Thursday, February 19, 2015

Letter to the Liaison Librarian, by Rebecca Carlson


Communicating the value of the library to university administration, communicating library resources and services to faculty, staff, and students, communicating with other librarians and library staff, with vendors… In the library, it’s all communication all the time. In particular, building relationships and trust with faculty through ongoing communication is crucial for community engagement, budget support, library use, administration buy-in, relevant resources, and about any other part of my job that I can name.

And yet, for all that I am a strong believer in the value of ongoing communication, it has been one of the skills I have worked on most as a young librarian. (The other has been managing my library budget, can I get an amen?). As I think critically about what helps and what hinders my communication with faculty, I have identified a few key strategies for continued improvement.
The biggest thing for me is to build that metaphorical bridge. Both psychologically and physically, the library and I are separate from the departmental faculty. Physically, the library is at one end of the building and the faculty offices, workrooms, and lounge are at the other end; psychologically, I do not belong to any of the close-knit groups of faculty who are teaching the same course or teaching in the same program. To cross these distances, I find ways to meet faculty where they are and create opportunities for open conversation.  

For instance, early on in my current job one of the IT staff told me she never ate lunch with the faculty because she couldn’t get through 30 minutes without having to answer question after question. I heard that and thought that was exactly where I wanted to be. Bring on the questions! I asked where and when most faculty ate lunch on campus and I followed them there. We sit and eat and talk and most of the time nothing related to the library comes up; it’s stories about kids and pets and plans for the weekend. But when then conversation moves to students struggling with a research assignment or a question about a library resource, I’m there.

Just being there can help you to foster relationships with individual faculty; each problem you solve over lunch or in other informal situations is one more board that is building a bridge between you and the faculty.  

In those conversations, I am the new kid in the neighborhood. Many of the departmental faculty have been here for 15 or 20 or more years, so I don’t know the details of their past relationship with the library and librarians. Not having a personal knowledge of that history means working harder toward building relationships from the very foundation. But, instead of focusing on the lack of history, a young librarian has the opportunity to use their newness as an opportunity for meaningful change.

I tell the faculty that it’s not my library, it’s their library and it should be what they want it to be. I want to help make the library what will make it most useful for their students, research, and learning. Learn what your faculty think is most important in their work: their teaching, research, advising, professional development. Then, your role as the librarian is to provide to meet what faculty need. Take the time to be involved in curriculum discussions, ask about their research, etc. etc., and then follow up on these conversations by tailoring library budget decisions, collection development, and service priorities toward what matters to the faculty. You have the opportunity to frame the relationship in a way that will help everyone; showing that the library can adapt, can change, and can be more relevant will have a lasting impact. It starts and ends with you as the liaison librarian going outside the library and moving outside the library box to improve communication.

Rebecca Carlson is the Director of the Mercy College of Nursing and Health Sciences Library and the Personal Librarian to the Mercy College of Nursing and Health Sciences. She tweets at @CaptainLibraria.

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