I returned from vacation on Monday, just in time for our liaison teams’ half-day retreat. In preparation for the event, our liaison leader Mary Krautter considered three recent articles on liaison trends for possible group discussion. She chose one for the retreat, but all three are interesting. (Thank you, Mary, for sharing these.)
“From Engaging Liaison Librarians to Engaging Communities” by Anne R. Kenney. College & Research Libraries. 75th Anniversary Issue. May 2015, 76:386-391
This short article is a “companion essay” to Kara Malenfant’s 2010 article “Leading Change in the System of Scholarly Communication: A Case Study of Engaging Liaison Librarians for Outreach to Faculty” (reprinted in this special issue). Rather than provide an update from Minnesota’s experience, Kenney summarizes “six key issues that will affect the [liaison] model moving forward.”
She recognizes right away that the so-called “liaison movement” has many models: different strategies for providing subject-based and functional services, for example, and liaison programs that intentionally include or exclude collection development work. Kenney mentions the possibility of liaison teams, but otherwise focuses on liaison roles at the expense of different strategies for organizing and leading liaisons. (We talked about this problem at ACRL recently.)
Some of the other issues are general academic library trends applied to the roles of liaisons, like assessment and advocacy on scholarly communications.
“A Method for Evaluating Library Liaison Activities in Small Academic Libraries” by Jonathan Miller. Journal of Library Administration. 2014. 54(6) 483-500.
Miller (Rollins College) provides a “practical method for formative, self-reflective assessment of the liaison activities of individual librarians and to evaluate liaison activities in general.”
The emphasis is assessing individual liaisons. [See the Shelfer article below for another example of this, but without the survey instrument.] In the published literature, the library found no usable models for assessing individual liaisons and so started from scratch. (I think if this library had asked via library listservs for unpublished models, they would have received a number of them. UNCG has used some.)
After the literature review, Miller describes the reform of their largely unmanaged liaison program into a “Your Librarian” program. Instruction had been the main focus of this group of liaisons; after reforming, more liaisons also worked with collections. The library’s description of “Your Liaison” roles (Appendix A) reads like the typical roles for liaisons assigned to academic departments. The description includes an interesting “Tips & Tricks” section. Examples: “No, means not yet. Be persistent” and “Solve their problems on their terms, not ours” – very cool.
The assessment survey is provided as Appendix B. The guts of the form is a checklist of outreach activities like “She/he solved a problem for me or my student(s.)” and “He/she sought my opinion about library resources (journals, databases, books, etc.)”.
The vast majority of faculty who filled out the survey properly identified their liaison, which speaks very well for the Rollins College liaisons (although perhaps there was some self-selection regarding which faculty bothered to fill out the form; 59% of the respondents reported that a liaison taught in their classes). Miller notes that asking faculty about those possible outreach services also educates faculty about what the liaisons can do for them – a wonderful side effect of liaison surveys.
The survey results are prepared for each liaison. (Miller doesn’t tell us who prepares and sorts the data – but he is the director and so I bet he does that work.) In response, each liaison has to prepare a “draft liaison plan” that covers the next two years of liaison work. Then each liaison meets with the library director to discuss his/her survey results and liaison plan. The individual liaison’s results are compared to the aggregate results. The liaisons also meet to review the aggregate results and share successful outreach strategies. The big goal here is creating a culture of “continuous reflective improvement.”
Miller notes thoughtfully that power relations between the librarians and faculty are always at play and need to be considered:
Honest, reflective, formative self-assessment is difficult at the best of times. It is made even more difficult when, for instance, an untenured librarian is asked by the library director to consider and respond to negative responses from faculty…Librarians who choose to implement a version of this liaison evaluation procedure should explicitly consider these issues of power and employment status at the outset to avoid later misunderstandings.
An excellent, well-written, and useful article.
(If this topic is important to you, take a look at ACRL’s 2014 book Assessing Liaison Librarians: Documenting Impact for Positive Change, edited by Daniel Mack and Gary White. It’s sitting on my desk but I haven’t looked at it yet.)
“Librarians as Liaisons: A Risk Management Perspective” by Katherine M. Shelfer. Journal of the Library Administration & Management Section. Spring2014, 10(2): 21 [Available through Ebsco’s Library, Information Science & Technology database]
The writing here can be curious. Example:
“Librarian liaisons must be able to adapt, communicate, discover, flex, focus, lead, meet, seize, strive, serve, and work in teams to add value to their communities.”
Yet Shelfer raises some interesting and important points, especially regarding assessment practices applied to liaison work. Consider:
“Service performance metrics that emphasize administratively convenient categories tend to push each librarian liaison to provide every service to every member of every subpopulation, regardless of goodness of fit. However, services are actually ‘rationed’ in that services available to some are not available to all for a number of good and sufficient reasons. Also, the levels of ‘expertise’ vary, so librarian liaisons are not interchangeable.”
Shelfer is an LIS professor and can get pretty intellectual, but also expresses empathy for the challenges of being a liaison: “Some liaisons will not be successful, despite everyone’s best efforts, for reasons that are beyond that individual liaison’s control”. She advocates for rewarding liaisons who partner with others or work in a liaison team to reduce risk of outreach failures.
Shelfer offers advice to library administrators on how to best support and assess liaisons. Library managers, not liaisons, should be the ones to deliver any bad news to academic departments, she asserts; liaisons should remain positive advocates for their stakeholders. Library managers should not utilize “identical job descriptions, rigid activity plans and quotas” since department needs vary. And managers should work with liaisons to balance liaison workloads.
She surveyed liaisons at an unnamed college library regarding their outreach efforts. In response to the results, the library’s Outreach Coordinator worked with the liaisons to provide better support of largely untouched academic departments via liaison partnerships. A few liaisons refused to participate in the follow-up reports and discussions, given their distrust of library administrators. (Power relations again, as Miller would put it. Or collections-centered liaisons resisting the need for evolving liaison roles?)
Shelfer concludes with a series of “problematic choice behaviors” in libraryland outreach strategies that go way beyond the power of individual liaisons to affect (ex. complex social and economic issues like digital divides).