Navigating an Uncharted Path in Liaison Librarianship

Towards the end of fall 2023, the STEM Librarian stepped down from her position at CSU Northridge. Throughout her tenure, she covered liaison duties that spanned across many Science and Engineering departments. I heard about this news during a monthly department meeting. Our department chair requested support and asked us to reach out if interested in taking over the STEM liaison roles. Despite the fact that I have an academic background in the Humanities and Social Sciences, I recognized the urgency of the situation and offered my support. In the spirit of camaraderie, I contacted my chair and volunteered to help. Soon after, I was assigned to be the liaison for the single department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, which includes library instruction and collection development responsibilities.

When I started at CSU Northridge, I was initially assigned to be the Central American & Transborder Studies liaison. Due to my background in Ethnic Studies, particularly Chicana/o Studies and Latina/o Studies, I felt quite comfortable with this assignment. I felt at home as I taught information literacy sessions, facilitated research consultations, and performed my bibliographer duties for the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. It wasn’t until I became the liaison to Chemistry & Biochemistry that I began to feel like I was navigating an uncharted path.

Recently, I had to select publications to update the collection for Chemistry & Biochemistry. Since it was my first time performing my collection development duties for this department, I was out of my depth. As a liaison librarian, I must meet 3 important collection development deadlines throughout the academic school year. Just over a week ago, I met the second deadline and I spent 75% of all available funds. To be frank, this was easier said than done for an early career librarian without a STEM background. For more support, I reached out to several librarians in the Collection Access and Management Services (CAMS) department. Although I was already diving into book reviews and book spotlights offered by professional associations, I realized that I needed more guidance. As a result of my colleagues’ mentorship, I learned about ALMA analytics and I discovered how to search for slips in Gobi. These lessons allowed me to finalize my selections for Chemistry & Biochemistry.

As for library instruction, the fall semester will start tomorrow, so I have not taught any information literary sessions for Chemistry & Biochemistry. However, I already received 3 instruction requests from a professor teaching CHEM 464L – Principles of Biochemistry. To prepare, I have been exploring the already established CHEM 464L LibGuide. So far, I have set my focus on current topics and the American Chemical Society (ACS) citation style. Additionally, I intend to contact the former Science and Engineering Librarian with the hopes that she will be open to sharing her Google Slides, instructional handouts, and/or other resources. My intention is to learn as much as possible to help students locate the proper library resources. While I recognize that I have immersed myself into a completely different academic discipline, I am reassured by own professional experience, particularly my 10-year trajectory as an educator.  I am learning to trust the process, so that I may rely on my own skillset, which includes teaching topics like keyword selection, information evaluation, citation practices, and database search mechanics.

As I wrap up this blog post, I would like to encourage other liaison librarians to please reach out if you’ve had a similar experience. What were some of your approaches? How did you become familiarized with your new role? I would definitely appreciate guidance as I continue to dive into science liaison librarianship.

3 thoughts on “Navigating an Uncharted Path in Liaison Librarianship”

  1. I’m an early career Librarian 1.5 years into being a liaison for departments that I have no background in, so I’m by no means an expert but I am in a similar place.

    I hugely agree with Candice that going to events in the department has been incredibly important. Not only can you see and be seen by faculty, building those crucial relationships, but you start picking up details about the focus and scope of the program, what people are interested in, and also– how faculty and students in that discipline communicate and share information. If you can, get invited to departmental meetings.

    Communicate with the faculty you’re teaching for. It’s helped me to ask “okay, so what is it you want to cover.” If you are teaching skills relevant to an assignment, ask the faculty for the assignment handout so you can look at the points that might need to be addressed.

    I have absolutely been intimidated to teach in subject areas in which I have no knowledge, but it helps me to remember that the faculty are the subject matter experts. As a Librarian, I’m the subject matter expert in finding and using information. That’s the piece I bring to the table. I know the Library website and resources inside and out, I know how to more effectively conduct internet searches, and that is what I’m there to teach. The more I learn about the subject area the better, but that’s not the piece I’m bringing to the table.

    Things that have helped me: reading the program website. Reading the course descriptions. Getting on any departmental mailing lists or blogs. Seeking out books and articles about librarianship in my disciplines. Finding people who will support me– Library colleagues in different subjects, departmental support staff in relevant areas, faculty members you “click” with– those people are so important. Are there other Librarians who have taken over other departments that the STEM Librarian covered? Reach out to them; they may be equally lost, and you may be able to help each other.

    I’m not sure how long you are going to be the Chemistry and Biochemistry Librarian, but hang in there! The first year is rough, but by the second year you are not doing EVERYTHING for the first time, and that really helps.

  2. Candice, thank you for your support and suggestions! Building relationships (within and outside of campus) is such a critical part of the process. At this point, I’m particularly interested in the STS Mentoring Program! I’m also looking forward to learning more about boot camp opportunities for 2024.

    Kadet, I just wanted to say that I really appreciate your insight! All of your suggestions made so much sense to me. Interestingly, I’ve had some trouble getting a hold of assignments/prompts regardless of the professor’s academic discipline. This process has required a little insistence from my end. Fortunately, I’m only covering Chemistry & BioChemistry until CSUN recruits a Science & Engineering librarian. Nevertheless, I’m starting to realize that this experience is more common than I thought. Since other liaison “call-outs” may occur in the future, I figured I should start becoming acquainted with the process of diving into a new or unknown liaison role.

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