The role of the librarian as liaison in the academic library is one that from its very title exudes the importance of connection, and collaboration. A relationship that allows for a deep understanding of the exchange of information and encourages both parties to be fully engaged so as to benefit from it. In military terms, the idea of the liaison is associated with allies in battle; forces joined in the same undertaking (“liaison”, 2014). It is no different in the academic world, as Kara Whatley (2009), in her article “New Roles of Liaison Librarians: A Liaison’s Perspective” emphasizes, “it is increasingly important that liaison librarians use the relationships that they have […] to connect the library’s work to the academic mission of their university” (p. 29). It is this mission of supporting research and study for both faculty and students that fuels the fire for an effective relationship between liaisons and their departments.
The unique departments that a liaison can serve depend on the particular academic institution. In looking at different programs of universities, departments can range from accounting to robotics, and theater. Depending on the campus, the liaisons may be provided by the library that is particular to that path of study, such as a liaison from a health science library serving a college of medicine (“Liaison Services, 2014; “Find a Subject Expert”, n.d.; “Departmental Liaisons”, 2013).
As for the responsibilities of the liaison, they can be very broad but encompass an overall strategy of fulfilling the needs of the department as relationships are built. In a piece entitled “The Role of Librarians Today: The Liaison Librarian”, the University of South Dakota Libraries (2014) outline different activities associated with the role including:
- Work with faculty to design course-integrated assignments that use library services and resources and help students develop information literacy skills
- Collaborate with faculty on research projects, publications, presentations, and teaching
- Participate in the establishment of or planning for new academic programs
- Participate in writing of grant proposals or completion of grant projects
- Assist with academic department or campus self-study or accreditation reviews
- Assist in the planning of or participate in conferences or workshops related to the discipline
- Survey and document faculty research interests
This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are also collection development and teaching activities among others, and those listed here are only a few of the list generated for their publication. In these responsibilities, the liaison is also given space for creativity in programming and outreach. Such is the case with Whatley who also highlights that in constructing relationships, the liaison must be “thoughtful” and “targeted”, and engaged her faculty and students in research salons as part of her outreach. These events bring together researchers from different sciences to present their findings and provide networking opportunities for students, faculty and other science librarians (p. 30).
Although the opportunities to form great relationship and educate faculty and students at their universities can be many, liaisons can also run into challenges along the way. In their article, “Liaison Connection Building a Better Community”, Koffel, Magarrell, Raber &Thormodson (2013) highlight specific areas where the University of Iowa Libraries were given a chance to grow. Their issues ranged from lack of communication among liaisons, and a “poor sense of community”, to the desire for more collaboration. Although these challenges can seem overwhelming for libraries to handle, they also provide occasions for an increase in focus on the mission of the liaisons and a reflection on those they serve. To address their concerns the UI libraries created the Iowa Framework, which served to help identify the activities associated with the liaison role, as well developing a site for liaisons to exchange ideas and added the component of informal meetings for the librarians, a tool to aid in the lack of communication. To liven up the conversations, social gatherings were also put into place. Among these were trivia nights and Olympics-style competitions.
With the amount of work and steadfast determination that librarian liaisons must have to form solid connections with their faculty and work through challenges in the process, it is easy to see how valuable they are not only to the library but the university as a whole. They are innovators in programming and outreach, robust in knowledge and must be incredibly flexible to handle the tasks asked of them. And I hope they remember what Whatley recommends, “We do not have to do it all or be it all, we just need to form the bridge between our patrons and their information needs” (p. 32). They are bridges that makes traveling the roads of research and academics that much easier.
Koffel, J., Magarrell, K., Raber, E., & Thormodson, K. (2013). Liaison connection building a better community. College, Research & Libraries News, 74. Retrieved from http://crln.acrl.org/
Liaison. (2014). In Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/107808?redirectedFrom=liaison#eid
The Carnegie Mellon University Libraries. (n.d.) Find a subject expert. Retrieved from http://search.library.cmu.edu/services/liaison/
The University of Illinois at Chicago Library. (2013). Departmental liaisons. Retrieved from http://library.uic.edu/home/about-us/departmental-liaisons
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries. (2014). Liaison services. Retrieved from http://libraries.unl.edu/liaison
The University of South Dakota Libraries. (2014). The role of librarians today: the liaison librarian. Retrieved from https://www.usd.edu/library/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&pageid=100285
Whatley, K. M. (2009). New roles of liaison librarians: a liaison’s perspective. Research Library Issues, 265. Retrieved from http://publications.arl.org/rli