The second week of classes is winding down here at UNC Greensboro. The Export Odyssey students in International Marketing are off to a good start. This afternoon we review their opening lists of possible host manufacturers; we spent most of Tuesday’s class discussing the best industries to target and how to identify SME companies using Hoovers/Duns/soon-to-be Mergent Intellect. Helping teach ENT 300 for the first time is proving very interesting. Professor Welsh has empowered me to participate in any way I like. I’m still trying to keep up with all the group discussions and file exchanging going on in Blackboard. I’ll post an update on this class next month. Lynda Kellam (our friendly neighborhood Data Services Librarian) and I led a long research workshop for GEO 533: Economic Geography on Tuesday night, and I oriented new MBA and freshmen entrepreneurship living-learning-community students on library goodness. Next week looks to be quieter.
Meanwhile we are finishing up the final report of our Liaison Task Force, launched back in March. After a leadership team retreat in June, we were asked to focus on the public services work of liaisons and to assume that liaisons’ collections work would be deemphasized in the future (as in the Minnesota example that Duke, Washington, and other schools have followed). Most of our liaisons now focus on public service work over collections, so this course correction in the task force’s charge was not disruptive.
I’ve already blogged about identifying our current liaison responsibilities, brainstorming the strengths and weaknesses of our current liaison model with friends from Wake Forest University, and benchmarking a few innovative liaison models. Since those steps, the task force has presented three possible organizational models to the UNCG liaisons for feedback, and then written up our final report. So I’ll wrap up this topic by summarizing those three proposed organizational models.
If we get some interesting questions and comments from our November Charleston Conference program concerning this project, I might post an epilogue. And I will certainly let you know if Library Administration charges us with actually implementing one of those models next year!
1. A Collections Department
This might look old school to many of you, but having staff support under our existing hard-working Collections Coordinator would be new at UNCG.
If UNCG liaisons will be expected to spend much less time with collections work, then much of that workload will have to be handled elsewhere. A Collections Department– even if small – could relieve the liaisons of some workload. Since most academic libraries have a collections department, we feel this is a conservative recommendation.
Our recommended model for a Collections Department is simple: the Collections Coordinator focuses on collections work and supervises at least one staff position, who supervises a student worker. The Coordinator reports to the Assistant Dean for Collections and Technical Services.
The proposed staff position assists the coordinator with routine collections work and special projects. Examples include:
- Developing spreadsheets related to budgets, subscriptions, collections, etc.
- Collecting usage statistics and preparing reports on that data
- Checking holdings in catalogs
- Assisting with title-by-title book selection and maintenance of the approval plan
- Working on weeding projects
- Assisting with promotional initiatives
- Evaluating donations
- Communicating with faculty, liaisons, and vendors
- Supervising and training student workers
We suggest the possibility of this department including a liaison who divides his or her time between the Collections & Liaisons Departments. This liaison could be one with strong interest and skills in collections work who can help both departments with the shift of collections work from one department to the other.
To facilitate the transfer of most collections work from liaisons to this department, it might be useful for the liaisons to begin keeping track of collections projects they are currently doing. We could review this list in terms of what work needs to be assumed by the Collections Department and what work can be scaled back or dropped completely. We should also consider services (ex. adding more patron-driven acquisitions aggregators and expanding the approval plan) that might reduce collections workload, and what policies (ex. asking each liaison to consider de-duping print volumes after buying new ejournal backfiles, instead of automatically deciding to de-duplicate superseded holdings) could be changed to likewise reduce workload.
Out of our brainstorming with the Wake Forest librarians came the idea of prioritizing what academic departments get “full service” (proactive public service plus collections work) from a liaison versus those departments that basically just get collections support. Perhaps the folks in this little collections department could take care of some or most of the “limited service departments,” too, while the liaisons – never enough in number — handle the full service departments.
2. A Subject Team Model of a Liaisons Department
The Liaisons Department is the home of the “full time” liaisons: those whose core responsibility is public service engagement with academic departments, learning communities, and research centers. The head of the liaison department reports to the AD for Public Services, reflecting the department’s focus on public service. (As we describe this model, we assume a Collections Department exists to allow the full time liaisons to stop doing most of their present collections work.)
Sorry these illustrations are pixelated. They can be opened in full size.
The Liaison Department has a leadership team consisting of the department head and functional coordinators. These coordinators provide expertise in core functional activities like instruction and research support, as well as assist the department head with goal-setting and annual evaluations. The functional activities represented by these coordinators become mainstreamed into the work of the department. The coordinators are also liaisons serving in the subject teams. The types of functional coordinators could change over time, reflecting evolving needs and priorities.
The liaisons are organized into subject teams characterized by collaboration and flexibility. Subject teams could include liaison partners (ex. we have two librarians working together to cover English) as well as LIS interns. Within each subject team the liaisons pool their subject knowledge as well as functional expertise. Liaisons work together as needed to meet the library’s engagement goals and the needs of academic departments. (Such teamwork is already happening in the library, if informally.) Teams work together to set teams goals and are held accountable for those goals. Different teams likely end up with different goals, depending on the nature of the academic departments being covered. For example, supporting research enterprise might be a more significant goal for the natural science and social science teams than the humanities team. Individuals still have goals established through their annual review process.
View #1 of a subject team: a pool of subject knowledge:
View #2 of the same subject team: a pool of functional specialties:
Here are four possible examples of collaboration with a subject team:
- The library learns that several humanities departments are interested in learning more about the “digital humanities.” The Humanities Team works together to sponsor a forum and discussion on the digital humanities for humanities professors.
- The Social Science Team develops a marketing campaign to promote open journal systems for the social science departments and research centers at UNCG.
- Faculty from several performing arts departments partner with several entrepreneurship professors on a grant project to study and promote arts entrepreneurship in Greensboro. The music, art, and business librarians join the project team to provide research skills and support concerning the arts industry (an example of collaboration across liaison subject teams).
- Four consecutive sections of NUR 210 (i.e. sections meeting back to back) desire a research workshop on a Monday in which the health science librarian will be out of town at a conference. That librarian works with two other members of the Natural Sciences Team to plan those workshops; the other two librarians lead the instruction on that Monday.
Each subject team has a coordinator who plans occasional subject team meetings and works with the department head on workflow and time load issues. This coordinator role could rotate among the liaisons in the team. Peer evaluations of teammates would be very important.
The subject knowledge, functional skill sets, and preferred liaison activities of the liaisons should be surveyed. Such a survey would help us define the skill sets available in each team, and would help us determine what training or skills development would be most useful to pursue. (Utah State did something like this — see the benchmarking post.)
While liaisons work together in subject teams, each liaison is still assigned target academic departments. Thus the academic departments continue to have one identified liaison in order to facilitate communication and maintain a “human face” of the library.
There are still functional teams among the liaisons. For example, the specialists in instructional technology from each team could get together with the DE coordinator to work on projects that benefit all the liaisons. Such interdepartmental functional teams already exist here.
The staff position assists the coordinator and the subject teams with their projects. Examples of possible work include:
- Leading library tours, teaching freshmen library instruction classes, and assisting with other teaching activities as needed
- Helping develop instructional technology projects including LibGuides and video tutorials needed by the liaisons
- Developing fliers, posters, brochures, and other publications needed by the liaisons
- Assisting with promotional initiatives like faculty orientation, research fairs, etc.
- Collecting liaison-related statistics and preparing reports
- Scheduling departmental and subject team meetings and workshops
- Supervising and training a student worker.
These proposed Collection and Liaison Departments would not solve the work-load issues currently faced by the full time liaisons. Instead, prioritizing liaison responsibilities and campus units – and encouraging liaisons to say “no” more often based on those priorities – are the actions that can really help with work load. Some campus units (departments, centers, learning communities, etc.) could get more attention and effort than others, based upon their size, need for library resources and instruction, and importance to the university (our Chancellor has identified “high priority programs”). Instead of a “one size fits all” approach, prioritizing would help the liaisons devote time and energy where they could have the greatest impact. The subject teams could discuss which academic department should get full attention and which should get minimal attention.
According to our “Major Responsibilities of Liaisons,” general reference service is not a part of liaison duties. Therefore we have not addressed the staffing of the physical and online reference desk here. If we did create a Liaison Department from our existing Reference & Instructional Services department, we assume an interdepartmental team would staff reference services, with referrals made to liaisons as needed.
At this point in our final report, we refer the readers back to the “Strengths & Weaknesses of our Current Model” section (see the blog post on the brainstorming with the WFU folks for raw version of this list) to consider how this centralized liaison department could do better than our current decentralized approach.
3. Functional Team Model of an Academic Engagement Department
Our task force charge requires us to propose more than one possible liaison model. So we choose a functional focus as the alternative. This model was inspired by the library at the University of Guelph. After losing 12 of its 34 positions in a crisis involving structural deficits, this library moved from a liaison service model to a team service model (more details in PDF).
In this functional team model, liaisons become functional specialists that serve any academic department, research center, etc. needing their specialized support. Here are examples of possible functional teams:
The teams could change over time, reflecting the evolving priorities of the library and needs of the campus. For example, if the library makes data curation a top priority, a team could be formed to focus on that function. (A team serving a lower-priority function should probably be retired to compensate for the new team.)
In this model academic departments no longer have a decided library “face”. Instead the academic departments are directed to the team coordinator appropriate to their functional needs. Some of the teams would probably have reason to collaborate (ex. a 1st-Year Instruction Team and an Instructional Technology Team); other teams would have less reason to interact with others. While some librarians might serve on multiple teams, most librarians focus on one functional area.
The librarians would be able to leverage a core skill set, rather than be expected to have many skill sets. A strong emphasis on functional skills would have to be made in hiring decisions. Strong support of training opportunities to develop functional skills would be vital.
As with the subject team organizational model, a staff position would support the work of the functional teams.
Can you tell which of those two liaison models the task force preferred? But it was interesting to talk about the functional model-based department.
Feedback welcome on any of this.