Over many years I have listened to a good number of liaison librarians complaining about their lack of traction with the academics in their liaison portfolios. Discussions around these concerns never seem to improve the situation as blaming (even mocking & demeaning in some cases) the clients seems to be a response from which these librarians cannot move. I don’t say this as a negative judgement of these librarians. I think that this is probably a natural consequence of a combination of:
- The profession’s behaviourist information-centric identity & practice in what is actually a people-centric & knowledge-centric environment
- The supporting service role that the library plays in universities which seems frustrating for those who have a need to be at the forefront
- The theory void that gives us few thinking tools for professional practice & so can lead to unproductive “emotional” responses when this need not be the case.
Below I have taken a Twitter discussion which is typical of the kinds of things that I have heard over nearly 15 years & linked some foundational learning & teaching concepts that are often used to create information literacy learning opportunities & promote learning at the reference desk, etc. I think that these concepts are important to creating truly productive relationships with academic clients &, therefore, can be used by librarians to empower themselves & their clients in liaison relationships.
There may be disagreement about some of my concept choices but the foundational message would, I think, stand. I’m going to let this mull in the back of my mind, perhaps talk to a couple of people about it & then maybe write it up as a paper.
There’s a reason that people in the know recommend putting thoughts down in writing & I’ve struck a very good example of it for myself. In response to this presentation, I wrote this blog post. On further reflection, I’ve realised that I haven’t actually been pondering separation from clients/patrons/community/etc since my early days of professional practice. What I have been doing, is pondering it when I’ve worked in situations where the dominant voices (those of authority figures or power figures) have emphasised “being of the library”. In these cases, we have seemed (in my experience of it) to be focused on what the library wants clients/patrons/community/etc to do &/or to think. I’ve taken to calling this practice “founded in behaviourism”. In the situations where the dominant voices have sought close connections with the clients/…, I think that Richland Public Library & Lankes’ presentation would actually have been welcomed & acted upon.
This is a really important realisation, especially if I do manage to get the research project off the ground as confirmation biases like this one are going to seriously impact the credibility of my question, lit review, methodology & analysis. I have to ensure that my passion for this doesn’t bleed into the research so I need to take action to keep thinking about the possible research question is objective terms. I started off that way, but I think that I’ve been drifting into subjectivity.
I also think that could be links to the things discussed in this article from The Conversation.
My comment about the courage & truth telling remains at this point. And, I guess that this level of feeling & thinking is at least part of the reason that I didn’t recognise my confirmation bias in the first place!!
The social responsibility of the library and the librarian in a post-factual world
This introduction to a panel discussion (which isn’t included in the recording – alas) left me pondering something once again. I have had this feeling since my very early days in librarianship. I have no evidence for it, I haven’t yet explored it through the literature though this is now on my list of jobs to do. I think that perhaps we are “raised” to see ourselves as of the library rather than of our clients/community/patrons (whatever words individual librarians prefer to use to help them understand their professional ontology) – as being part of the “Institution of the Library” first & foremost. I think that this leads to a level of separateness that sometimes leads to a worry that, if we really became part of our community/etc, our professional ontology may be challenged – that people might ask us to take on roles we don’t want for ourselves or can’t imagine for ourselves. I think that this separateness sometimes becomes a protective barrier for us.
In this presentation, Lankes outlines four goals of the Richland Public Library – goals that it established by truly connecting with the Richland community:
- Help create a strong and resilient economy
- Strengthen community cohesion
- Transform educational outcomes for youth
- Help break the cycle of poverty.
I see librarians creating goals such as these as courageous & (in a way) to be “truth telling”; to be a way of opening themselves & their library up to be what is wanted & needed of them; to be proactive & responsive & innovative & whatever else is required. For me, these librarians & other library staff are truly inspiring.
Today The Conversation had an article about managing self-motivated intelligent workers (David Tufley). As a knowledge worker, I’d been listening to this kind of research with great interest over the last little while. The research findings and resulting recommendations about practice have really struck a cord with me and my experiences as a worker. As I’m not currently working, I didn’t read today’s article with anymore than general interest while enjoying the nice warm feeling that I get when I read a smart person feeding my confirmation bias 😉
A few days ago I listened to a presentation given by David Lankes (have to check which of these two is the one I listened to) to public librarians & this afternoon the possible value of such management research to library liaison/client relationship work struck me – I think that it was the Lankes presentation that got my brain linking the two.
I’ve never been a librarian who complains that clients don’t listen to me & I’ve never had trouble developing productive, respectful, reciprocal, fun relationships with all kinds of clients. I realise now that the “characteristics of engagement” discussed by Tufley are things that I have always sought to use in my practice as a special librarian & as an academic librarian. I wonder if the use of this approach and the relationships I’ve built is more than coincidence? I suspect not, & that it is something that deserves further reflection exploration – it seems another nice positive topic to consider while I have to be taking it easy out of the workforce.
I’m really getting eager for my copy of Hall to arrive in the post. I think that I’ve had another one of those high context communication experiences.
I was coming into work & an academic client yelled out, “Sandra!”. I looked around & she said to me, “Did you know that our students can’t find books on the library shelves?”. Like so many academic librarians, my answer was “Yep” and an addition, “But, remember most of the books in your discipline are ebooks so there aren’t so many to find as there are in some other disciplines”.
Warming up to the subject, I added “And, some students can’t use a table of contents and can sometimes struggle with an index”. Her response? “I know – it’s Google. And, did you know that lots of students haven’t read a book since primary school?” From me another, “Yep” … “but, in third year, the smart ones figure out that it’s going probably going to hold them back when they do their 4th year research project so at least they are starting to think about it”.
So, I asked “Are we going to do something about it?” & her answer was “Yes”. I expected that from this client, but the next part of her response took me by surprise.
She also felt that she needed to get back into weeding because we needed to make it easier for these struggling students to find things in the subject areas where their analytical thinking is really challenged (or perhaps more to the point I was thinking to myself, eliminate their chances of being able to just make do with irrelevant items because that’s quicker).
Could it be that context spoke to her, as a truly thinking educator, so clearly that she had started to think like a librarian? Well, perhaps that’s an over-statement but …
I have come to the conclusion that, as a liaison librarian, I am a custodian of the library’s relationships with the clients in my discipline portfolio.
My responsibility is to continue to evolve so that the library’s relationship with our clients remains strong & relevant in a rapidly changing environment.And, that it grows & shifts in breadth & depth as is necessary.
It also means that I need to honour the liaison librarians (with this same discipline portfolio) who came before me – I build on the relationships that they created. And, I must be mindful of the librarians who come after me – set things up so that their relationships can build even better relationships between the clients & the library so that we are continually empowered to work towards the learning, teaching & research goals that drive all of our stakeholders.
Today the Scholarly Kitchen has a post – Seven things every researcher should know about scholarly publishing. The post contains a very useful comment – “As an acdemic, you are one of many players in a highly complex ecosystem of scholarly communication and publishing much of which functions beyond the boundaries of your perception”. I think that this is a useful prompt for librarians – we & our clients operate in a highly complex ecosystem, much of which functions beyond the boundaries of the perceptions of each of us in this professional partnership. But, they do influence each other – profoundly so, for those of us on the service delivery side of the partnership.
As librarians, we can identify ecosystem intersections & use our professional relationships to communicate how common aspects of our ecosystem affect each other in different ways, but in ways that inevitably influence both of us. I think that this brings us back to the value of high context communication. Two recent examples of liaison work spring to mind – one related to information literacy & the other to collection maintenance.
Yesterday I had a discussion with a Head of School about problem solving learning in our undergraduate programs. His part of the conversation focussed on the difficulties teaching problem solving in the current format & the students’ complaints about the problem solving courses & their value to their studies. From a librarian’s perspective, I could talk about a number of information literacy issues that I often see when I work with the students who approach me or use the online resources that I create. I have learnt that many students struggle to focus on the problem solving process & look to the outcome as the artefact which must be produced. He agreed & this got us talking a little about information literacy & the problem solving process, which moved us on to the Research Skills Developement Framework & its sister problem solving framework & two “translations” of the Framework that I have developed to support staff & students – a teacher-friendly version of Levels 1-4 & a student-friendly version of Levels 1-4. It also let me talk a little about some RSDF work & interest in the University & some interest that his evolving in his School & a closely related School. This is a valuable conversation as it helps a key stakeholder see how librarians’ work links in with teaching work in a way that he has not experienced himself.
And, back to my big weeding project. My communications here have focussed on the common factor in our ecosystem – Google & free web-based information. Yes, it has led to a student preference to avoid the use of scholarly & professional material purchased by the Library & that frustrates markers who see the impact in assignment work. But, that means that demand for library resources declines & hard copy materials are taking up space for no purpose & so libraries want to weed. Turfing out the physical artefacts/records of a discipline’s knowledge base naturally concerns many academics – for many even more than the assessment concerns, so we have a perfect opportunity to connect the various experiences in our ecosystem to create greater understandings &, hopefully in time, responses to a lack of use of the resources that the library purchases.