Friday, December 08, 2006

Article Note: On advice for new liaison librarians

Citation for the article:

Stoddard, Richard A. et. al. "Going Boldly Beyond the Reference Desk: Practical Advice for New Reference Librarians Performing Liaison Work." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.4 (July 2006): 419-427.

Read via ScienceDirect.


Liaison work is one of those things they really don't teach in library school. Even if you take coursework for specialists, those courses often teach you the resources in a particular area. They don't really teach about the human element. By that I mean communicating with faculty and communicating faculty and cultivating collaborative endeavors. This article provides some advice in the human element department for new librarians who get a liaison assignment. The authors are (or were at the time) new librarians, so readers are getting the advice from authors sharing what they learned as they went along. I personally found that to be valuable. This article is definitely for new librarians, but I think some veterans looking for new ideas may find it useful as well. As usual, I will take down some notes and add some comments here and there.

  • "Increasingly, librarians must find creative ways to reach out to faculty through library instruction, customized class Web pages, and other types of specialized library services. In this age where Internet search engines compete heavily with libraries as prime information providers, liaison librarians must continually remind their clientèle about the advantages of the library and the services they offer" (420).

It is important to remember that liaison work is not just collection development. It also involves things like instruction and specialized research consultations.

  • "'Learn by doing' is a philosophy you should employ not only as a library liaison but also in librarianship in general" (421).

I know that is part of my teaching philosophy as well.

  • "In addition to these techniques, find a reason to e-mail your liaison faculty at least once every two weeks if not more. Tell them about a new service or remind them about an old service. Each time you contact them, you not only inform them about library services, but you also remind them that you are there and that you can help them" (421-422).

I like the e-mail idea in principle, but I wonder if the suggested frequency might be viewed as intrusive by some faculty. I wonder also if a well-marketed subject blog could serve some of this role. In a campus where a lot of faculty range from indifferent to downright hostile regarding the library, I wonder about this idea. However, it is something I would be interested in exploring.

  • "In some ways, a liaison librarian is an inventor: you must envision possibilities, rethink services, and seize upon opportunities. Do not be afraid to use technology if it will enhance your services to your department" (422).

The corollary to that is not to start using technology simply because it is cool, and you want to be hip. For instance, it makes no sense to create a blog if you are not able to maintain it well.

  • "The sooner you acquaint yourself with your academic discipline and its organization on your campus, the sooner you will know how the library can meet faculty needs. If you lack an academic background in your liaison area, do all you can to learn about that subject"(423).

If you are not familiar with your new assignment, remember that you are a librarian. You know how to find information and how to learn (or you should. It's part of what you were supposed to learn in library school). Use that knowledge and training to identify key sources (electronic and print). Learn about discussion lists, listservs, and anything you can put on your rss reader. If you don't know what an rss reader is, it's time to learn. Now, I am guessing that large prestigious universities can afford to hire a subject specialist, maybe one with a doctorate. We can leave aside the issue of whether a doctor needs the MLS too for a librarian position. In the interest of disclosure, I think they do. The point is more for librarians in smaller settings where wearing multiple hats is more likely. At Big Research U., you may have art librarians, music librarians, and librarians for various foreign languages. In my setting and line of work, all those areas fall under Arts & Humanities, which is my liaison assignment. Again, a good librarian uses his or her ability to learn and adapt as needed, especially when given a liaison area outside their comfort zone. As the saying goes, "you adapt, you improvise, you overcome."

  • "Having the ability to recognize the key figures, theories, and publishers will help you hone in on the best sources. In terms of reference interviewing, remember that each discipline has its own jargon and you will need to 'talk their talk' in order to understand the questions that people ask you. Also, faculty will have greater confidence in your guidance if you converse with them in their language" (423).

The article also features good advice on effective communication with faculty. The authors look at things such as collection development, library instruction, and research assistance. They also include various tables that serve as good checklists.

1 comment:

T Scott said...

I haven't read the article yet, so I don't know if the authors address this, but it is also critical to remember that being a liaison requires two-way communication. Along with getting information to the faculty about library services it is essential to be a good listener. Liaisons should be sure to spend some of their in-person time listening to the faculty talk about their work and their concerns and issues, whether those appear to have immediate library application or not. These are important pieces of relationship building.