A short follow-up to a previous post that left some questions unanswered. Nothing very new or profound here, but since our review of assignments connects to our liaison reorganization goals, I thought I should provide a short update.

Written on November 4:

Back in May I wrote about our planned holistic review of social science liaison assignments being postponed. The posting of our First Year Instruction position (which will include a small number of social science liaison assignments) was also delayed due to a late budget coming out of our state legislature. Recently our Provost gave us the green light to post that position.

Since Nancy our senior colleague is retiring at the end of the semester, she would like to be able to inform her 10 departments who their liaison will be (or least their interim liaison). So the Social Science Team meet on October 30 to (finally) work on a holistic review of assignments.

The team wrote on a whiteboard all the social science departments and programs for which we have liaison assignments. We did generally apply the strategies listed in my May post:

  • considering our existing relationships with faculty in those departments
  • considering our current skill sets and subject knowledge
  • grouping related academic programs
  • etc.

We identified a few departments — Gerontology, Human Development & Family Studies, Social Work — for which we don’t really have liaisons with relevant backgrounds, frankly. Will our new colleague? There is a lot of health science research done in those departments, but our Health Sciences Librarian is already very busy serving the needs of many programs, including growing PhD programs. So I’m curious to see what we will do with those three departments.

It was an interesting discussion and we all felt kind of proud with ourselves for having it I think.

The next step is to give all the liaisons a chance to weigh in on the team’s recommendations. It’s not essential for everyone to be there, but we should at least have representation from the Humanities and Science Teams. Some of the proposed changes might affect them, and the process may help us better handle when a senior colleague with a large number of mostly humanities departments retires someday.

Written today, November 20:

On Wednesday, Mary our liaison leader led an all-liaison meeting to discuss the Social Science team’s plan from October 30. The SocSci folks reviewed what we thought should factor into a holistic discussion and shared our ideas for temporary coverage of Nancy’s areas until we hire our new colleague.

I wasn’t there – had to help evaluate final presentations in the feasibility analysis class – but friends in our Humanities and Sciences team told me the discussion was without controversy. They liked the holistic approach. Someone suggested it should be done every few years even if we don’t have new liaisons on board. They also reaffirmed having liaisons collaborate on the more interdisciplinary departments, like Geography, as needed.

This is a short follow-up to an October post that provided our recent NCLA presentation slides. I posted the slides quickly to share with other conference goers, but would like to add a few notes from the discussion that ended the program.

We (Richard Moniz, Marla Means, and I) learned while developing the program that it is actually pretty hard to cleanly separate subject liaison work from functional liaison work, despite the program title we chose. Many liaisons have to provide both subject and functional services. Maybe a better framework for comparison is balancing subject and functional skill sets, not roles.

The session’s final agenda item was discussing best practices in balancing subject versus functional liaison roles. Here is the summary:

  • Use liaison teams (if your library has enough liaisons to make teams work). Each major functional role could have a team (as is the case at UNCG, along with our three subject teams). Then teams can work together as needed. For example, the science team can work with the scholarly communication team on training and outreach.
  • Or at least pair up a subject liaison with functional expert as needed. For example, the psychology librarian could take the data services librarian to a Psychology Departmental meeting to discuss data management services.
  • Provide lots of training
  • But also have an authority figure in your library establish that it’s ok to ask questions and admit to not being an expert in a functional area
  • Finally (related to above), establish core competencies for functional roles. Expect all subject liaisons to have some base knowledge about scholarly communication options and strategies, for example.

That last idea is appealing to me. This would actually help protect subject liaisons — they would operate under a clearly defined set of expectations. Otherwise they wouldn’t know how much they are expected to know, nor when the functional expert should be called in for support. The uncertainty of not knowing would be stressful.

After drafting those core competencies as a group, then make sure that workshops and personal learning time are provided before the competencies go into effect. Update the competencies as needed.

Tuesday was my last busy day of one-shot instruction this semester, and I’m looking forward to the Kauffman Foundation webinar for entrepreneurship librarians coming up in an hour. We use the Kauffman “FastTrac” workbook at UNCG for the feasibility analysis and business plan classes required of all our ENT majors and minor. So the webinar will hopefully be interesting. I’m trying to write this short post before then.

Emerald’s Reference Services Review recently published a special issue based on the June 2014 BRASS preconference “How Business Librarians Support Entrepreneurs”.  Sarah Barbara Watstein (UNC Wilmington) and Eleanor Mitchell (Dickinson College) edited the issue.

There are some very interesting articles in there. In December after classes end, I’ll post a “readings roundup” and discuss some of them.

Our article:

Sarah Barbara Watstein, Mary G. Scanlon, & Steve Cramer. (2015). “Q/A on teaching credit classes for entrepreneurship research”. Reference Services Review, 43 (3): 480-490. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/RSR-06-2015-0030

The questions Mary and I covered include:

  1. Describe the targeted for-credit instruction courses that you provide at your respective institutions. Specifics pertaining to pedagogy, design, outcome and assessment would be of interest to our readers. At the same time, help our readers out with some background – what was the context for your decision(s) to proceed in this fashion?
  2. What factors influenced your decision to proceed on the for-credit class track?
  3. What feedback or support has business school faculty or administrators provided for the classes?
  4. Have the classes changed since first offered, and if so, how and why?
  5. Reflecting on your experience in and out of the classroom – what are the most common information, reference and research needs of today’s entrepreneurs?
  6. In terms of best practices, how might you advise “newbies” (new academic business librarians, new subject liaisons, etc.) to design instructional services, to meet the needs of today’s student, faculty, community and veteran entrepreneurs?
  7. How is teaching entrepreneurship research different from teaching other kinds of research/business research?
  8. Do you use different resources when teaching in our entrepreneurship programs, or do you use the same resources we use with business majors differently?
  9. Given your experience in the classroom – how are entrepreneurship majors/students different from other types of students?
  10. What is your perspective on the evolving role of the academic business librarian?
  11. On entrepreneurship liaison work?
  12. On business librarianship and entrepreneurial outreach?
  13. What do you perceive as the challenges of stepping out into this space?

Sarah asked Mary and me to keep the tone informal. We even had a bit of faux-dialogue despite communicating through email. Mary is a buddy though, so we have actually discussed some of these things in person. Her experience and insights are very interesting. Mary just rotated off of chairing BLINC for the last four years. We gave her a hearty cheer last week at a fancy BLINC dinner sponsored by SimplyMap during our state library conference.

Sorry, since this is behind the Emerald paywall, I can’t post the article here, but I’ve blogged about my 530 class a lot already.

Happy Halloween to everyone.

Marla, Richard, & Steve presenting at NCLA 2015

Marla, Richard, & Steve presenting at NCLA 2015

Marla Means, Richard Moniz, and I presented at NCLA 2015 today on “The Expanding Role of the Academic Liaison: Balancing Subject Versus Functional Skills” (PDF).

[Summary of the final discussion with the audience]

Marla introduced the topic and provided definitions. Richard discussed the Johnson & Wales University Library in Charlotte, NC as a small library case study. I summarized the interesting experiment at the University of Arizona of having only functional liaisons, and briefly presented UNCG’s team model of subject v. functional teams.

Good comments, ideas, and questions from the audience. Thanks for everyone who came.

There are some cites and links at the end of the PDF.


“For liaison services, subject knowledge used to be enough. Now functional skills are increasingly important — academic libraries are expanding their outreach and advocacy efforts into data curation, scholarly communication, information literacy, distance education services, etc. 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? Two librarians representing a small and large library and a LIS student doing an independent study on liaison trends will lead a discussion on these questions. With help from the participants, we will conclude with suggested best practices.”

Catching up:

Fall break has begun (no classes next Monday and Tuesday) and I look forward to some time to get caught up on work besides teaching and consulting. UNCG LIS student Marla Means continues to impress me as she works on her independent study on academic liaison trends. She blogs on her readings and learnings at http://academicliaisonrolesandtrends.weebly.com/ . Marla’s October 6 post includes an authorized summary of her interview with library liaison Kathy Shields from High Point University, through which Marla gained perspectives on liaison work in small academic libraries. Marla graduates in December and has begun to apply for positions.

Orolando Duffus teaching a section of BUS105 in our new library classroom

Orolando Duffus teaching a section of BUS105 in our new library classroom

Meanwhile, my fellow UNCG business librarian and our current Diversity Resident Librarian Orolando Duffus has already been interviewed by phone for one business librarian position, even though his residency runs through next summer. He might also leave us early like Nataly Blas did, a reflection of what a strong early-career librarian he is. But sad for me too since I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with him. Orolando continues to be embedded with our MBA capstone course, in which the student teams serve as consultants for local companies, and continues to co-teach one-shot instruction with me.

Three months late, our state legislators finally finished the budget. Yesterday the Provost gave us the green light to post our open position that combines first-year instruction with liaisoning to one or maybe two social science departments, depending on the successful candidate’s background. I like this combo because the librarian will get a wider mix of work than a position that focuses exclusively on first-year teaching. (We have a small team that covers all first-year instruction.) I will be chairing this search and while as many of you know search committees are a lot of work, I find it a very interesting process.

Finally, our state library conference, NCLA, comes up in two weeks. Marla (see above), Richard Moniz (head of Charlotte’s Johnson & Wales University Library and author of library science books), and I are almost ready for our program “The Expanding Role of the Academic Liaison: Balancing Subject Versus Functional Skills.” I’m focusing on some organizational models. My main topic is the different organizations that the University of Arizona Library has used through their past teams approach and their current organizational model. The head of their liaison unit kindly gave me 30 minutes of his time on the phone to provide some context that doesn’t show up in the published articles, and to update me on their situation. I’ll compare their model to our current mix of subject teams and functional teams spanning the boundaries of an otherwise traditional departmental structure. Look for a post on that later this semester. Other NCLA friends are presenting about liaison services and business librarianship topics, so I will try to summarize key points of those too.

Today’s topic:

One morning a few years ago, I walked over to the Graham Building to do a workshop for 90 students in the “Introduction to Consumer Retailing” class, a large freshmen/sophomore class in the CARS department. I got there early to get the computer set up and prepare for the active learning work. At the clock approached 9am, I was surprised that there weren’t more students in the room, and that the ratio of female to male students was 40-50%. Then a youngish professorial type walks in, politely introduced himself, and indicates surprise to see me all prepared to teach his students. Turns out this class was “Abnormal Psychology”. I was in the right room but showed up an hour early!

The professor joked that the students might prefer my subject matter to his. So sheepishly I returned to the library, confirmed the time of the consumer retailing class, and returned to Graham an hour later to teach (where this time the male-female ratio was the expected 90% or so).

My wife finds this tale hilarious and sometimes tells it to linguistics students at Wake Forest University when she visits a class to guest-teach.

Last month I provided one-shot research instruction to two classes for the first time — an MBA class on international business, and a 500-level Economics capstone course – and had very different experiences. I came away lessons learned from each.

The MBA class was taught by a prof who (as when I’ve visited her other classes) didn’t introduce me or link my research workshop to the class research project. I introduced myself of course, but didn’t do much of a job in selling the value of the workshop. First mistake. I should have asked the prof to open the class, instead of assuming she would.

Before having the students work in teams to explore important tools for “doing business in country X” research, I wanted to demonstrate and discuss searching for international company “corporate trees” using OneSource (Infogroup). I had practiced earlier in the week (example, the largest Swedish companies HQed in Sweden, and largest international companies operating in Sweden). But I hadn’t bothered to note my search parameters. Mistake #2, since there are different ways to set up the foreign firms search. The OneSource advanced search is moderately complicated, as it needs to be to handle the complex nature of international business, various types of ownership, etc. So I screwed up the quick demo search based on our discussion.

The assigning of student teams to explore a key resource (ex. the World Bank guides) and summarize its value to the other students was a sound idea, but without having reviewed the nature of the research project, the students didn’t take it as seriously as they should have. (And Euromonitor was really slow that hour, which didn’t help.)

So I ended up a bit bummed about that class. It reminded me not to get overconfident and not to forget some basic best practices of teaching research instruction.

The Economics class was taught by a senior prof who has done a lot of historical research on U.S. public policy using old government documents and other historical sources. So I (and our government document librarians and our ILL staff) know him well. He’s a nice guy but also very intellectual. Like other Econ profs, I have found him a little intimidating to work with (which is not his fault).

For this capstone course on economics aspects of public policy, he told me that the students don’t go beyond Google enough and therefore asked for the first time if I could provide a research workshop. He emailed me about two pages worth of background notes on the nature of the assignment, their information needs and past info seeking behavior, and his desired research competencies for the students to learn. He also told me that he was listing more learning goals than I would have time to cover in one class period.

I spent a lot of time prepping for this class. But I enjoyed having a good reason to explore the ProQuest Congressional database, and enjoyed exploring the six student’s proposed policies, which the prof gave me ahead of time. Examples include the creation of Amtrak and restructuring of the electric utility industry. I could tell that some of the proposed policies were not yet well-defined (ex. “interstate banking”) and would need some work to refine and focus.

Two of the students were already in the computer classroom when I arrived to set up, and immediately told they had already found the LibGuide useful (they had a link to it in Canvas). Being a small class, I was able to shake everyone’s hand before class and pretty much had learned their names by the end of class.

I could tell that students were on the verge of being overwhelmed with research options by the end of the 75 minutes, but the prof told me after class this was exactly what the students needed and he was very thankful.

So unlike after the MBA class, I was feeling very good after this Econ class. But I had spent so much time preparing for it that I was now behind on preparing for my next round of classes. Sigh. So thank goodness for fall break.

So our department heads and administrators are reviewing some statistical policies. (Hooray to those folks for working on stuff like that so liaisons like me don’t have to!) We learned that the current ACRL definition of “consultation” is:

Consultations are one-on-one or small group appointments (i.e., scheduled) with a library staff member outside of the classroom. Include consultations conducted in a physical or digital/electronic manner. Include appointments made with special collections or archives staff. This does not include any walk-up transactions, no matter what the length or topic discussed [emphasis mine]. [Source — PDF]

So all you subject and functional specialists out there, what do you think of that definition?

Scenario 1: a PhD student walks by, sees you are in your office, and asks after a greeting “So I worked on that research strategy regarding my dissertation we talked about last week — that was great advice by the way, thanks! — can I talk about a follow-up problem with you?” And then you chat about this for 15 minutes.

Scenario 2: You get a chat message from a student team working in a computer lab at the other end of the library: “Hey, Steve, our Export Odyssey team has a problem with our shift-share analysis of the trade data — can we come over and talk about it for a few minutes?” And they do, as we examine their Excel formulae for a while.

So according to ACRL, these two scenarios are not consultations. Instead they are just reference questions, equal to “Where is the bathroom?” and “How late is the library open?”

Pretty foolish definition of a consultation IMO.

Library specialists (whether in subject matter, formats like government information, or technology) generate consultations through their special skills, skills their target market learn about through proactive engagement with classes, friendly and inviting library guides, word of mouth marketing, etc.

So a consultation to me is a substantial research session — both scheduled and unscheduled — in which patrons seek out a specific library specialist for his/her specialized knowledge and skills; the consultation can be in person, online, or by phone.

(Yes, we could debate what “substantial” means.)

Ok, not the most elegant definition, but I hope you get my drift there. This ACRL committee needs to get out of its traditional library mindset to embrace and encourage the vital role of library specialists who actively promote their skills and services to students and faculty. The results of such work can be research appointments as well as pleasant surprises.

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.


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