Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Retaining Intellectual Capital: Retired Faculty and Academic Libraries

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Retaining Intellectual Capital: Retired Faculty and Academic Libraries

Article excerpt

The intellectual life of retired faculty members, whose numbers will skyrocket in the coming years, can be enhanced with adequate library support. This paper provides a descriptive study of the professional activities of emeriti faculty at one large public research university, assessing their needs for continued access to library resources and their knowledge of what library privileges they continue to have in retirement. The results of a brief survey of all public Association of Research Libraries (ARL) webpages to determine what peer institutions are providing for their retired faculty are also presented. The paper concludes with a set of policy recommendations for how academic libraries can better serve the needs of their emeriti faculty.


The retirement of the baby boomer generation in the coming decades is one of the most important socioeconomic forces shaping the future of public policy and business strategies in the country. It has attracted attention from all segments of society, from politicians to the healthcare industry to the housing industry. Persons over sixty-five are the fastest growing population group in the United States, and their numbers will begin skyrocketing in 2011 when baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1965) start reaching retirement age. The number of people in the United States age sixty-five and older is projected to increase from about 40 million in 2010 to 55 million in 2020 and almost 70 million by 2030. The percentage of the U.S. population sixty-five and older will increase 15 percent between 2000 and 2010, but is projected to increase by almost 36 percent between 2010 and 2020. (1)

Although mandatory retirement policies became illegal in 1994, these demographic trends translate inevitably into a rapidly growing number of retired faculty in university communities. (2) One third of all U.S. college professors are now fifty-five or older, compared to less than a quarter in 1989. The percentage of full-time faculty aged seventy and older has tripled in the past ten years. (3) All of these figures foreshadow a large increase in the number of retired faculty in the coming decades.

Colleges and universities have always dealt with the retirement of their oldest and most experienced professors and their replacement by younger cohorts, of course, but the acceleration of this trend in the coming years could put many academic institutions under unusual stress. University libraries, as the "collectors, organizers, preservers, and disseminators of information," are uniquely placed to help ease the stress faced by the university from the upcoming explosion of baby boomers retiring. (4) Libraries not only could support the continued intellectual activity of these faculty in retirement, but they can also help preserve the corpus of their work and, as much as possible, make the accumulated knowledge available to future generations of university faculty.


The concept of intellectual capital provides a theoretical framework to help understand the stress that can be caused when an unusually large number of highly experienced members leave any organization. As sociologists, economists, and management theorists have long recognized, members of any organization collectively develop certain "human" or "intellectual capital" that is essential to the efficient operation of the organization. Some theorists define these terms narrowly, limiting them to those things an organization is designed to do. For example, Baron and Armstrong define human capital as "the knowledge, skills, abilities and capacity to develop and innovate possessed by people in an organization," while they define intellectual capital as "the stocks and flows of knowledge available to an organization." (5) In both cases, Baron and Armstrong, representing a management perspective, focus almost exclusively on the organization's ability to do what it was created to do. …

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