The 2015 Coleman Fellows Summit wrapped up Saturday in Chicagoland. This was my third summit, after first attending as a newbie fellow and a year later as the UNCG assistant director. Like last year, Professor Dianne Welsh and I presented on business models, feasibility analysis, and the research that cross-campus entrepreneurship faculty should be expecting their students to conduct for those reports. But as in past years, the main contribution I made to the summit was (hopefully) promoting business librarians as partners in entrepreneurship education. There was some feedback from campus directors that they had since gotten involved with their own business librarian. That was great to hear although it might have happened anyway of course.

Because Dianne and I ran our workshop twice, I was only able to attend one other workshop: a CSU Fresno lecturer on running an “urban entrepreneurship” class. (He also founded and runs a pub downtown that provides community programming and serves as a hub for outdoor markets.) For half of the class periods, the students meet downtown. They learn how to “read a downtown” and conduct primary research into its situation and potential. Class assignments include writing restaurant reviews, writing letters to editors on downtown issues, helping organizing “loft hops” (promotion of downtown housing), and presenting on a proposed downtown business concept to local officials and developers. Very cool! Carol and I have lived on the edge of downtown Winston-Salem since 2001 and have enjoyed seeing the revitalization and growth.

The new UNCG fellows come from English, Geography, and Gerontology. Fellow UNCG veteran fellow Bill Johnson, the UNCG “Dream Dean,” (who helped me out last winter at the arts entrepreneurship conference) also attended. A big part of my summit experience was bonding with this group.

Filming a clip at the outdoor pool

Filming a clip at the outdoor pool. We broke several resort rules in this shot.

A new summit activity this year was brainstorming a business idea and then making a video pitch for potential investors – all in 3-4 hours. Our idea had to be a type of subscription box. As you probably know, common examples of subscriptions boxes include wine, craft beer, local food, and sex supplies (probably the first use of boxes? Those folks are also on the cutting edge of new technologies and delivery models). ENT 300 has had several subscription box ideas researched lately, most recently NC craft beers.

Bill and I hamming it up on the links

Bill and me hamming it up on the links. Note my unusual golfing attire.

Anyway, we tried to come up with a new box idea (really hard to do) and ended up with discounted prices on interesting recreational, enrichment activities for couples (ex. theaters, resorts, wine tastings, etc.) We decided that having fun and bonding was our main goal for this project, so we got silly with some role playing all over our own resort location. (That’s why I’m not naming the other fellows involved!) The only tech we had was an iPad. We did have a lot of fun. But the downside was less time to network with fellows from other campuses and learn from them.

Hope everyone is having a good summer.

Catching up: summer liaison chores

Lost sandal on Lake Michigan snow fence

Lost sandal on Lake Michigan snow fence. From a summer trip.

I have three weeks left of summer work mode before a two-week vacation, three days back at work (including a short workshop for MBA orientation), and then the Coleman Fellows summit in Chicago. (Professor Dianne Welsh and I will again be presenting on teaching business models v. business plans.) Return on Saturday, enjoy a Sunday with Carol, and then fall semester classes begin the next day (Monday, August 17). Whew. I’ll be co-teaching ENT 300 and MKT 426 once again, we will have a bunch of new reference interns, and LIS student Marla Means will begin her independent study on liaison trends.

Carol and me biking

Carol and me biking. Note the Mergent t-shirt that Greg S. gave me at ACRL.

This is the time of summer when I can get kind of bored at work, frankly. There are no research-intensive classes taught in the business school in the two 5-week summer semesters. And after some interesting requests for research support from faculty and grad students in early May, that source of liaison work has largely dried up for the summer. But I recently peer-reviewed a manuscript submitted to a collection development journal (never done that before), and wrote an external peer review for a tenured librarian who applied for a jump in rank. Those both took a while (appropriately so).

I’ve thoroughly updated my LibGuides (deleting a few course guides for classes I haven’t worked with for a year) and turned my “Citing Business Databases in APA Format” guide into a PDF file. LibGuides version 2 is sucky with HTML and I was tired of fighting its ugly messy nasty markup coding. It was actually liberating to rebuild that list of example citations using Word (then saving as a PDF). I expanded the background notes, adding a few database-specific notes, and added a few more sources while retaining time-saving internal hyperlinks.

Now I need to focus on updating many of my screencast videos (example: the newish interfaces in Euromonitor and Mintel). For some reason I procrastinate on that work each summer. I need some Chad Boeninger pills!

Partnering for conference programs

Richard Moniz of Charlotte’s Johnson & Wales University Library (and prolific author of library science books), Marla Means, and I just got our program proposal to the North Carolina Library Association Conference accepted. (NCLA accepts almost all submissions, so no biggie, but it’s a good state conference.) Working on that proposal was a fun summer project. Our title is “The Expanding Role of the Academic Liaison: Balancing Subject Versus Functional Skills.” The core questions we will discuss with the audience will be:

  • How should libraries balance these two types of liaison roles?
  • Should libraries hire functional specialists to partner with the subject liaisons, or somehow train subject liaisons to pick up the needed functional expertise?
  • And how should these functional and subject specialists be organized and managed?

If you have wisdom regarding those questions, we would love to hear from you! There are some excellent-sounding programs on other aspects of liaison work as well as business librarianship (courtesy of BLINC) at NCLA 2015, so I’ll post some summaries in October.

This week Diane Campbell (Rider University), Mary Scanlon (Wake Forest University) and I finished up a program proposal for the 2016 Small Business Institute Annual Conference in New Orleans. This is a small conference for small business and entrepreneur professors. Diane has spoken at SBI a number of times, but this will be a first try for Mary and me. Our title is “Teaching Entrepreneurship Research Skills to Students: Best Practices from Three Entrepreneurship Librarians.” We should know by November if we are accepted at SBI. Maybe in 2017 we will try to speak to the professors at USASBE.

Summer readings on liaisoning

LJ (Lisa Peet) interviewed the new University Librarian of Columbia University, Ann Thornton. Thornton ended a long answer with

The library staff get engaged as well, and they’re increasingly partners with faculty in teaching and learning, and in research as well. That’s a big shift for all academic research libraries.

Peet responds “Is that something you hope to promote at Columbia?”

And Thornton replied:

Oh yes, and it’s already happening. The faculty who work closely with their liaison librarians are happy—I hear what good service they feel they get and what great rapport they have, really solid working relationships. They know whom to contact; they feel well served; they are frequently asked about what they would like added to the collections. But I think it’s less understood at a macro level how librarians are truly partnered with faculty in terms of teaching and research. We probably need to do more to tell that story, and are looking for the right ways to do that.

Very cool to hear liaison work on teaching and research touted so highly by a new director. Telling the story of liaison contributions has been an increasing emphasis here too, with encouragement from our library dean and provost.

The issues of visibility and partnering with faculty are central in a recent ACRL post by Sarah Crissinger: Navigating (New) Relationships with Faculty: Valuing Service. Sarah is a newly-hired Information Literacy Librarian at nearby Davidson College. She discusses the need for new and established liaisons to build “fruitful, collaborative partnerships” with professors. But then she pulls in other bloggers (Maria Accardi, Lauren Wallis) concerning the status of academic librarians on their campuses.

The “feminization of LIS” comes up as well as “moving beyond service”. Hmm but service can lead to collaboration and partnerships, in my experience. Providing service doesn’t have to lead to becoming a servant. Lawyers and medical doctors provide services but certainly don’t get paid like servants. Is that a fair analogy? Let’s ignore the issue of student debt for the moment!

Some of the discussion and linked posts get a little over my head with critical theory, but there are many interesting thoughts in here. Read the comments, too. Sarah took the time to reply to each of them, nice.

Last year Lauren Wallis wrote about creating a one-credit class, Honors 308: The Politics of Information with a librarian colleague. It’s always interesting to read about librarian-created classes that have a subject focus, and Lauren is frank about the process of creating this class.

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).

Last month in the “Catching up” section, I wrote about one of my senior colleagues retiring in December. She currently covers 10 academic departments, mostly in the social sciences. We have been discussing the nature of the replacement position and how the social science team will handle revised liaison assignments:

We hope to advertise the open position this summer and have the new colleague on board in January. The liaison team leaders have meet for a preliminary discussion about what this position should focus on, and the Social Science team will meet next week to discuss a holistic review of our social science liaison coverage. Being holistic about the departmental assignments was a goal of our liaison reorganization — now we will give that a try. I’ll post about how that is going in May.

Alas, that holistic review didn’t actually happen.

My colleague wants to keep her liaison assignments through December, with the exception of Psychology, which one of the science librarians with medical library experience will be taking on this summer. But my retiring colleague will be writing up some of her institutional knowledge of those academic programs for the benefit of the next liaisons for those departments.

So the holistic review will probably wait until January. We hope to have our new colleague by then, so he/she will be able to participate in that discussion. (The new person will probably split time between freshmen instruction (with others) and social science liaisoning.)

But at that most recent social science meeting, we did at least brainstorm what a holistic review would look like. The heads of the Humanities and Science teams attended the meeting too and contributed to the discussion.

Nature of a holistic review

A holistic review of our liaison assignments to academic departments, programs, etc. has been a goal of our reorganization since the early days of that planning process.

In response to our ACRL program, several librarians have asked what the impact our liaison reorganization is having on students and faculty.  That’s a good question. This kind of liaison assignment review might be one answer, if the result is better service to the faculty and students.

So here is what we think a holistic review will look like:

  • Matching liaisons with academic subjects they have subject knowledge
  • Matching liaisons with academic subjects they have interest
  • Clustering academic departments together in useful ways (ex. those requiring significant data services, or heavy users of primary sources in the humanities).
  • Similarly, having one liaison serve all the departments in a small school, to facilitate branding (“Hi! I’m the education librarian!”) and expand liaison outreach to the school’s administration office and research centers.
  • Balancing the expected workloads of the liaison assignments (ex. taking into account the amount of teaching and consulting expected – currently, our service stats vary widely by liaison).
  • But recognizing that an academic department that historically “hasn’t really needed or wanted liaison services” could in fact become a department that embraces library instruction and consultations, after some fresh outreach and partnership-building. (This has happened at UNCG recently with some of the sciences.)
  • Also recognizing and balancing a department’s need for subject skills versus functional skills (partnering with the functional specialists? See below for a related point).
  • Creating co-liaison assignments to help serve very large departments or those with complex needs. (We once had two English liaisons, one focusing on their big book budget and the other on services – that partnership worked out well for both liaisons as well as the English faculty and students).

So maybe in January I’ll post about how our holistic shifting of our social science assignments went. No promises this time, though!

The Carolina Consortium met at UNCG yesterday for its annual meeting and mini-conference. The most interesting program I caught was UNCG’s Tim Bucknall on “The Carolina Consortium OCLC Discovery Deal: an Oxford-Style Debate” featuring Angry Tim vs. Satisfied Tim. OCLC’s Chris Manriquez moderated. Angry Tim wore a black hat and spoke first; Satisfied Tim donned a white one. (The Consortium recently negotiated an OCLC deal after NC LIVE dropped OCLC at the beginning of 2015.) A good discussion with diverse viewpoints and experiences followed. Maybe Tim’s program will resurface at the Charleston Conference this fall.

I also enjoyed seeing BLINC friends (some are heads of collections or e-resources librarian), a former intern, and other friends from the two states.

The mini-conference included 8-minute lightning round presentations. I responded to the call for presenters with the proposed topic of “Are There Alternatives to Expensive Business Content?”

The intended audience would be heads of collection development, not business librarians. My topic was accepted and I began working on slides, based on personal experience negotiating deals with vendors, dealing with our declining budgets, and what I’ve learned from recent BUSLIB traffic and BRASS online discussions.

Right away I figured out that this topic was really much too big to cover in 8 minutes. So lesson one: plan or write-out your full lightning round before submitted it for consideration.

Usually I do fine with pacing and timing in a research workshop or conference program. But those events always include significant time for practice and active learning (for a class) or discussion and Q/A time (for a conference). Those activities provide flexibility in timing. There’s not really any flex time in a lightning round!

At the beginning of the talk, I told everyone I would only have time to define the unusual nature of business information, and then cover the hottest recent topics in business databases for NC LIVE, PASCAL (a South Carolina state-wide database package), and the consortium. The slides covering other categories of business content would be available through the secure part of the Carolina Consortium web site.

Lesson two: don’t plan on using the timer on your iPad if the iPad goes to sleep two minutes after setting the timer for eight minutes. Foolish mistake. My helpful colleague Beth Bernhardt helped me with timing after that.

The next lightning round was “A Follow-Up on UNC Charlotte’s eTextbook Program” by Liz Siler. Halfway through Liz’s presentation, the fire alarm sounded and we had to evacuate the building. (Contractors renovating the nearby food court probably tripped the alarm.) So that was the end of the lightning round segment of the mini-conference.

Catching up

This is the final week for my entrepreneurship research class. The students present their capstone research today and Thursday, and then create their written versions that incorporate my suggestions. I’ve really enjoyed working with this small group of students, and think they will miss each other too. Based on this semester’s experience, I may tweak the topics covered and for how long. I’ll post something on those decisions if they seem interesting enough.

Richard Moniz from Johnson & Wales University alerted me to the short article “Organizing the Liaison Role: A Concept Map” [PDF] by Judith E. Pasek in the latest issue of College & Research Library News. Pasek focuses on building relationships with faculty and students. Check out her concept map “of librarian liaison activities and relationships, emphasizing outreach approaches.”

(That issue also includes “Large-Scale, Live-Action Gaming Events in Academic Libraries” by WFU friends Hubert Womack, Susan Smith, and Mary Beth Lock. Many more pictures are available from the ZSR Library Flickr site.)

Finally, my colleague Nancy Ryckman, who has ably served as a UNCG Social Science Librarian for over 35 years, has decided to fully retire this December. She began phased retirement about a year ago. Nancy’s shoes will be difficult to fill: she is responsible for 10 academic departments, and also contributes much to collection development, the management of the Reference Room, and governance of the library faculty.

We hope to advertise the open position this summer and have the new colleague on board in January. The liaison team leaders have meet for a preliminary discussion about what this position should focus on, and the Social Science team will meet next week to discuss a holistic review of our social science liaison coverage. Being holistic about the departmental assignments was a goal of our liaison reorganization — now we will give that a try. I’ll post about how that is going in May.

Today’s topic

Our enterprising Dean of the Libraries, Rosann Bazirjian, shared our new liaison roles document with our new provost, who was interested enough to put the topic on the agenda of last week’s Deans’ Council meeting. This group consists of the provost (also serving as our acting chancellor), the deans, and some of the vice chancellors. Rosann asked colleague Jenny Dale and me to provide a 15-minute overview of the contributions liaisons are now making across campus, and also how our liaison reorganization supports that work. Jenny is our hard-working First Year Instruction Librarian and also the liaison to English, Communication Studies, and Kinesiology.

Rosann introduced us (she was chairing the meeting since the provost was attending a funeral). Jenny and I told everyone that we wanted to begin the short discussion by with a…

True/False quiz on UNCG Library Liaisons

  1. True / False: At the request of the Director of the Doctoral Nursing Program, the Nursing Liaison reviewed each Nursing PhD candidate’s literature review before the students could move forward with their writing.
  2. True / False: The Music Liaison was awarded a research stipend to work on her book using primary sources stored in Paris.
  3. True / False: The Meteorology Liaison goes skydiving with the master’s students each semester.
  4. True / False: The Honors College Liaison reviewed the Honors College’s artists-in-residence applications.
  5. True / False: The First Year Instruction Librarian chaired the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee last year.
  6. True / False: The Political Science Liaison teaches in PSC as an adjunct lecturer (most recently, PSC 300: The Politics of Genocide).
  7. True / False: The Culinary Arts Liaison holds research consultations at the Old Town Bar & Grill every Friday afternoon.
  8. True / False: The liaison department head presented at a conference in Abu Dhabi last month.
  9. True / False: The Business Liaison teaches a 500-level class listed across four departments representing three schools.
  10. True / False: The new Nanoscience Liaison traveled to the Joint School to meet the faculty, learn about the school, and to offer teaching and research support.
  11. True / False: Many liaisons teach graduate classes in the LIS department.
  12. True / False: Liaisons are helping other faculty create and publish open-access journals like Partnerships: A Journal of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement.
  13. True / False: The Parapsychology Liaison supports research in the astral plane.
  14. True / False: The Data Services Librarian advises faculty and graduate students on data management plans, ex. for NIH-funded research.

Jenny and I decided to begin our short talk with this quiz for a few reasons:

  • Having fun;
  • Providing many examples of liaison work;
  • Making sure we provided examples from each school;
  • Providing a physical reminder of our discussion.

We passed out the quiz to everyone and after a couple of minutes reviewed the answers. Most of the deans figured out that there were three “Falses”. Two of them are pretty obvious. #7 is also false: we don’t have a Culinary Arts department, but maybe we should have liaison consultation hours at the campus bar.

After laughs for #13, I mentioned that Duke University used to have such a research center. Folks would call the reference desk in Perkins Library asking for its location. We would have to tell the caller that it’s now an independent organization called the Rhine Institute. One of the deans joked “you should have just replied to those callers, ‘shouldn’t you know the answer already?’”)

After the quiz recap, Jenny and I said a few words about aligning liaison work with the campus’ high impact factors. We also emphasized that the “Liaison Roles” document does not indicate a sudden new direction for our services, but instead reflects our current practices. The document codifies the evolution of our work and priorities over last 10 years or so.

Dr. Terri Shelton, the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development spoke briefly about the positive outcomes of the librarians working with her committees on research, scholarly communication, and data management.

I missed the quarterly BLINC workshop to do this with Jenny (and to help grade the first round of final presentations in the feasibility analysis class, ENT 300, that afternoon). But Rosann later told Jenny and me that the deans enjoyed the quiz and that many were taking notes. That’s good because they didn’t ask many questions at the end; Jenny and I were a little worried about that.

Portland street scene


Carol (librarian at WFU) and I traveled together to ACRL. This was our second visit to Portland. Across the four days, we only had one evening of rainy weather. All attendees received public transportation passes for the duration of the conference, which made it so easy to get around to hotels and parties. All the programs were in the convention center. I enjoyed seeing several ex-interns, who looked all professional and confident as early career librarians.

Business Librarians & Vendors

Most of the core business vendors exhibited. Geographic Solutions sponsored a dinner at a Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood Mexican restaurant where we sang “Happy Birthday” to Charles. En route to the dinner I enjoyed getting caught up with LMU Business Librarian Nataly Blas, whom I hadn’t seen in a while, as well as chatting with other business librarians as we strolled through the most interesting residential neighborhood we had seen in Portland. Other business vendors organized get-togethers too.

The business librarians’ party at the Hair of the Dog Brewing Company on Friday evening was fun. There were around 30 of us there. The place was crowded, so we ended up in several smaller groups in different corners of the pub. Not ideal for mixing, but the best we could do given how busy the place was. Mallory and Dave from InfoGroup took good care of us. A friend from S&P joined the party (paying for his own drink), and I enjoyed getting caught up with him. A bunch of us further bonded by walking through the rain from the pub to the science museum for the all-conference reception.

Despite strong presence of the business vendors and significant attendance by academic business librarians, there was no official ACRL event involving business librarianship, nor for other subject specialists. I wonder if that was a missed opportunity for ACRL. A program on data literacy was as close as the conference got to specialized content.

Too much information literacy?

In contrast, the conference was dominated by information literacy topics. Courtney McDonald mentioned this already in her conference summary. She encouraged folks with other interests to submit more often. However, my wife wondered if ACRL’s uber-complicated submission form contributed to the lack of topic diversity. Among many other requirements, the form required submitters to identify learning outcomes – a natural perhaps for information literacy librarians, but not a common way of thinking for other types of librarians. So maybe the submission requirements helped weed out non-info lit topics.

Many of the program slides and handouts are online.

Upskilling liaisons

I joined several roundtable discussions – a nice alternative to the panels in big rooms. One was called “Upskilling Liaison Librarians: Code, Community, and Change.” Librarians from Temple University — Jenifer Baldwin, Jackie Sipes, and Caitlin Shanley — discussed the creation of their informal “Code Rascals” group. Thankfully they didn’t advocate for the click-bait mantra of “all librarians should be coders,” but instead explained the need for liaisons in their library to be more proactively involved with local information technology services. The discussion expanded to include learning opportunities and workload issues for liaisons expanding their functional skills, ex. data curation. (This has been a topic of interest in our liaison reorganization process.) We also talked about how to make liaisons accepting of imperfect knowledge when expanding roles – not always an easy or comfortable thing to do, especially when the expectations of functional skill levels are not officially defined by management. The Code Rascals formed on their own and are charting their own course. Their library also has an informal data literacy group.

Teaching outside your comfort zone

Two librarians from the University of Minnesota—Duluth, Kim Pittman and Jodi Grebinoski, led a roundtable on “Confronting the Unfamiliar: Teaching Outside Your Comfort Zone”. Comfort zones could be defined as subjects (business research came up twice) or formats (ex. large lecture or synchronous online). We discussed strategies and resources to expand our zones:

  • Asking a librarian friend to review your lesson plan;
  • Getting the students’ topics ahead of time and pre-researching each one;
  • Reviewing or assigning videos;
  • Emphasizing that students should learn from their research mistakes, as well as the teaching librarian’s mistakes (ex. “How can we fix this failed search?”)
  • Using ALA, ACRL, or RUSA subject guides or those of other libraries;
  • Attending faculty and graduate student talks in order to learn the core concepts and lingo.

Someone added that fear can be liberating and energizing, too.

Instruction interns

Ariel Orlov and Ning Zou of Dominican University facilitated a discussion on “Instruction Interns in Academic Libraries: Keeping Everyone Happy”. They provide intensive training in library instruction for interns in the fall semester; in the spring, the interns teach solo. This helps the library meet the demand for library instruction in the spring. Some of the library students already have teaching experience but have no experience with online classes. We discussed creating sustainability info lit programs, the ROI of teaching interns to teach, and how to set up the teaching-to-teach program. The UNCG reference interns primarily work at our information desk, but some each semester do practicums on teaching; I try to offer teaching opportunities to my liaison librarianship independent study students. The Dominican example is a more ambitious approach.

Facilitating inquiry

Veronica Douglas (St. Mary’s College of Maryland), April Aultman Becker (Research Medical Library, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center), and Abraham Korah (Lone Star College-CyFair) presented “When the Question Means More than the Answer: Facilitating Inquiry to Improve Research.” [Google presentation – note the very sharp design] [Handout with questions for audience participation]

This smart panel presented three frameworks for getting students to think thoughtfully about the research process, and the decisions they make en route. Very interesting and thought-provoking. The panel even covered some limitations of the frameworks (we appreciated their frankness). Download their presentation and take a good look at it. April is a medical librarian – one of the few special librarians to attend ACRL? – and I really appreciated her observations. We can often learn a lot from medical librarians.

Real life-long learning?

At a program on life-long learning, a CSU business librarian (sorry, I forgot his name or from which campus) questioned the panelists’ focus on scholarly research. What percentage of college graduates need to use scholarly research in their jobs and post-college life? Are librarians really thinking about life-long learning needs? A really good question! Financial literacy, political literacy, health and healthcare literacy – those seem much more relevant to real life-long learning. (Someone else asked if citation styles like APA are relevant to life-long learning – another good question.)

Data literacy lesson plans

Adam Beauchamp (Tulane University) and Christine Murray (Bates College) presented “Promoting Data Literacy at the Grassroots: Teaching & Learning with Data in the Undergraduate Curriculum” [PowerPoint]. This was maybe the most practical program I attended (which means I liked it a lot), even though the output of the students’ research was assumed to be the dreaded research paper (as opposed to experiential learning and/or community-engaged projects business student teams increasingly develop). Check out the lesson plans described in the slides. Early on the panel noted that data curation is way beyond most undergraduates – the students first need to know how to find and then utilize data (a good reminder when our administrators get carried away pushing us liaisons into new advocacy roles). The speakers also noted the need to teach undergrads that using other people’s data is not plagiarism. And they taught me a new word, operationalize: thinking about how a research topic can be quantified and measured. The example was measuring hipster gentrification – how can you measure hipsterness? ReferenceUSA, Nielsen, and Experian came up as possible data sources. Some of the social science librarians expressed suspicions of market research data – no surprise there!

Liaison reorganization

Attendees coming in to the Liaison Reorganization panel

Attendees coming in to the Liaison Reorganization panel

Our program seemed to go well: New Models for New Roles: Creating Liaison Organizational Structures that Support Modern Priorities. [PowerPoint] Jutta Seibert from Villanova and I had dinner together at LOEX last May, but I hadn’t met Margaret Burri from Johns Hopkins before this ACRL (we had just talked on the phone when UNCG benchmarked innovative liaison organizations like JHU’s). My sharp colleague Lynda Kellam covered UNCG’s experience. All three main speakers did well and took different approaches to the topic. We responded to questions until we ran out of time.

Questions and comments in person and through Twitter:

  • As we add new liaison roles, what work can we give up?
  • Team structures that get too complicated can hinder getting your work done.
  • Several folks like Johns Hopkins’ example of hiring a “student engagement librarian” who provides outreach external to classrooms. (Hu Womack at WFU does similar work.)
  • Agreement that liaisons should not be spending much time at the reference desk anymore (at larger libraries, at least, where there’s more staffing options).
  • The assessment email discussion list recently had a discussion on assessing liaison work.
  • Are there other models for assigning subjects to a newly-hired liaison besides assigning whatever subjects are left over?
  • The predominance of cross-functional teams in all three examples.
  • Balancing (or not?) hiring for function v. hiring for subject skills.
The speakers on liaison reorganization at ACRL 2015

The speakers on liaison reorganization at ACRL 2015

One interesting Tweet question: “Besides improving workflow and culture, have there been measurable changes for users?” Hmm that might be hard to measure. Advocating new goals like data curation, open access, and textbook affordability might be examples – it’s easier to pursue such work in a team environment and without a heavy emphasis on tradition collections and reference work.

Carol on weeding

Meanwhile, in the next room, my wife Carol gave her presentation on weeding, which apparently went well too. [PowerPoint]

After our programs was the final keynote, and then ACRL 2015 was over.


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