On Thursday eleven liaisons from Wake Forest University’s ZSR Library joined ten UNCG liaisons in a two-hour benchmarking and brainstorming workshop here in Greensboro. Both libraries have begun to discuss liaison work load and organizational issues. UNCG’s liaison task force will use our notes from the workshop for our benchmarking and recommendation assignments.
This was the kind of workshop in which the energized discussion kept on going after we had finished and were gathering to walk to lunch! We will probably have a round two discussion over at ZSR later this summer to spend more time on brainstorming new models.
Before I provide excerpts from my workshop notes, here are links to other summaries of the get-together:
(Slightly off topic, but you may also be interested in a recent trio of blog posts from UNCG’s Lynda Kellam and WFU’s Lauren Pressley based on a lunch conversation: http://lyndamk.com/2012/04/27/lunch-with-lauren-reference-and-the-research-process/ and the next two posts, and http://laurenpressley.com/library/2012/04/lunch-with-lynda-13-reframing-reference/ and the next two posts.)
Part 1: Benchmarking:
We began by using post-it notes to identify all the work liaisons do now. (I posted on this subject recently, so I’ll skip ahead.) Then we discussed how the time demand of each area of work is changing by creating an “amount of work over time” graph. We decided that almost all of the roles are requiring more time. However, “keeping up with subject knowledge” usually loses out to other priorities and is probably declining in amount of time. Yikes.
We next compared how liaisons work is organized at our two libraries and quickly realized that our systems are quite similar. In both schools, the liaisons are based in many library departments. The majority of academic departments are covered by liaisons in the Research/Reference departments. But many liaisons have other major library roles (ex. electronic resources, cataloging, distance education, etc.)
Part 2: Strengths and Weaknesses
The next step was to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our liaison system. As you will see, we ended up focusing on weaknesses. However, the overall vibe of the workshop was very positive – we want to make our liaison work even better (and also sustainable), which requires significant attention on current weaknesses.
- Wide coverage of academic departments across campus.
- Creating goodwill across the campus and wide promotion of library services. (Folks like learning that you are “their” librarian.)
- Liaisons have some freedom to focus on the aspects of liaisons work they most enjoy (personal choice on emphasis of liaison roles).
- Being able to draw from the various departmental strengths (ex. technology, public service, collections, cataloging, etc.) represented by the liaisons.
- Unsustainable growth in time demands on liaisons. We can’t keep expanding our services and activities indefinitely.
- Holistic reviews of liaison assignments not common.
- Holistic assessment of liaison work not common.
- Having different reporting lines (since we are in many different departments). We have different priorities, as do our departments.
- There is no official oversight and reporting structures for liaison work (although some aspects of liaison work have coordinators, like collections and instruction, but usually without supervisory authority).
- Liaison outcomes and public service statistics not always centrally collected and reported.
- It’s hard to schedule liaison meetings and trainings, since we are based in many departments.
- The need to juggle liaison work with other library work.
- Not always the best match of departments to liaison subject knowledge, and the needs of departments to liaison skillsets.
- Few shared/co-liaison roles. (But there are a few new examples of this in both libraries)
- Too few liaison positions! Liaison work is not always a high priority when it comes to creating or redefining positions.
- There is too much liaison work, so we prioritize based on personal work preferences and/or departmental needs.
- We generally don’t discuss or act upon which academic departments should get more attention and effort than others, based upon their size and/or importance to the university. Too much of a “one size fits all” approach toward liaisoning.
Part 3: Brainstorming
Finally, we formed four break-out teams and gave each team 10 minutes (I wish we had more time) to either brainstorm possible solutions to the liaison time demand crunch or revised liaison models. Then we gathered for quick summaries of the small group discussions (there was some overlap, as you might expect):
- Faculty governance structure as a promotional tool? Reduces promotional workload through liaison roles?
- Subject specialist v. technical/infrastructure specialist? (or perhaps subject specialist v. specialists with specific responsibilities like teaching or collections)
- Use a collections development department to lighten collections load of liaisons?
- Liaisons for the largest or most important academic departments (or liaison duos/co-liaisons) v. clustering the smaller or less important departments? (changing the balance)
- Create more liaison positions. Make liaison work a top library priority. Need to work on making a case for that to library administration.
- Use PDA as much as possible for monographs. Access v. ownership. ACRL and accreditation have to get over counting books owned in our collections.
- Hire more folks.
- Reconsider the demand or mix of specialists v. generalists,
- Reconsider the demand or mix of content/collections specialists v. teaching/public service specialists.
- Still a need for global focus on service, though.
- Approval plans and PDA still have potential to alleviate selection time (although some liaisons might miss selecting titles).
- Relative strengths of having all campus departments represented by a liaison with the full range of liaison responsibility skillsets, versus having people focus on the skills they can do the best.
- Create more tutorials; have students watch some before an instruction session or research consultation.
- More workshops open to a large number of students v. one-shot instruction.
- More tag-team co-liaisonships in order to cover all the liaison responsibilities and skillsets
- Get more student workers (especially LIS students) and library staff involved.
Conclusion: Lunch at Jack’s
We wrapped up by walking over to a yummy Greek place next to campus. A fun, affirming, and productive morning and a nice way to get in summer mode.