Vine, R. (2018). Realigning liaison with university priorities: Observations from ARL Liaison Institutes 2015–18. College & Research Libraries News
Rita Vine is head of faculty and student engagement at the University of Toronto Libraries, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
. In 2017–18, she was visiting program officer for the Reimaging Library Liaison initiative at the Association of Research Libraries.
The overarching goal of the institutes is to acknowledge a library’s primary traditional services (instruction, collections, reference) while challenging conventional thinking about what is needed for the future and how best to provide it. Exercises are designed to help librarians move from “what’s in it for the library” to “what’s in it for the university.”
Top ten observations
1. Liaison librarians would benefit from greater exposure to institutional research priorities at their university.
2. Liaisons find it easiest to engage in classroom support and access library resources. Research engagement is harder. Moving into new areas of engagement is challenging when faculty continue to see librarians as buyers of content or helpers of students.5 Liaisons experience little pressure from individual faculty to venture into new areas that have not been typically associated with libraries. If asked to engage in new areas, some liaisons find it intimidating to step outside of familiar roles to probe and advocate for new capabilities and services that faculty may not be ready to discuss, or which liaisons may not yet fully understand.
3. Liaisons are both eager and anxious about shifting their roles from service to engagement. Anxiety manifests itself in feeling inexpert or untrained in technical areas.
The need for training in many different and complex technical skills, like data numeracy, publishing practices, and research data management,
4. Many liaisons’ professional identity and value system revolves around disciplinarity, service, and openness, and less around outreach and impact.
5. Some liaisons see outreach and engagement as equivalent to advocacy, library “flag-waving,” and sometimes “not my job.” My note: as in “library degree is no less better the Ph.D., it is like a physicians degree.”
6. Finding time, space, and motivation to undertake deeper outreach is daunting to many liaisons. Liaisons were very reluctant to identify any current activities that could be terminated or reimagined in order to make time for new forms of engagement. Particularly in institutions where librarians enjoy faculty status, finding time to engage in personal research concerned liaisons more than finding time for outreach.
7. Liaisons want to deepen their relationships with faculty, but are unclear about ways to do this beyond sending an email and waiting.
8. Many liaisons are unclear about how their work intersects with that of functional specialists, and may need prompting to see opportunities for collaboration with them.
9. While liaisons place considerable value on traditional library services, they have difficulty articulating the value of those services when they put themselves in the shoes of their users. Groups struggled to find value in aspects of traditional services, but had little appetite for serious reconsideration of services that may have lost all or most of their value relative to the time and energy expended to deliver them.
10. For liaisons, teaming with others raises concerns about how teamwork translates into merit, promotion, and other tangible rewards. Liaisons wonder how the need for increased teaming and collaboration will impact their reward structure. My note: I read between the lines of this particular point: it is up to the administrator to become a leader!!! A leader can alleviate such individualistic concerns and raise the individuals to a team.
three recommendations for research libraries to consider to help their workforce move to a robust engagement and impact model.
- Foster more frequent and deeper communication between librarians and faculty to understand their research and teaching challenges. Many liaisons will not take even modest communications risks, such as engaging in conversations with faculty in areas where they feel inexpert, without strong but supportive management interventions (as per my note above).
- Find ways to help librarians use internal teaming and collaborations to solve university challenges. My note: Chris Kvaal, thank you for introducing me to the “hundred squirrels in one room” allegory. To find way to help librarians use internal teaming, librarians must be open to the mere idea of teaming.
- Increase liaison activity with non-departmentalized units on campus, which are often drivers of institutional initiatives and university priorities. Units such as institutional research services, teaching centers, and senior university offices can connect the library to high-level institutional projects and provide opportunities to engage more liaisons and functional specialists in these areas.
more on blended librarian in this IMS blog
more on embedded librarian in this IMS blog