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.
Last week an Australian national treasure, Mark Colvin, died. Some of his colleagues at the ABC told brief stories about Mark, as a person & as a workmate. Now, my work as a librarian can in no way even begin to approach the quality & value of Mark’s work, but a comment about his approach resonated with what I hope has been my approach to reference & liaison librarianship. The comment about Mark was “That’s what Mark did for so many of the guests who came on PM — made them feel held and secure in a way that allowed them to focus, and access the best parts of themselves.”
I think that librarians who see their work being about people & their knowledge creation & knowledge sharing do something very similar. The practice of librarianship from this perspective is a humanist endeavour. Our clients come to us in various states of confidence to seek help – some are confident as this is their nature, or they know (from past experience) that we will respect them, help them fulfil their goals & enjoy the interaction with them; others are hesitant, unsure, perhaps have never sought serious help from a librarian before. Those who come to us with the various degrees of hesitancy & discomfort are the ones we help move away from their insecurities about their lack of knowledge, perhaps even embrace the “blank slate” with which they feel confronted. We help them begin on a journey to join the confident questioners & seekers, using constructivist techniques that encourage them to access the knowledge & thinking processes that have got them to this point, we engage tools together (such as database subject headings) to help them tap into new sources of support, as they discuss what they are finding & learning, we learn more about them & more about the knowledge they are seeking which gives us insights of greater breadth & depth which we use to play our role in building a mutual cycle of confidence & knowledge building.
Our work together helps us both access some of the best parts of ourselves – our clients accessing the best parts of their learning selves & us accessing the best of our professional selves; and both of us growing … together.
For many years I thought that all librarians saw (to varying degrees) their professional roles in a similar way & could not understand why, despite the value clients placed in my work, I continuously failed to find points of “ontological connection” with many of my colleagues (often the most dominant & powerful of my colleagues). With some space away from work & a chance to mull the work of new librarianship & reflect on this blog, I’m starting to think that perhaps not being an “information professional” created a chasm in understanding that I didn’t recognise or have the personal skills to attempt to bridge. Not realising it, I saw “information professional” as a meaningless label while those with whom I rarely found professional connections (but often conflict) have it at the core of their professional identity. So, when some people said things like, “I don’t know why that Faculty respects you”, they really didn’t understand what was happening in the professional relationships – they couldn’t see what work was actually being done, by me & by the academic & student clients with whom I was working. And, I have absolutely no idea what they wanted me to be doing to make my practice legitimate in their eyes.
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.