Mysteries of Liaison Librarianship

I’m not saying I’m worried about faculty and students taking me seriously as a librarian, but harkening back to my days as a teenager who used to be a big fan of emo music: sometimes I feel misunderstood.

I recently read the article “The Librarians Are Not OK: A years-long attack on their status is bad for all of us,” written by Joshua Doležal, and published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Despite Joshua using the same title as Anne Helen Petersen’s empathetic and heralding CALM 2022 keynote, he gets at several things I’ve experienced in my early tenure as a librarian.

I’m an early-career librarian who is still sorting out what it means to be an academic librarian. I work as a liaison librarian, supporting several departments in our Faculty of Science. My entire ethos as a liaison librarian—and one that I share constantly when speaking to students—is that I want to make things easier for them, to save them time. And I do, if they and their professors let me.

I search for opportunities to talk to students about information literacy and save them time as they search for and access library resources. But there’s a misunderstanding of what librarians do. I recently had lunch with a faculty member and graduate student. We were talking about library services for graduate students, and neither had much idea of what library services are available to them. This isn’t their fault; in a lot of ways, libraries have a marketing and advocacy problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with my friends, and they have no idea about the bulk of my job. I need to liaise with students and faculty in my subject areas, but if they don’t have any idea of what I can do for them, doesn’t that fall—at least in part—on me?

As librarians, we’re knowledgeable and we have deep professional knowledge. We’re the ones implementing and maintaining the systems that allow our patrons to find resources in our catalogue; we’re the ones ensuring our collections support curricula at the institution; and we’re the ones expertly and concisely instructing on how to find, access, and use all kinds of information. We need to make sure our community knows this and for more people to know what our work consists of.

Shirley Phillips writes in a recent Globe & Mail opinion article, that librarians she knew would “literally search the world over, using their knowledge and uncanny problem-solving skills to find needles in haystacks. But they also helped high school students with their homework. No matter the question, there was no judgment. They went out of their way to put people at ease, ferreting out their true needs, especially those who were ashamed to display what they thought of as ignorance in a knowledge-based institution. It was public service at its finest.”

I think so, too.

3 thoughts on “Mysteries of Liaison Librarianship”

  1. No one is saying that we don’t need to educate faculty on what we do. Do you really think we don’t get that? The problem is when faculty dismiss these efforts.

  2. Hi Joanne, thanks for the comment. Let me preface that, like I said in the post, I’m new in my position and still figuring things out, which is especially problematic in the sciences where library services traditionally are not straightforward to support existing courses and faculty needs.

    I think telling faculty about library services and getting them to be less dismissive are intrinsically linked. Liaising would be a whole lot easier if general knowledge about academic librarianship was more mainstream. So of course we need to tell people about it – it’s right in my position title, “liaison,” and I’ve described one of my experiences doing just that. I’m saying liaising is not straightforward and it takes a tremendous amount of time, which the profession as a whole could benefit from advocacy beyond individual efforts, to reduce the ‘mystery’ of the profession. Bear in mind I can only comment on what I’ve seen or heard in my limited experience.

  3. Concordo que esse é um comportamento comum entre bibliotecários acadêmicos, penso que em bibliotecas escolares há uma ação mais dinâmica que favorece para uma maior visibilidade da biblioteca, já no meio acadêmico os bibliotecários são mais passivos, esperando que o usuário vá atrás da informação uam vez que se trata de um ambiente de nível superior, será então essa a maior dificuldade que temos de mostrar o que sabemos fazer e o que a biblioteca pode oferecer? você saberia nos dizer o o que mais motiva este comportamento e como podemos mudá-lo?

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