles will tell you to start preparing from the first day on the job, but once a librarian settles in to the demands of reference, collection development, department liaison work, committee assignments, and family obligations, little time seems to be left for the preparation and planning of a tenure portfolio.

In library school, I was told to keep a file of everything thing I had done for professional development, evaluations, and projects so that I would have it at my fingertips when I needed to put together my portfolio. My solution was to keep one HUGE file folder with every paper I thought may be important crammed inside. Random order and not checked regularly, it has become an unruly mess trying to escape from the back of my file drawer. I look at this mess with trepidation, but decide that in order to feel less stress about the whole ordeal, I need to have organization.

Separate your mountain of paperwork into smaller more manageable piles. If your library or academic institution has guidelines for what must be included in your tenure portfolio, use those headings as labels for the different piles of paperwork. I have found that monthly reports to my library director about my accomplishments as well as instructions sessions and work on projects have been really helpful in keeping track of my activitites so that I can include them in my narrative.


Read and make sure that you have a complete understanding of what is expected of you. This can be accomplished by reading your library’s tenure and promotion policy. Meet with your director/dean and find out what things you should focus on in your portfolio. Talk with your co-workers and ask them questions about their experiences with the process. Find out what they did right and what they wished they had done differently. Ask to see a copy of their portfolio so that you have a better understanding of the required format. Pick someone that has successfully received tenure and is willing to help guide you in this process to be your mentor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!


Set deadlines for yourself. Make sure that your mentor or a co-worker knows about your deadlines so that they can help you be accountable for keeping them. If there are a number of you applying at the same time, work together as a group. Meet together to work on goals, share insights, and give each other support. Having this one mutual goal can create great motivation and encouragement.


Take time for yourself. Get enough sleep. If you aren’t getting enough rest, you will feel even more overwhelmed by the whole process. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, take time out for a walk, a pedicure or an ice cream cone. The little things can help alleviate stress and enable you to come back to your task with a clear head and fresh ideas.


When you have a basic portfolio put together, ask your colleagues for input. Get advice from those that have already gone through the process. This input would be valuable coming from faculty members from a variety of disciplines.

Keep your eye on the prize

This is your opportunity to tell the story of how great you are! By scheduling time for work on this project, setting goals, getting organized, being clear of the expectations, staying motivated, caring for yourself, and asking for feedback so that you can improve your work, you will be successful in navigating the tenure process.