What Do Faculty Want from Librarians?

It’s official: I am now the librarian for psychology at the University of Connecticut, in addition to my responsibilities of working with folks in communication sciences. I’ve recently met with the chair of the department, who wanted to know what I “might be able to do to help psychology.” I know generally what he’s asking, so I have made copies of emails to the communication department touting my services, last year’s presentation to communication graduate students, and printouts of UConn’s web pages for psychology (databases recent books & faculty publications).

But the question got me thinking: what do faculty and academic deans want from academic librarians? I spend a lot of time thinking about what undergraduate and graduate students want – and can handle – from the library, but this question shifted my focus to faculty and department chairs.

I turned to my trusty Google Custom Search Engine, which searches over 30 faculty blogs and searched the word “librarian.” I found very few results; a blog commenter who said his parents were both librarians, and a couple of entries from Janet D. Stemwedel over at Adventures in Ethics and Science … because she’s linking to my e-buddy John Dupuis’ blog Confessions of a Science Librarian. A search on the word “library” returned more results, but they still weren’t relevant. PhDinHistory blogger Sterling Fluharty wrote an intriguing post about a year ago called Why History PhD Students Should Learn to Think Like Reference Librarians; although this is interesting, it’s more about making students independent of librarians rather than talking about what services they’d like to see from librarians. There was one post that, while it doesn’t answer the question, does nicely promote the library to new undergraduates: “[C]ollege libraries normally have professional librarians. These are people who are experts at finding information for you. Ask them if you need something. They can often find what you want even if that particular library doesn’t stock it.” Yay! Thanks to Astroprof for that nice shout out at “How to be an effective college student.”

Still, there’s very little from the horse’s mouth (as it were) about what faculty want from librarians. I think what they want includes:

  • Effective, efficient, and non-intrusive instruction for their students (graduate and undergraduate) on how to make good use of library resources. They don’t want students to use Google, but they also don’t want to give us much classroom time.
  • Easy access to identifying and getting full-text of relevant, important articles in their field. Perhaps also how to find out who’s cited them (or their colleagues, if they are on a tenure or promotion committee) – but they don’t want this finding to take too much time.
  • The ability to manage citations efficiently and effectively, and from multiple locations, for their own articles and for those they are co-authoring. But they don’t want to spend too much time on this.

Once we’ve identified these tasks, how can we best a) tell faculty that these are our simple goals and b) teach them these tasks in a manner they will understand? Lisa Hinchliffe blogs in The Librarians are Everywhere: “the best opportunities to connect with faculty come from seeing them at meetings, events, presentations” where informal conversations can take place. I’ve written about holding academic office hours, which is good for informally meeting both students and faculty.

But back to my chair’s question: what can the librarian do to help the department? I’m stumped for a “sound bite” sized answer. I guess it really boils down to telling them what I’ve said in this post, using language that faculty understand (which is pretty much the same as library language that undergraduates understand…), and then being where they are, talking to them informally, sending out short emails which point them to this or that nifty, time-saving resource.

Librarian blog readers, what can you do to help your department?

7 thoughts on “What Do Faculty Want from Librarians?”

  1. I too work at an academic library in CT. I find that one of the most productive ways to interact with faculty is through programming. If you can discover ways to collaborate with staff and faculty to organize cross-disciplinary events and workshops, you will learn lots about their needs in the process. As a bonus, you’ll form new relationships that enable you to promote services and instruction to the people that have the authority to put students into your library.

    Good post. Thanks!

  2. What a great question! I think we’ve done a great job of being self-effacing. To a large extent, what faculty would miss if it weren’t there is a good, well-organized collection and all the services that go with it, especially e-reserves and interlibrary-loan and database access when they want it. They also would be upset if they couldn’t assume that their students can get whatever help they need to use the library. But they don’t necessarily want it – it’s like having the lights come on when they flip a switch.

    Some of the things we can do and want to do are not in their definition of “librarian.” When we did a faculty survey, a lot of faculty said their students weren’t prepared to do good research, then hastened to add “but that’s my job – not your fault.” I think we could go a long way toward making faculty want things from us that they don’t know we are willing and prepared to offer. But self-promotion is alien to library culture. When you perceive knowledge as a commons, not turf to be fenced off, it makes it hard to lay claim to expertise.

  3. i spotted this topic last night while i was looking at my RSS feed. i’m just starting my 23d year here at Indiana State University — since 2004 the combined Reference/Instruction Dept. moved into a liaison model which has proven more successful than the old model — which didn’t really have a name [‘business as usual’?]. also, we have FACULTY STATUS, so that helps a LOT — AND i heard years ago one of our profession’s big names say: use the terms LIBRARY FACULTY and TEACHING FACULTY — rather than ‘just plain faculty’ and ‘librarian’ — to further emphasize, subconsciously that we are ALL FACULTY — and i DO… we have campus missions tied to OUTREACH and ENGAGEMENT now, as well, and that has helped. however, one thing i’ve learned is, you can NEVER give up MARKETING: yourself, the library, services we’ve always had, new services, etc. The web site link above is actually to a flyer that I sent out to all my faculty in 2006 — i need to update slightly and send out again — also, i’ve been fairly ‘in your face’ over the years in terms of ‘what do you mean you didn’t include someone from the library in [campus initiative of your choice] and in some cases that has helped us get involved in the next initiative — HOWEVER in 22+ years of hindsight one of the most important things is to get the top library administrator to also be a bit over the top in pushing the library forward at EVERY opportunity — you can’t be just one voice among many in the library — and the higher ups will listen to the higher ups. we have a new president, so i’m going to see what i can do to help my interim dean push us forward.

    also, i work on telling the TEACHING FACULTY that THEY have an increasing responsibility in getting their students to use & properly use library resources — that they have to be very clear and spell out more thoroughly than ever the types or even specific names of resources they want their students to use. going back to the ‘library as place for air conditioned books’ topic which first drew my attention last night — we are supposed to work WITH the departments to find out what books, films, etc . they want to order [we also order what we think will be needed of course] — but MOST do not respond to the ‘here is list of items from Baker/Taylor, what do you want’ — so they get that message from me, then after suitable interval, i tell them what has been ordered [with or without their input], then i tell them — most of the time — when things are in the library — and to use the tables of contents, links to amazon info, etc on the online catalog as they write their syllabi, assignment sheets etc. — AND i still get people who, having many other acadmic things on their mind, haven’t the slightest idea what’s out there, what they can/should do, what we can do, etc. — do i get a little tired of this? you bet! am i going to give up! NEVER!! NEVER GIVE UP/NEVER SURRENDER!!!! [Galaxy Quest] — the semester starts today — and i’ve already been calling, emailing, setting up ‘the librarian is in the building’ scheduling — trying to get people to add me to Blackboard, etc. etc. EVER ONWARDS!!!

    Marsha Miller

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