Yakaboski, Tamara

Committee Member

Black, Kim

Committee Member

Smith, Mark

Committee Member

Larkins, Randy


College of Education and Behavioral Sciences; Department of Leadership, Policy, and Development: Higher Education and P-12 Education, Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership


University of Northern Colorado

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Greeley (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created



268 pages

Digital Origin

Born digital


Literature on academic librarians has indicated that academic librarians take a subservient role to disciplinary faculty and defer to disciplinary faculty in the context of information literacy instruction regardless of their own expertise (Downey, 2016; Julien & Pecoskie, 2009). This deferential relationship has not been explored in any meaningful way; thus, the behavior that is most negatively influencing librarian-disciplinary faculty relationships has been disregarded. The purpose of this mixed methods study was to explore academic librarian deference behavior in order to understand how the behavior manifests. Specifically, this study used an explanatory sequential mixed methods design with the participant selection variant, which allowed for the first quantitative phase of the study to be used to purposefully sample for the second qualitative phase. This study used Cunningham’s (2012) Theory of Paradoxes and the Potential for Play as the guiding theoretical framework to study the work of academic librarians and the role of deference behavior in their work. In the first phase, 139 teaching-focused academic librarians working at 4-year institutions in the United States participated in the Academic Librarian Behavior Survey. Results from the survey were used to determine the participants for the qualitative phase. Twelve academic librarians participated in the second phase, which consisted of two online focus group interviews as well as two writing prompts and a member check. During these interviews and reflection opportunities, the participants discussed their work in academic libraries, their relationships with disciplinary faculty, and the role of deference behavior in their professional work. Findings from the study were presented within four themes that suggest that institutional culture and emotional stressors in academic librarians’ work lead to deference behavior but that the underlying causes of deference behavior in academic librarians are poor library leadership and poor education and training for academic librarians. Implications of the findings offer suggestions for improving library graduate education and academic librarian onboarding and professional development. This study is significant for teaching-focused academic librarians at all levels of their career but especially for middle managers leading library instruction programs.

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Available for download on Wednesday, May 31, 2023