I’ve never seen my librarian role as being a leader of clients but for a long time I’ve seen it as a partnership with clients (both academic & student) & library colleagues. More than once I have been told that leading academics is the way I should see it & I’ve often worked with librarians who embrace the concept of liaison librarian as leader of academic clients but I just couldn’t see it for my own practice.
The partnership understanding of, & approach to, the role probably came to the fore of my practice about ten years in when I finally started coming to the view that librarianship is about people creating & sharing knowledge rather than about information. A partnership approach is also consistent with strong teamwork which, when genuinely applied, is incredibly useful in librarianship.
A few years ago I bought a book (Tom Harley’s Standing tall: confidence, teamwork and learning to lead) for that part of the collection I was developing for first year engineering & spatial sciences undergrads who were started on a journey to develop a set of generic attributes including strong teamwork skills. I added it to the collection because it wasn’t an academic treatment of the subject ( we had so very many of those), but a successful leader talking to boys & young men about teamwork, leading & intelligent following. Although Harley wrote the book for boys and young men, I thought that it was a quick & valuable read for anyone, especially the non-readers who were well represented in the cohort & the ‘over the top busy’ who were practically everyone in the cohort.
The book also spoke to me as someone who, in the team context, saw myself as a critically thinking follower – a role that I think is much under-rated in workplace teams these days. So, yes I have to admit that there probably was some confirmation bias operating when I chose the book for the collection 😉 This morning Ockham’s Razor got me thinking a bit about leadership again, but from a different perspective – humility as the core of leading.
This eleven minute talk was given by an expert & trainer in leadership from UNSW, Tom Frame. Frame’s talk has also got me thinking about partnership & its possible relationship to strong leadership & humility in leadership. And, as I’m thinking about the factors that influence liaison for info lit, I’m wondering if there’s something here to inspire the consideration of another factor.
I wonder if, when I have an early framework up, this can be one of the ways to assess its value? On a repeat episode of Future Tense about problem solving, I heard Nicholas Gruen run through five ways to test whether we are really doing strategy.
If I don’t move on to testing it with research evidence, I will need other ways to test its practicality. I think that I have an organisational behaviour perspective to run it up against, but I will need more than that. As I’m really on about strategy & liaison librarianship, rather than an operational perspective, Gruen’s work could be useful. He talks about five things that really do speak to impactful liaison librarianship as I have experienced it & observed it:
- Critical intelligence – imagination & evaluation
- Meritocracy – difficulty & discourse as an ethical quest
- Socratic humility
- Systematic approach.
I realised yesterday that maybe I am actually trying to undertake the early thinking related to the development of an initial concept framework that starts off a research process. The thought had been sitting quietly in the back of my mind but I was so strongly focussed on my concerns about blame culture and how that can possibly lead to us disempowering & demoralising ourselves, that I kept pushing it aside. Now that I’m listening to myself, I’m wondering (and not for the first time) can what I am doing actually be of sufficient rigour to offer librarians a tool to help begin reflecting on their info lit liaison if it’s not tested through a research process? I had seen research being necessary as a validating process of a “proper” tool but thought that perhaps it wasn’t necessary as a point to help people explore objectively when they are immersed in concerns about their work. mmmm ….
Well, I’ve started my lit review & am not terribly far in but it’s clear that academic experiences & understandings of info lit definitely needs to be a cluster. It doesn’t look like there’s a bucket load of stuff since my last lit review, but there is definitely nice work out there & so far it’s looking like it does justify a cluster rather than a subfactor. As we’d expect, it’s phenomenographic work that’s providing the insights.
As I look at the findings related to academic clients’ experiences & understandings of info lit, I’m sometimes finding how these do & don’t coincide with standard librarians’ conceptions of info lit. This is interesting to me as it’s something that I have almost always tried to do – come to a shared understanding of info lit (in fact the library service as a whole) with my (student & academic) clients. Also, my approach has not always been seen as legitimate by the “info lit powers”. It has even been cited as a form of “disloyalty” to the library.
I have never understood how truly understanding clients & engaging with them could be a measure of incompetence or disloyalty but I’m starting to wonder a little differently about this now. If, when they were less powerful practitioners, these librarians didn’t produce strong info lit liaison outcomes, did they (subconsciously) learn to blame clients for the limited outcomes rather than look for ways to empower all parties in the “info lit game”? And, with this mindset of disempowerment, could they have become managers &/or leaders who can’t/don’t find ways to influence their organisations?
I wonder this because I have experienced some (not all) work environments where liaison librarians seem to be expected to turn around organisational culture as it relates to info lit without any or with very limited simultaneous & ongoing work from managerial roles higher up the organisational food chain. Is it just left to liaison librarians because these managers see no other option? Has their earlier blame mindset continued during their rise up the ladder & continued to disempower them in this area?
Does this suggest that there may be a library management cluster (perhaps of its own) or library management subfactor in some kind of organisational culture cluster that considers whether/how the ground for info lit liaison is appropriately prepared & nourished by the appropriate higher level library people? My early & very limited thoughts are in favour of a subfactor in an organisational culture cluster (should such a cluster be relevant). But this is just a note to self for future work. My priority is still the lit review on academic clients’ understandings & experiences of info lit & I’VE GOT TO STAY ON THAT TOPIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Continuing on from my (previous) Collis & Moonen 4-E Model post … It’s been a few years since I did a lit review of this area (when I was seriously considering an action research project with the teaching team of a first year problem based learning course). I was surprised by the very limited amount of literature in the area. Given the ongoing complaints about academic clients’ preparedness to take up info lit (either through work with their librarians or the lack of student knowledge & skills as experienced on ‘reference’ desks), it will be really interesting to see if & how this has changed.
This seems an incredibly obvious & much needed research area but, given that academics in librarianship hadn’t been bothered with the question when I did my last lit review, perhaps it’s still neglected? Even so, it is such an enormous issue in the practise of academic librarianship that surely our faculty practitioners have been motivated to ask & answer many questions in the area by now, even if our librarianship academics’ motivations have been elsewhere.
If our practising librarians (especially those with faculty status or PDs with own research responsibilities) haven’t been motivated to research into related areas, perhaps we have an indication for another cluster related to librarians’ attitudes to & relationships with academics?
Any research into our academic clients’ experiences may touch on discipline cultures, specific organisational cultures or even broader university culture that encourage or discourage academic engagement with info lit. So we might see another cluster & its subfactors there.
But, one step at a time. First, info lit as it is experienced by our academic clients. Time to review the literature & perhaps explore the experiences of some clients. I wonder if there could be value in talking to some clients who have partnered with me to create info lit learning opportunities for students? We’ve done work with which we’ve been happy & faced some barriers that have created compromise with which we’ve not been happy. BUT FOCUS – LIT REVIEW FIRST!!!!
The ACRL’s blog has a post related to the willingness of academic clients to accept the expertise/advice/recommendations/work of liaison librarians & information literacy. This post is written by an author whose work I much admire. In this particular post though, I find myself wondering if the case put is a bit too simplistic for the complexity of the university environment as I have experienced it (which I recognise may not be representative of the experiences of other liaison type librarians no matter where they work). At first blush I’m thinking a few things but I’m sure that, with time to ponder, there will be points to add:
- The university environment is a complex one &, in my experience, academic clients have many demands on their time & their thinking. I think that this impacts on some clients’ capacity to take up a librarian’s advice/recommendations/suggestions even though they are in perfect agreement with the librarian
- Academic clients who are passionate & skilled teachers often feel that their work is restricted in ways that are, at their core, very similar to those expressed by liaison/info lit librarians, and that learning & teaching advisors/instructional designers also share these experiences
- Becoming a member of learning & teaching type committees can feel like a great advance providing all kinds of promise for change. But, committees like these often seek administrative solutions to learning & teaching problems, so the reality of membership can be very disappointing
- There is a level of defensiveness amongst some librarians that leads to demeaning, degrading, mocking & frequent complaining about academic clients. I think that this is probably in part associated with issues of professional identity & genuine misunderstandings about clients; with these two reinforcing each other over time creating a cycle that makes change very hard. I think that Collis & Moonen’s 4-E Model might be adapted to create a tool that librarians could use to more systematically evaluate their liaison work & how realistic their expectations are. A Collis & Moonen inspired model might let people see patterns in their ongoing situations (good things of which they aren’t sufficiently aware & the challenges) & ask meaningful questions which could then be used to build a meaningful evidence base to support professional growth as lifelong learning librarians & to respond more positively & usefully to their relationships with academic clients
- Having a tool that helps librarians get an objective & realistic measure of their progress & achievements would also be helpful in a world where spin is so prevalent. I have experienced incessant & shrill self-promotion from librarians who have actually very limited outcomes to show for their work & do not have strong professional relationships with clients. Being an old lady, I have learnt to look for the evidence for the spin & so tend not to be taken in by these people. But, I have also known many less experienced librarians (with superior outcomes to the spinners) to be taken in by all the bluff & feel an ongoing sense of demoralisation as a result
- As liaison work tends to include info lit work, having an understanding of a great learning & teaching tool (through its adaptation) is also of potential benefit to the teacher side of the librarian.
Collis & Moonen’s 4-Es:
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.