Monday and Tuesday was fall break here at UNCG. On Monday, Wake Forest University and UNCG sponsored the 2016 edition of the Conference for Entrepreneurial Librarians. Since I had just returned to work from D.C. and forgot to ask for a sub for my lunchtime reference desk shift, I wasn’t able to walk over to the conference until after my late lunch.
So I missed talks by friends Richard Moniz, Dan Maynard, and Nina Exner (sorry, guys) but did attend two very good programs in the afternoon, summarized below. A bunch of BLINC (Business Librarianship in North Carolina, a section of NCLA) members attended, but there were also business librarians from Howard University and the fast-growing University of Central Florida. Between sessions, some of us talked about interest in a southeast regional business librarians’ conference of some sort, or just hosting a BLINC workshop the day before the next Entrepreneurial Librarians conference and inviting the out-of-state business librarians. Interesting ideas.
“Developing Liaison Librarians for Data-Intensive Research Engagement”
Hilary Davis and Honora Eskridge from North Carolina State University discussed a curriculum they created to help librarians “develop knowledge, skills, and confidence to communicate effectively with researchers” regarding data. As many of you know, NCSU is well known for innovations in library spaces and tech tools, but I really enjoyed hearing Hilary and Honora discuss their investment in liaison skills development.
They began by summarizing the changing environment for liaisons at research universities:
- Research is changing (increasingly interdisciplinary; open access);
- Subject liaison roles are changing (programming and training for NCSU liaisons has not been consistent, but that may be changing)
- Liaison services need to be aligned with the research enterprise on campus.
The “Leveraging the Liaison Model” report from Ithaka/Anne Kenney provided additional context for recent changes. Supporting data research was identified as a top priority by the library, and Hilary was asked to lead the process of providing training support to the liaisons. They decided to try a short course experience that the library would design with support from the Odom Institute in Chapel Hill. That led to the creation of the Data and Viz Institute for Librarians. The first institute was held in May 2016 for an international group of librarians and researchers.
The objectives included:
- Effectively use the language of data science to communicate with researchers;
- Demonstrate basic methods of exploring and analyzing data;
- Apply visualization techniques to improve data communication;
- Learn tools and techniques for version control;
- Understand data sharing requirements of publishers and funding;
- Understand the impact of open research practices.
This was 4.5 day program with a registration fee of $2,500 (which included food but not transportation or housing). Yes, rather pricey. The library provided laptops to limit problems with downloading software and practice datasets, which did take a lot of time to prepare.
Thirty applicants were accepted out of ninety applications. The library gave preference to applicants whose work directly aligned with data research. Honora summarized feedback from the inaugural institute (see picture). Not all instructors provided hands-on instruction, as they were asked. Participants also asked for more networking time.
The institute will repeat in April 2017 with a slightly different mix of instructors and more emphasis on hands-on learning. (Hmm a tough month for being away for a week for those of us who teach in the spring semester).
The NSCU liaisons have appreciated the training opportunities in response to their needs (although the big institute was mostly a vision of library administrators). Hilary and Honora emphasized the importance of investing in their liaisons. Some of the liaisons are putting their increased data skills to use by text-mining reference chat questions, creating predictions of DDA ebook usage and creating a data dashboard for ARL statistics.
Hilary and Honora suggest three top take-aways:
- Train for exposure (short course-style training);
- Develop for depth (deeper training, more specialized skills);
- Put it into practice (include data skills in liaison job responsibilities, and offer data services to faculty and students).
“The Future of Subject Specialists in Academic Libraries”
Betty Garrison (Elon University) and Mary Scanlon (Wake Forest University) led a discussion on “whether subject specialists remain relevant in the future.” They also provided predictions on “anticipated evolutionary changes to current responsibilities, potential for expanded roles, and the need for education and skills beyond the MLS.” While employing a clear outline, this program enjoyed a pleasant conversation feel to it.
Betty and Mary began by discussing their concern about the smaller attendance in BLINC’s quarterly meetings in last few years. They had considered possible reasons:
- Cuts in professional development time?
- Fewer business librarian positions?
- More focus on national organizations?
They planned this program to delve into those possibilities.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, business remains one of the most popular majors at college, so the demand for library and research support probably remains high.
However, the natures and job titles of liaisons are evolving. Many positions are now focusing on functions, not subjects. Betty said she is now the only librarian at Elon with a job title that indicates a subject focus (Business Librarian). Mary and Betty provided decade-by-decade snapshots of changing job titles, responsibilities, and roles. The changing roles are more evolutionary than revolutionary:
- Teaching: deeper engagement & embedding. Instructional design; teaching our own classes.
- Approval plan increasingly important –> same for collection policy. Less ordering.
- Reference services: meeting patrons where they are; the desk less important; using student workers in a triage model. Outreach librarians spending time in dorms. Public librarians going door to door, or working at the chamber or small business and entrepreneurship centers.
- Research and publications support. Data sets, open access, citation assistance, institutional repositories. (Betty’s business school dean recently called her to provide education to his faculty about predatory journals.)
- Supporting faculty tenure applications: impact factors, times cited, alt metrics.
- Outreach: supporting the outreach librarian (a functional position); frosh orientation; advising; embedded work.
- Technology: devices, services, location-independence; tech check-outs.
Some subject liaisons are shedding functional roles as libraries hire more functional librarians. This should help us deal with the crisis in the escalation of liaison responsibilities. Mary alluded to a workshop the WFU and UNCG liaisons once had on this topic.
Comments from the audience at this point:
- “I’m one of those new outreach librarians. There has been a lot of support for my position. I’ve been asked to try some new things, and am sort of writing my own job description.”
- “Do your 1st year instruction librarians have subject liaison roles too?” Many do, apparently.
- Two librarians mentioned recent failed searches (for a science librarian and business librarian) because their favorite candidates were snatched up quickly by other companies.
- Subject librarians continue to get busier. Work/life balance is becoming more difficult.
Conclusion from Betty and Mary: Subject liaisons will endure as our roles and responsibilities continue to evolve.
Conference proceedings will be published soon.