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Reevaluating Our Liaison Program To Meet A New Normal

February 6, 2023

It seems that one of the most frequently used words over the past few years has been “unprecedented.” How do we as librarians adapt as these unprecedented times become our new normal? This is far too big a question to address in one short piece, but it is one that lingers in the back of my mind frequently as an early career librarian whose career will entirely exist in the environment created by our field’s answers to that question. It has been particularly front of mind for me recently as W&J entered a new strategic plan around the time of my arrival this fall, and the librarians subsequently took time this last month to discuss the library’s mission and goals, and to reevaluate the role that we all play as liaisons. Our updates to our mission and goals are still in progress, but our reevaluation of the liaison program will hopefully guide us as we continue to adapt to changes in our library, on our campus, and in our field and the world. 

What does it mean to be a liaison? That is where we started our discussion as we thought through our liaison program for the first time since its creation seven years ago (liaison areas have been reassigned with personnel changes, but this is the first time that the program itself has been discussed to my knowledge). Like for many libraries, those seven years have been filled with lots of change for us at W&J – personnel changes (including the addition of myself and the College Archivist in 2022), a building renovation, and the onset of a still ongoing global pandemic. The way that our students learn, our faculty teach, and we support both groups is constantly evolving. Despite all of this change, the core goal of our liaison program remains the same – to better connect the library and academic departments in order to best support the academic needs of our campus community. To figure out how to refresh our approach to meeting this goal, we found inspiration in the results of the survey published in Antje Mays’ “Dangerous Liaisons: Brainstorming the 21st Century Academic Liaison.” This survey’s range of participants and honest feedback about the pros and cons of their liaison programs helped remind us that we cannot and should not be trying to do everything at one time, especially since we do not have any librarians whose sole job it is to be liaisons or reference/instruction librarians. 

We structured our new goals after Salisbury University’s Librarian Liaison Duties. We defined three core thematic categories that represent the work that each liaison is supposed to take on for their departments: serving as a point of contact with academic departments, teaching information literacy skills, and developing the collection in our liaison areas. For each of these three categories, we established an objective, best practices (achievable goals for the category), and aspirational goals to challenge us to grow when we have the bandwidth and faculty buy-in to do so. Many of our best practice goals revolve around a core group of faculty members who have bought into working with us because our other duties require us to pump the breaks on trying to convince more reluctant faculty members at this point in time. This structure and these goals fit our current priorities as we navigate an ever-changing “new normal” without overextending any one librarian. I hope that as we and the field continue to adapt to changes in the academic landscape, we will continue to revisit our best practice and aspirational goals to push ourselves and our departments to better serve the entire campus community. 

Has your library also done a similar revamp of policies/programs lately? What did that process look like? How does your library approach liaisons (if they have them at all)? I would love to hear your thoughts coming from a small library where liaisons are not always subject experts (meaning holding a degree in the discipline) in their assigned departments. 

References

Mays, Antje, “Dangerous Liaisons: Brainstorming the 21st Century Academic Liaison” (2019). Library Faculty and Staff Publications. 304. https://uknowledge.uky.edu/libraries_facpub/304/

Salisbury University Libraries. (2020, February). Librarian liaison duties. Salisbury University. https://www.salisbury.edu/libraries/research-resources/_files/liaison-duties.pdf.

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