ARL Liaison Programs Discussion
One of the prompts for me to attend ALA this year was the opportunity to participate in an ARL-sponsored discussion about liaison programs. The discussion was started at ALA-midwinter in Philly, and continued in Las Vegas.
The facilitators asked the participants–all liaison supervisors–to discuss two questions.
- What can I do to improve liaison work at my institution?
- What can ARL do to support the development of liaison programs?
We got put into the right frame of mind for the discussion by a presentation from 3 subject liaisons who discussed some of the challenges they face. The liaisons didn’t agree on everything, but points were made about how collections work (esp., tasks that should be automated) can trump liaison engagement work in the eyes of supervisors or library leadership. They also mentioned how often incentives for engagement work are lacking, esp. at institutions or in the professional marketplace where published articles still earn the most reputation for librarians trying to build their career. Another theme was how many low-impact or administrative tasks are still part of the job (or have become part of the job) of public service librarians, fragmenting their days into an hour here or half an hour there. Outreach has a positive connotation, but outreach that is low-level “infotainment” or participating in this and that to show how friendly the library is got mentioned as a low-impact but time consuming expectation of liaison librarians by their managers. These were vivacious, thoughtful, creative and hard-working folks – they wanted structural change from their institutions to do their liaison work better. It was the perfect kind of thought-provoking event, where you return home and more fully answer some questions for yourself. In the next two weeks, I will be thinking about these questions:
- What is the vision, what is the preferred mission statement, for the liaison program we want? How do we arrive at that vision institutionally?
- What are the challenges in achieving that vision? Although some of the info we need has to do with challenges the liaisons face now, that’s only part of the picture.
- What are the propitious conditions that allow great liaison work to flourish? (Positive inquiry.)
- What are ways to move the dial, to push the organization in the direction of liaison work that has the kind of impact we defined in our vision?
It was broadly agreed that given the way liaisons generally work, not enough is known institutionally about how effort is being expended, how resources (time, attention, expertise) are allocated. If we want to move the dial in a certain direction, we need to understand our starting place. In my breakout group, I talked about some kind of dashboard so we can see what is happening and adjust (as opposed to an end-of-year report which becomes the occasion for praise or criticism, after the fact, in the annual review.) In fact, my suggestion was more along the lines of a heat map, because all disciplines are not the same. It may be appropriate for the history librarian to be doing lots and lots of instruction, but the philosophy liaison to be doing very different things. Each liaison might generate “hot spots” in their activity dashboards in different areas.
Supporting Globalization at Your Institution – Discussion Group – heads of public services
This was too rapid fire for me to take notes. The speakers were from NYU and UIUC. Globalizing the university seems to be a priority for universities everywhere, and these libraries were committing attention and thought to supporting that university priority. The takeaway for me was that they had both approached this kind of support systematically and proactively. These campuses had very different landscapes in terms of globalization issues, and in neither case was there a neatly tied up, unified approach at the university level. Rather, there were a lot of stakeholders and a lot of different experiments and programs being launched. (Very similar to the data visualization situation, see that post below.) So the first step was getting a good picture of the landscape. Who’s playing, what are their goals, what are they doing? All those questions help the library see where best to contribute. My happiness was that not once did they mention making a research guide or a list of useful resources or anything like that. They weren’t trying to bolt something on to the outside of the effort, they were looking for ways to facilitate the actual globalizing work of the campus community.