During lunch at my desk today, I took a look at my oft-neglected newsreader (for this time in the semester) and saw the article “ARL Library Liaison Institute: What we learned about needs and opportunities for reskilling” from the March issue of College & Research Libraries News. The article summarizes a 1.5-day workshop that brought together 50 liaisons from Cornell, Columbia, and the University of Toronto. A 34-page final report of the event is available at http://www.arl.org/storage/documents/publications/library-liaison-institute-final-report-dec2015.pdf. The C&RLN article provides a concise recap, so I will just point out some things from the final report that I found particularly interesting.
The institute sounds like a larger and longer version of the “WFU & UNCG Liaison Benchmarking & Brainstorming” workshop we conducted together in May 2012, although our workshop had a focus on liaison organization as well as liaison roles. I wish there was more in the ARL report about how liaisons should be organized and led to achieve their goals. There are a few ideas. For example, from the “Next Steps” section near the end (p. 22):
Helping liaisons understand the big picture requires investment in training for managers and liaisons (both in core competencies and communication skills that provide the ability to look beyond the library as the center), but also an organizational structure for liaisons to collaborate (among themselves, with functional experts, beyond the confines of their departments or disciplines). Setting up a team-based model might be one way to encourage such collaboration.
Also, on page 23, regarding follow-up activity at Columbia:
Finally, the libraries addressed a recent vacancy in the Journalism Library with a new approach to filling the interim position. A team of librarians from the science, social science, and humanities libraries was created to fill the interim journalism librarian position. The libraries see this team approach as a possible model going forward for permanent positions, breaking down disciplinary silos and better integrating research methods.
Sounds interesting! I hope the Columbia folks have followed what has happened in Arizona with team liaison assignments to academic departments. The two situations are a bit different, though – in its previous model, Arizona Journalism faculty would have to decide which functional team to contact for a particular need.
Also, “Scenario Two” on page 9 involved liaison teams. However, we can’t tell what major themes came out of the Scenario Two teams compared to the other scenario teams.
The write-up of the “healthy debate” on the value of subject expertise (pages 10-11 and also 21) is interesting. While few of the liaisons here at UNCG in my time have preferred the traditional bibliographer expert model of liaison work, we have had some discussions like this. So what is the mix of subject and functional skills a liaison should have? Does the need for that mix vary by subject area (ex. business versus history)? But without strong skills in outreach, teaching, and advocacy, can you do much with your subject expertise besides ordering books? (Trying to be provocative here).
Also interesting was that some librarians were offended by the customer segmentation and value proposition exercise (11-16). Sounds like a really useful exercise that could help liaisons reconsider traditions and pre-conceived notions of what our customers err patrons need. Some of the suggestions were more interesting than others.
The summary of “what kind of support they need from library administrators” on page 18 reminds me of some of the goals of our liaison reorganization that began in 2013 – more relevant and frequent training; less time in meetings; use of teams; etc.
The report concludes with “concrete next steps that Columbia, Cornell, and Toronto are taking as a result of the Library Liaison Institute.” Lots of communication and sharing of course. But I also came away with respect for these large institutions (especially Toronto) for re-envisioning liaison work in very complex organizations. In comparison, almost all liaisons at UNCG and WFU work in the main library. So credit to those three schools for running an institute like this.