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.

Summer Adventures in Weeding

It’s summer, there’s barely anyone here on campus, let alone the library. What does that mean? 

WEEDING! (Which has been talked about on ACRLog, of course: example 1 and example 2).  

I won’t lie; I love the process of weeding (or deselection). I really enjoy getting to see the thought processes of librarians past, with what books have made it this far and what was purchased when. Additionally, it’s fun to see when a patron clearly had a burst of energy in researching their specific topic when all or many books in that topic have the same return date.  

This is the first time that I’ve been able to do so for larger swathes of a collection – I have been focusing on my exercise science and recreation/leisure sections. At Salisbury, the department liaisons are responsible for their subjects. As a student worker in my previous libraries, I was never on the Access Services side; I could grab a book, even use GVSU’s Automated Storage and Retrieval System to get something for a patron, but it wasn’t my day in and day out to be up in the stacks. I think I went into UIUC’s massive Main Stacks maybe 3-4 times total, partly due to the pandemic. (I am a bit saddened by this, as I would’ve loved to just wander.) Collection development and being in the stacks still isn’t a part of my daily routine, but I really love it when it gets to be.  

My process has been to get a call number list from our wonderful Collection Management department, which includes all the book’s information, the total number of loans, when it was added, etc. I don’t have any hard and fast rules about what gets to stay and what doesn’t. I am guided by our overarching collection development policy as well as our subject ones, but there are some consistent thoughts while looking through the stats.  

Generally, if it hasn’t been checked out in the last twenty years, it’s on the chopping block; but if we only have, say, 4 books on softball, I’m likely going keep them all (as a sidenote, we have 92 books on baseball but 4 on softball, so I know I’m going to do some purchasing come the new budgets!). If it’s historical, though, like the title Great college football coaches of the twenties and thirties, I’m going to most likely keep. If it has something to do with Maryland or Chesapeake Bay, it’s probably going to stay too. I am also checking to see if our other USMAI (University System of Maryland) colleges have the book as well. If we are the only one to have something in our system, I’ll do even more digging to see if, despite the low circulation stats, it’s something we should hold on to. I’m more stringent with exercise science and anything health related, since it’s important that those stay up to date.  

I am also checking the books against the Eastern Academic Scholars’ Trust (EAST). I only do this for books I already decided to weed. As a member, Salisbury University has to retain certain texts in our collection; there are many books that I deemed ready for deselection that have to stay. All of this is done before I ever go up to the stacks to actually take the books off the shelves! I’ve been staring at a computer screen and Excel sheets a lot this week.  

Once I’m actually up there in the shelves, I’m making decisions as I go along. There are some books where I ultimately decided not to weed after paging through. Catalog entries are sometimes very bare bones, and especially if it’s an older book, it can be hard to find information online. So the final determination comes when I’m holding the book in my hands. Two books that were on the chopping block stayed because they were signed by the author. Finally, some books are marked with a red “RCL” stamp, which also signals to me that they must be retained. This retention differs from EAST, though I’d need to ask Collection Management for details. If I come across books that are in poor condition, I will also pull them to either be deselected or repaired.  

Being in the stacks and gathering the books is undoubtedly my favorite part. That’s where I get to see all the weird covers, illustrations, sun damage… I affectionately caption it all “adventures in weeding.” (As a sidenote, I am definitely not the one who came up with that; many a librarian has posted their weird and wonderful books with that phrase.) Here’s a few: 

Can you believe that Mall Walking Madness is one of the books we have to retain? (I suppose it is a bit of an artifact at this point…) The second photo with highlight is pointing out the “Possibilities for PDAs” in a book on physical education and technology. The last trio of photos are all from the same one on playground equipment, and it is all diagrams with little written instruction (and some slightly disturbing illustrations for different sections). Finally, this short video is of a book with some intense sun damage.  

What are some of your best “adventures in weeding”? 

New Year, New Weed

I think a lot of us have New Year’s resolutions or goal-setting on our minds as we start the spring semester, but this time of the year has me thinking more about our fiscal year goals. Heading into January means that we’re wrapping up the second quarter, and we can evaluate how the collection is measuring up to goals that were set before I started. The best way for me to determine progress is by looking at the data, and the most effective way to share that with my colleagues is through data storytelling. I’m still growing my data literacy, but narratives (the storytelling part) I can do.

One of the action items for our strategic plan is to incorporate new tools for assessment. I recently found out about Dossiers from BLUECloud Analytics, a SirsiDynix tool that is powered by Microstrategy to pull data and create visualizations. Using knowledge I gained from a Learning Analytics course at Mizzou during my MLIS, plus from consulting books like Storytelling with Data, Data Science for Librarians, and Data Visualization: A Guide to Visual Storytelling for Libraries, I crafted a brief presentation as an update to the annual collection report. Honestly, compared to other programs like Tableau, this Dossier was tough to make. Although, between creating it and writing this post, they have upgraded their system to include new features that I would have loved to use. I spent a lot of time figuring out the system, making the visualizations, and creating a visually appealing template. Besides finding out how extra I am, I think my colleagues had an easier time understanding the data, and gained a better understanding of where we stand. This is a small start towards incorporating data storytelling into our work culture.

Page of BLUECloud Analytics Dossier from ERAU

The biggest takeaway from this project was that deselection of materials had a largely positive impact on the age of the collection, greater than just adding brand new materials could. It’s like trying to mix a grey paint; you’re going to need to dump a whole lot of white onto your black paint to get it to lighten up. It’s so much more effective if you take all the old, unused stuff away first. Committing to keeping up with how we are progressing towards our goals is the only way I would have found out that the time invested by liaison librarians into collection development has been paying off – and more importantly, just how much of an impact their actions made. I think it is so much more valuable to see that quantitative comparison in the data than to simply say “good job.”

There is an IMLS project coming out of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for a “Data Storytelling Toolkit for Librarians” that I am really excited to learn more about. With a resource like that, we can all learn more on how to gain insights from our data, and especially how to share our impact with our stakeholders, whether they be internal or external. When people ask me what the most beneficial classes during my MLIS were, I always list Learning Analytics among them. We live in a data culture, and in my first year as an academic librarian, I am definitely seeing how it is starting to seep into my everyday work.

Prepared? Reflecting on grad school after 3.5 months on the job

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how well my MS/LIS degree and its related experiences prepared me for my job now as a Research and Instructional Services Librarian. It’s important to note that I worked in my undergraduate library for three years while receiving my bachelors. I also worked in my hometown public library for a year before heading off to graduate school. I’d worked at a physical reference desk before, had worked with LibChat, and had a base knowledge of databases. I had more library experience than some, and therefore had a better idea of what classes I needed to be taking to become an academic librarian.   

I feel like a broken record saying this, but my graduate experience was quite different and chaotic at best; my first year, I was entirely online (unplanned), assistantship and all. Online classes weren’t necessarily a surprise, given my alma mater’s strong online MS/LIS program, but setting foot in the library I worked for exactly once during the 2020-2021 school year wasn’t something I was expecting. I did chat and email reference, team meetings, and taught workshops all from my tiny bedroom in Urbana, IL. I’d moved to Illinois specifically to have an in-person program, but alas – Covid ruined those plans. My supervisor and the other librarians I worked with did their best to train my cohort remotely, but as you can imagine, the physical reference desk is a whole other beast compared to a virtual one. Even when we went back in person in summer 2021, things felt constantly up in the air. Policies were changing left and right as folks tried to reconcile COVID-19 restrictions with being back in person. If anything, my “chaos cohort” of other graduate assistants were prepared to be adaptable! 

collection development

With that being said, one aspect of my degree that might seem controversial to some is that I actively chose not to take collection development, despite never having done that in any of the previously mentioned library jobs. This was based on some of my friends’ experiences in the class; it was useful, for sure, but there were other classes they’d wanted to take that they couldn’t as a result. I had the thought too that wherever I ended up, they would “do” collections differently. I’d have to learn new processes no matter what classes I took. Now that I’m here at Salisbury, I am responsible for collections in areas like Environmental Studies, Public Health, and Exercise Science, to name a few. I lean on my faculty for book recommendations, as well as Choice Reviews from ACRL and book reviews in journals. I am also part of our Leisure Reading committee, where our main responsibility is to develop our leisure collections for students, faculty and staff. Here, the collection development is a group effort. Personally, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much; I’ve learned how to use GOBI on the job, and my university has a great faculty request system in place.  

instruction

A theme I have noticed in literature regarding the master’s degree is that many academic librarians feel they weren’t adequately prepared to take on instruction. It’s also been written about on ACRLog before. This is something I felt fairly confident about, as I took the class “Instructional Strategies and Techniques for Information Professionals” with Merinda Hensley. We created a lesson plan, struggled through writing learning outcomes (emphasis on the struggle), and wrote teaching philosophies. I also took “E-Learning” with Melissa Wong, which gave me language and strategies for teaching virtually. On top of all of this, I was teaching for the UIUC library via my graduate assistantship. So when setting up instruction sessions with my faculty at Salisbury, I felt confident. I’m always going to be nervous before teaching, but it’s never been because I have no idea what I’m doing.  

faculty communication

Where I feel shaky in regards to my job duties is in communication with faculty. Some of this is to be expected with a new librarian, but where I find myself unsure is how many emails to send, how to reach faculty that don’t already request library instruction… essentially, I am struggling in this aspect of “proving” myself and my job to other faculty at the university. I attended the CLAPS (Critical Librarianship & Pedagogy Symposium) two weeks ago, and Baharak Yousefi’s closing keynote has really stuck with me. Some of these tweets capture the essence of this powerful keynote, which had some focus on one-shot instruction:  

“No physicist, historian, or geographer on our campus teaches this way – going around begging for the right to teach in a one-off manner.” (tweeted by @lydia_zv)  

“We are deprofessionalized by being given work we can’t do well, and the very fact that we can’t do it well makes us reluctant to resist the condition of our de-professionalization” (tweeted by @RoxanneShirazi) 

I didn’t have the words for what I was feeling, but Yousefi has captured it perfectly. I was hired at Salisbury to perform a job, I have faculty status, and yet, it sometimes feels like I need to prove the merit of library instruction. I’ve got some great faculty who know the value of a librarian for their students, but even then, I’m in front of them maybe once a semester. If the timing of our session isn’t quite right, students won’t see the value of what I teach yet or won’t want to re-do their research based on what I’ve shown them. I imagine that confidence in faculty communication will come with time and effort; is this even something an MS/LIS could prepare a new librarian for? I’m inclined to say no. We can perhaps be warned about the phenomenon by professors and mentors, but it strikes me as something a librarian has to experience and address themselves at their institutions.  

These are just a few things I’ve been pondering since graduating. How did your MS/LIS prepare you for your library position? How did it not? Feel free to sound off below. This post by Sarah Crissinger on tips for graduate school might be of interest too. 

“Wait a minute Honey, I’m gonna add it up:” Kanopies, DRM, and the Permanence of the Collection

In my new position at the University of Washington I have a long commute, as one would expect, in a large city like Seattle. On this commute I listen to music and read and on the bus last week I reached for an old Midwestern standby, The Violent Femmes only to find that their first album, Violent Femmes (1983) had been removed from streaming platforms and, despite my purchase of the album electronically, had been removed from iTunes for me to listen to. (Reader, don’t worry many of the songs are available on their greatest hits record, aptly titled, Permanent Record.)

The Violent Femmes performing in 2006 (Wikimedia Commons)

In the last few weeks librarians have been confronted in various ways with the difficulties surrounding streaming and licensed materials. Kanopy, one of the largest and most popular streaming services available for library users, was recently and publicly dropped by the New York Public Library (NYPL). How we found this news out, and how it became well known, was a result of Kanopy sending an email to NYPL users who had registered for the service prior to NYPL’s own statement on the issue. In part, their message explained “The New York, Queens, and Brooklyn Public Libraries have decided to discontinue Kanopy’s film streaming service to its patrons…Film as a public resource is a critical part of New York’s culture and communities. We have enjoyed furthering the New York City Libraries’ mission of providing open access to knowledge… [emphasis mine].” 

Kanopy's Letter to Patrons
The Kanopy Letter sent to New York Public Library Patrons

Setting aside for a moment the frankly gross overstep of a vendor directly reaching out to library patrons about library budgetary or mission changes, let’s focus in on the language that Kanopy uses to describe their service: public resource and open access. For those of us who work in academic libraries and have dealt with the ongoing difficulties with providing access to streaming media for our communities, and especially those who are aware of Kanopy’s expensive nature, these kinds of words might make us take a pause.

As a cinema librarian I can say that film is an important part of cultural legacy and should be a public resource and that access to film should be part of any library’s collection mission. Yet, for many of us the way we consume and purchase media has dramatically changed in the past decade, as streaming and licensing digital files have become the norm for the majority of consumers. Kanopy fits into this very nicely. It’s interface looks remarkably similar to any other streaming platform, and invites users to click through its offerings like they would for Netflix, Criterion Channel, and Amazon Prime. It’s hidden cost, as we know, only triggers when a user clicks on a film and watches a certain amount of it. For users it seems free; like the offerings from Netflix that despite the monthly cost allows users to peruse and sample any film in the catalog. For the most part this is how streaming platforms like Kanopy have advertised themselves to our users.


I want to be clear that it is not my intention to pile on to Kanopy, because I truly believe that Kanopy provides a great service for spreading art and indie film to the widest audience. Rather I want us to think about how we are building collections and gathering materials in this new digital age of instant gratification and expectations.

Over the last year and especially in the wake of NYPL’s decision, I have seen many articles touting and promoting the great new “free” hidden service provided by the library. This article from Entertainment Weekly https://ew.com/movies/2019/01/18/free-streaming-service-kanopy/ emphasizes the accessibility and the free cost as these pillars of why Kanopy is amazing for users. And Kanopy for their part makes a pretty compelling case for this kind of access  CEO Olivia Humphrey states “‘We have such a wide audience,’ says Humphrey. ‘We have people who can’t afford an internet connection that go down to the local public library to watch…. That’s a really important demographic for us, [as much as] cinephiles in L.A. and New York.’ Part of serving that audience is finding what Humphrey calls “content gaps” in other streaming platforms and trying to fill the void” This is something that I think is a really wonderful part of Kanopy, is that it allows access to art and indie film through public libraries but at what cost?

Well…we often don’t know what the cost is. The model is certainly different at Academic institutions but one of the cited figures for public libraries is $2 a watch for each film, and some libraries have limited how often users can watch films a month in order to keep these figures down (
https://www.indiewire.com/2019/06/new-york-public-library-drops-kanopy-netflix-alternative-too-expensive-1202153550/ ) . For Academic institutions, Kanopy, and other services like it, are fairly reminiscent of our licensing agreements with our ebooks, and costs can be astronomical. In a Film Quarterly article critiquing the “freeness” of Kanopy, Chris Cagel, a film historian at Temple University, writes “Instead, Kanopy’s platform drives “patron-driven acquisition” in which three viewings (defined as 30 seconds or more of a title) trigger a library license fee per title. (The figures I’ve seen are $150 for a year, $350 for a 3-year license, though the price might vary or change over time.) (see: https://filmquarterly.org/2019/05/03/kanopy-not-just-like-netflix-and-not-free/ )” These costs can quickly go out of control for many libraries, and the larger the population and the more articles about how this “free service” is provided by libraries, complicate this matter. It leads us to the moment where we are forced to cancel subscriptions because our patrons are using it, rather than how we often weed in our collections based on lack of use or usefulness in a general sense.


…the larger expectation for our library within the community is that we are permanent repositories for information (see the issues we generally see when library’s weed their collections) digital media is anything but permanent, and we have to reconcile this fact with our user expectations.

I want to be clear that it is not my intention to pile on to Kanopy, because I truly believe that Kanopy provides a great service for spreading art and indie film to the widest audience. Rather I want us to think about how we are building collections and gathering materials in this new digital age of instant gratification and expectations and how we tell that story to our users. Our users will start to feel the loss of licenses when materials start to leave our collections, just as they are starting to see their own digital materials lost in their personal collections. On the same day that Kanopy and NYPL parted ways it was reported that ebooks purchased through the Microsoft Store would be deleted this month from those who had purchased them. https://gizmodo.com/ebooks-purchased-from-microsoft-will-be-deleted-this-mo-1836005672

Digital items with DRM (digital rights management) are never fully owned, instead they are licensed. You can read more about DRM from the grassroots anti-DRM movement Defective By Design. They even wrote an open letter to libraries https://www.defectivebydesign.org/LetterToLibraries. These objects can be locked to prevent sharing of the material to other users and they can be taken away, like the ebooks or like my precious Violent Femmes album. My institution is well off enough to encourage our subject liaisons to purchase ebooks without DRM (which increases the costs substantially), but many public libraries or smaller academic libraries cannot afford to pay an extra $150 to make sure digital items are the community’s to keep. But the larger expectation for our library within the community is that we are permanent repositories for information (see the issues we generally see when library’s weed their collections) digital media is anything but permanent, and we have to reconcile this fact with our user expectations.

In my own life I have begun collecting materials for myself in non-digital form. This means that I have spent money buying twenty-year-old video games, hard to find DVDs, and vinyl because I am aware of the tenuous grip that we have on our digital files and media. It is essential that libraries work to make our communities aware of the restrictions and the fugitive nature of digital licensed materials and platforms and work with our users to ensure their needs are met in this changing time. NYPL for their part explained their decision to move away from Kanopy stating that “The Library made this decision after a careful and thorough examination of its streaming offerings and priorities. We believe the cost of Kanopy makes it unsustainable for the Library, and that our resources are better utilized purchasing more in-demand collections such as books and e-books (https://www.nypl.org/press/press-release/june-24-2019/statement-about-kanopy

For a city of 8 million people, Kanopy was perhaps unsustainable, but NYPL is also making a point about how they see their collections growing and that is in books and ebooks. For libraries providing for the public good means making these kinds of decisions, and we need helpful partnerships with our vendors to provide this access. While I do not know what was going on in the minds of the directors of NYPL, it sure does not seem like the library system was wanting to wage this battle in the open prior to Kanopy’s patron email. Yet, this has become a moment where librarians can have conversations with patrons about the costs and limitations of streaming and digital materials. I, for one, have received several messages from my faculty colleagues about how the NYPL decision impacts us at the University of Washington, and I tell them that while it won’t change the way we interact with Kanopy (that decision was made long before I came here) but that this is an important teaching moment in our current climate. While the vendor spurred this conversation, I believe that libraries can have an important voice to share in this new media age.