Engaging in Outreach Efforts & Meaningful Community Building

As a MLIS student at San Jose State University (SJSU), I often read about the importance of promoting library services through outreach efforts. During that time, I ran across the following quote that illustrates this point, and it continues to resonate with me:

Gone are the days when libraries can simply open their doors and expect to be perceived as the number one option for information services. With fierce competition for funding and more people assuming everything offered by a library can be found online, libraries are feeling the pressure to blow their own horn (Hallmark et al., 2007).

Last year, I started as a Lecturer Librarian at CSU Northridge. Since I began in the summer of 2023, I did not immediately have instruction requests or deadlines for collection development. Instead, I directed my attention to outreach opportunities, which continued to be part of my priorities throughout the fall and even now in the spring. I work closely with the Outreach Librarian to deliver outreach programming to keep patrons abreast of upcoming library events, and to promote library collection materials by designing book displays. I have collaborated with faculty, staff, students, and community members to make these events successfully happen. So far, I have remained committed to outreach efforts by participating in the “Ask a Librarian” tabling events, the Resources & Services Fair, the New Student Orientation, CSUN Open House, National Transfer Student Week, and library tours for K-12 students. I am particularly proud of my involvement in creating virtual and in-person book displays for Latinx Heritage Month and Black History Month.

While the outreach opportunities mentioned above have been quite rewarding, I was curious to participate in wider campus efforts centered on outreach and community building. Late last fall, I was selected to be a Library Liaison for the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) at CSU Northridge. This office strives to enhance academic experiences through community-based (service) learning, engaged research and sustained partnerships within the San Fernando Valley, and the greater Los Angeles Area. In my role, I support faculty members as they develop community-engaged projects and/or courses. Faculty members receive support in creating syllabi that outline community-based learning outcomes centered on equity, diversity, and inclusion. I expect that I will also recommend community-engaged readings, and activities for their syllabi.

Since I’m serving in the inaugural cohort, the other Library Liaisons and I have been working on recruitment. During our last departmental meeting, we offered our librarian colleagues a brief overview about the OCE, and we introduced them to grant opportunities designed for faculty members committed to community-engaged courses, projects, research, or creative activities. Additionally, I have been spreading awareness about the OCE to professors and lecturers in the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. After I teach my information literacy sessions, I’ll typically pitch an elevator speech to these faculty members. Usually, faculty members teaching Ethnic Studies already incorporate community-building into the design of their courses, which makes them great candidates.

Overall, I’m hoping my efforts evolve into effective partnerships, so that I may further engage in meaningful practices centered on community building and social justice. I’m definitely in the early stages of developing my own approach towards outreach and community service. I was hoping to hear from experienced academic librarians. Would anyone be willing to share their own strategies?

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.

Sharing Our Work With Each Other

As the spring and summer terms begin, we enter conference season. Recently I’ve been thinking about the ways that academic librarians share their work with one another. In terms of traditional, formal sharing, this happens at conferences, webinars, or other sorts of lectures, and of course, through publications. But there’s so many more opportunities to talk about your research or other work you’re doing. I find sharing your work, knowledge, and experiences with your colleagues increases workplace culture and community, and lets you get to know your colleagues more closely. 

I remember attending the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference last year and attending one of my coworker’s sessions. I loved hearing her share about the great work and research she’d been doing, but I couldn’t help but think, it took attending a library conference from a different province to hear about it. I never knew my coworkers were working on such interesting research projects! It just had not come up in our conversations.

At the University of Manitoba Libraries (UML), there is an annual Librarians’ Research Symposium, where our librarians can share brief presentations about their research. While the Research Symposium hasn’t been held since the pandemic, our library also hosts a series of brown bag lunch presentations called “UML Presents,” where presenters can talk about their research, fellowships, or anything else they would like to share. We also have a monthly newsletter that highlights librarian publications and other accolades. These spaces give a chance for anyone who wants to share about their work and let their coworkers in on the great work they’re doing.

I’ve noticed other associations host these small, informal events as well. A local library association that I’m a part of, the Manitoba Association of Health Information Providers, hosted their own research symposium last year. It was a chance for members to present lightning talks about the research they’re working on – or thinking about starting up. It was a low-stakes way to let others in on your work that might never be seen by those you work alongside.

I’ve always loved sharing my work with others and hearing about the work my colleagues do. And it’s not just sharing research, it’s all parts of our job: teaching, collections management, liaison duties, and on and on. It leads to new perspectives and ways of completing your work. I know that I have reconsidered how I’ve done something because I’ve heard of a different (and oftentimes quicker!) way of doing it. It can also lead to collaboration, whether that’s on a research project, co-teaching, or something else entirely. One of the best ways to get a coworker involved in a project is to know their interests. Outside of the people who read your article or scholarly work, sharing your work in formal or informal ways connects you in a way you might never otherwise have the chance.

If you know what your coworkers are instructing on, or researching, or involved in, it lends itself to letting others know about things that might interest them, like calls for proposals, conferences, interesting journal or news articles, or communities of practice. Not to mention, you can celebrate the work of your coworkers and be proud of the work that we’re all doing.

I’m always looking for places to share my work. I don’t know about you, but I have a puny number of Twitter followers—which is pretty much the only social media I use to post about my work as an academic librarian—so if I get the chance, I’ll think long and hard about volunteering to speak. What are the ways you share your work with your colleagues? Conferences? Communities of practice? Over coffee or a walk? Feel free to share below.

I encourage you to find ways to share your work with others. It can start a conversation, and you might never know what you’ll learn or where it will lead.

Coming out of a January fog

January and the first part of February is usually a tricky time of year for me. I’m both buoyed by the promise of a new year and bogged down by the weather and amount of daylight available to me. January feels like a slog; I’m just trying to make it through. There are moments during the first days of the year where I feel like my motivation is at an all time high. I see the connections between work projects, I see the direction for the department, and I see the impact we can have. There are other moments where I feel stuck and there’s so much coming at me I’m not sure what to pick up next.

I think this January has also been an interesting time to be at my university. Similar to other colleges and universities, we are facing budgetary challenges and declining enrollment. We also recently named an interim president and are settling into new leadership. There’s a lot of uncertainty that you can feel every time you step foot on campus. When I talk with my colleagues about May, the summer, even the fall, there’s always an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) phrase of, “But who knows what the context will be then.” The uncertainty makes it hard to move forward confidently. We might decide to go left only to learn we’ll need to loop around to go right a few months later. 

All of these things – the slog, the uncertainty, the potential opportunities – has made me think a lot more about prioritization. How do we decide on what is a priority? How do we have those conversations? How do we make the tough decisions? How do we pivot? And how do we accept the change we know is coming but aren’t sure what it will look like yet? I don’t have any answers but I know that getting through the January slog means having the space to work through these questions and figure out where to step next.

And in these moments, when my head is turning, I am so thankful to have a network of support. The friends and colleagues I turn to get through the slog, hold the uncertainty, and celebrate the successes. I’ve been so appreciative to have fellow department heads at other institutions to talk to, a research group to get excited about and hold me accountable to research, my various text message threads with friends who send funny gifs, screenshots, all the emojis, and voice messages, my colleagues within the library to strategize with, and my colleagues across the institution who I can get coffee with and chat about what we can do together. 

I feel that I’ve emerged from the January fog and that feels wonderful. What about you? How are you getting through these first couple of months? What’s been on your mind and who has been there to help support you? 

Setting departmental goals: The process of one department head

As my fellow blogger Justin wrote about earlier this week, the start of a new year means a focus on developing goals to guide us for the next 365ish days. As a department head, the development of individual goals means it’s also time to think about departmental goals. I’m a firm believer that if departmental work is going to get done, it needs to be thoughtfully incorporated into individual goals and co-created by all members of the department. Departmental goals can create focus and point the team in the same direction. I figured I would focus my blog post this month on my thought process behind co-developing yearly departmental goals. 

Last year when it was time to set departmental goals, I was about five months into being a department head. A few months into the job, I worked with the team to co-create departmental mission and vision statements and we had developed our plate of work. Our plate of work was a visual of the areas we focused our team’s time and energy. When it was time for departmental goals, we used Jamboard to brainstorm potential goals, mapped those to our plate of work priorities, and established a series of goals we thought we as a team could achieve in 2022. I then worked with individual department members to either assign team goals to them or organized small groups who worked towards some of our goals. Throughout the year I would glance at the departmental goals document and make note of our progress. 

This year, with more than a year under my belt, I tried a different approach to brainstorming departmental goals. To start, I wanted to get some insight from the team about what they felt went well in 2022. I had everyone review our 2022 goals and reflect on the year. Then we had a group discussion, using the questions below as guiding questions:

  • What went well in 2022 for us as a department?  
  • What were some of our challenges (beyond budgetary concerns)?  
  • When were moments where you felt like we were firing on all cylinders? 
  • When were moments where you felt like we were out of sync?  

I particularly liked the last two questions, which really focused on getting everyone on the team to articulate high and low moments of collaboration and cooperation. These questions also brought up times when the department made good progress and also times when other institutional constraints got in our way. We had a great discussion and it helped lead us into thinking about 2023.

As we transitioned to talking about 2023 departmental goals, I had already kick started this conversation at the end of 2022. I had begun to get feedback from the department about the scope and deliverables for two projects I wanted us to focus on in the spring (one around LibGuides and one around instructional videos). I then asked the department to reflect on our 2022 goals, think about what they’d like to do in 2023, and begin to brainstorm potential goals in a shared Jamboard. When I looked at the Jamboard, I was so proud to see how aligned the team was on our potential goals. What had been brainstormed were things we as a department have discussed previously and or built off the work of our anticipated spring projects. It was amazing to see this alignment and made me so excited about what we as a department could accomplish this year.

To round out our brainstorming, I had the department do an activity that I call “Remix a Goal.” This is an activity that’s part of the 75 Tools for Creative Thinking toolkit I use in my participatory design practice. In the activity, folks are asked to brainstorm wishes (in this case, goals) that seem “normal.” Then, folks are asked to brainstorm more whimsical wishes/goals. These are goals that do not have to be tied to reality and are truly an exercise in imagination. The activity wraps up with the groups pairing a normal goal with a whimsical goal and looking for ways this can create a modified/amplified/innovative goal. When I used this with my department in our meeting, I saw more large scale programs being developed. I think these are the types of stretch goals that could be used to help push us throughout the year, even if we don’t fully implement this idea in 2023. 

At the end of the meeting, we had a myriad of potential goals. Now it’s my job to put those goals into a document, map them to our plate of work, and bring it back to the department for some prioritization. This prioritization will work concurrently as I meet with each individual in the department to finalize their 2023 librarianship goals. I’m hoping that once again this year we can tie departmental goals to individual work. I’m feeling excited about what goals were offered up by the team and cannot wait to see where we can take them in 2023. 

How does your department or unit decide on departmental goals? And how much do they tie to your own individual goals? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments of this post! 


Featured image by Possessed Photography on Unsplash