The current discussion underway on the Modern Language Association (MLA) Job Information List (JIL) seems to be focused on whether the list is open (or open enough) and whether the JIL should be replaced with something else that would meet the need to share information on job postings.
In a related vein, nearly a year ago, I called MLA to inquire about the JIL, because I’m working with two academic library HR scholars who were interested in setting up a system to house position descriptions for academic libraries. The new project has been met with great interest and support and development is underway with external funding for the ARL Positition Description Bank (ARL PD Bank). The goals of the ARL PD Bank include many needs that the JIL supports for modern languages, including having a database of job descriptions for what people do, where, when those positions are changed, and reporting and tracking new positions and position types (which can then indicate changes in the field, etc.).
While I don’t have any HR expertise, I was very excited by the ARL PD Bank project because I knew the value of this sort of system from the JIL. The JIL does a whole lot more than support information on jobs for job seekers – the database and data enables reporting and analysis on jobs and the market overall. ARL is the Association of Research Libraries and they do a great deal of work that’s similarly supported by MLA’s JIL, but the JIL is an excellent and more extensive database and data repository for my interests. My interests stem in part from the changes with the Digital Humanities, with more #alt-ac positions and the need to track and analyze trends in order to facilitate ways of connecting job seekers and positions when crossing traditional boundaries.
Last year, my call to MLA about the JIL was delightful. This paragraph is from my notes from that call. I learned on the call that MLA maintains all of the data for past years, and that people doing research can contact the MLA (like I did) with questions and for access. The JIL, at least a year ago, ran on an Oracle database, Perl scripts, and had a web-based submission and search form. All departments have a login and they pre-fill some of the institutional information for any job submissions. MLA reviews the postings for the correct categories and to ensure legal compliance. When the jobs expire, the expired listings remain. MLA creates a new instance of the database for each year. The PDFs of materials stay available and people can always refer to the PDFs as the print edition. Five PDFs are published per year, which is necessary for compliance with the Department of Labor requirements that for a foreign national to be hired, the position must be posted in the US in print.
My notes from the call are clearly rather brief. I remember taking brief notes specifically because I found the discussion to be so helpful and so well-oriented to how MLA supports the JIL as a service to everyone in the field – job seekers, institutions posting jobs, and everyone for data gathering and analysis. I also remember finding the Department of Labor requirements intriguing because I’d never considered this need, which is clearly so important when dealing with scholars, where there may so few qualified people for certain positions.
In the discussion on the JIL, I haven’t seen the discussion of Department of Labor requirements come up, but I have seen similar requirements create the need to re-post a job for a dear friend of mine who is in the position being posted and is seeking US citizenship, so there’s a need (that I don’t fully understand the rules of) where the institution must do even more to prove that there are no qualified and interested US citizens (and it’s a pretty specific position that resulted in multiple failed searches before this person came to the position, so this is known and now the paperwork is in place to support that).
I’d like to also support what Sarah Werner has posted in the comments on the Chronicle article, “I am not convinced, despite the arguments made on various blog posts about this, that access to the MLA’s Job Information List is really so difficult;” and what Cheryl Ball has posted, “I hope that others will trust that this org is making headway in leaps and bounds to make our fields and working conditions better.” I am not in any way seeking to reject the calls to have the JIL more open. My hope is that we all remember our shared goals to improve all aspects of our field, including the job market and our working conditions, as well as the ongoing data collection and analysis that enables future change and which the JIL currently supports. This does not mean that the JIL should not change, but MLA’s recent record shows a great deal of interest in changing, adapting, and growing to support its constituents. I would argue that MLA can best and most quickly make those changes with the input and support of members of our field.