transforming liaison roles in research libraries

I attended the ARL webinar Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries. The discussion stemmed from a recent publication, New Roles for New Times: Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries by Janice M. Jaguszewski and Karen Williams.

During the webinar Jaguszewski and Williams highlighted the findings of their research about the new responsibilities and skill sets expected of liaisons. They reported on six trends:

Develop user-centered library skills

  • new approaches to collection development – methods include approval plans, patron-driven acquisitions, and consortial collaboration
  • merged service points for reference and circulation – patrons shouldn’t have to know how library staffing is organized in order to get help; a singular service point would also free up liaisons for more skilled work (who would still be available through a referral system)
  • library instruction – moving away from the one-shot session toward e-learning and working with faculty to develop better assignments that will address life-long information literacy
  • staff supervision – let others supervise library staff and manage daily operations (again, freeing liaisons for specialist work)

A hybrid model of liaison and functional specialist is emerging

Jaguszewski and Williams refer to “superliaisons” who aren’t linked to academic departments but rather work with the entire campus (and the subject liaisons). The functional specialist areas of expertise mentioned include copyright, GIS, media production, and data management.

This trend was most troubling to me as a newer librarian. My library school classes still referred to the seemingly outdated model of liaison duties as reference, instruction, and collection development. These duties are also still core responsibilities of my current position. I will need to be learning these other skill sets on my own and on the job. I wonder how many liaisons are both subject specialists and functional specialists.

Organizational flexibility must meet changing user needs

  • new roles in research services – focus on interdisciplinary research assistance, creating faculty profiles, and other workshops or consultations to assist faculty with research management
  • digital humanities
  • expanding roles in support of teaching and learning – goes back to e-learning opportunities mentioned in user-centered library skills (more scalable than one-shot); as more content becomes digitally accessible, teaching online makes sense
  • support for digital scholarship
  • user experience – new types of librarian positions focused on UX
  • copyright, intellectual property, and scholarly communication

No liaison is an island

I was happy to read about “renovated and repurposed spaces” which was reiterated during the webinar. New roles mean new use of space. We can’t support digital scholarship, media production, collaboration, and other methods of scholarly communication in environments designed for print access and individual study spaces. This is particularly important if libraries are to support interdisciplinary research practices.

Collaboration is key (enough said!)

Create and sustain a flexible workforce

Even with so much talk about emerging technologies and supporting digital scholarship, soft skills are still in demand. Mentioned in the paper is also a trend toward “non-permanent hires.” Given the current conversation in higher education about adjunct faculty, this is somewhat unsettling.

At first glance the findings seem redundant to what we already know and experience in academic libraries. However, I wonder how quickly libraries, particularly smaller ones at institutions still embracing more traditional learning practices, are enacting changes and transforming roles. There seems to be a widening gap between how library staff and academic administration view 21st century research and scholarship practices. Perhaps this is why much of the webinar discussion revolved around bettering library marketing and outreach.