There's been a lot of talk about services and priorities at my library in the past few years. When the academic programs were reviewed, library services and resources were reviewed too. Some activities were discontinued and some personnel were reassigned.
Right now there's a group looking at liaison librarian roles. I'm pretty interested in the outcome, since much of what I do is liaison work.
Who are the liaisons?
Most of our liaisons are reference librarians. Their primary jobs have something to do with instruction, research assistance, and collection development. But we have liaisons from other library departments (IT, Administration). Also at several administrative levels (department head to associate dean).
Liaisons used to be assigned to academic departments. These assignments have been growing with the addition of new academic programs and the expansion of liaison assignments to living and learning communities, student groups, research centers, etc. Meanwhile liaisons have also been picking up additional responsibilities within their subject areas - a few of the librarians co-teach for credit courses or embed themselves (play an ongoing, active role) into courses, other librarians are heavy into library guide and tutorial creation, etc.
So let's talk
Steve Cramer, Business Librarian Extraordinaire, called together liaisons from Z. Smith Reynolds Library (Wake Forest University) and from UNCG. We discussed roles, strengths and weaknesses of our liaison systems, plus ways to improve them.
What are some of the things that we're doing at both institutions?
Strengths and weaknesses
What's working well? What could be improved?
Strengths of a liaison system drawing from various library depts and administrative levels, with assignments across campus departments and other groups
- Wide coverage of campus for library matters
- Library goodwill - people like learning that you are "their" librarian!
- More viewpoints and strengths from each library area/level available directly to patrons
- Self-agency - flexibility in allowing personnel to focus on subject areas or job functions in which they excel
- Increased difficulty for administration, training, reporting, assessment of liaison activities
- Growing demand - not sustainable to keep expanding services and activities indefinitely
- Difficulty in finding or keeping a good match between assignments and librarians
Ideas for stretching finite resources to meet growing demand.
- Hire additional liaisons - that one got a big laugh
- Review and reallocate liaison assignments based on academic department size and need.
- Spread liaison work around. Perhaps share liaison tasks with library personnel who have a strong academic background in a subject area? Or let library science student workers loose on tech type stuff?
- Specialization vs. generalization of liaison work - Perhaps allowing librarians to specialize in job function might save time, effort, duplication? Teaching liaisons (all in reference/outreach dept?) vs. collection liaisons.
- Reduce time-intensive work:
- Increase approval plan and support additional demand driven/patron driven book selections.
- Rely more on tutorials in library instruction, e.g. assign basic skills tutorials as priming before library talks.