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.

Mentorship in your first year

Entering a new workplace is scary. Entering a new profession, environment, and career all at the same time, is scarier. However, with a little help, the transition can be smooth.

Before I even began my position at American University, I was assigned a mentor, another librarian at the AU Library. I had never had one and did not know what to expect.

As a first year librarian, I will be honest, I was not expecting a mentor, but I knew I would need one. I did not know the importance of having a mentor until I had one. However, as I dove into my new job, got involved in service, and started going to conferences, I realized that mentorship is very important.

Mentorship is essential because it not only provides guidance and confidence in yourself, it is also important in terms of retention in the profession for the coming years.

For guidance, as a new professional, you’re going to have questions that are not just “where is the best place to eat?” Instead, you might be curious about faculty governance or advice about a possible research project. I often found myself bouncing ideas off of my mentor or expressing concern or anxiety about my career path. The first couple of months were a time of getting to do new things, but also observing everyone around me and thinking about the possible career paths that are ahead of me.

The most important aspect of a mentor-mentee relationship is the relationship between you and your mentor. This relationship is reciprocal. By this, I mean that a mutual respect grows and that they are also learning from you.

Because I think this is a very important topic, I wanted to share how I go about it, because it’s also new to me as well. I do not pretend to know everything about mentorship, but as I go through this process, I continue to learn more. Here are a couple of “best practices” that I recommend for in order to get the most out of this experience.

-There must be some structure. My mentor and I see each other almost every day at work, so we always have short conversations about work, research/scholarship, plans, etc. However, we always find a time for either coffee, lunch, or dinner to further discuss these topics and to also put a plan in motion (if necessary). This block of time is just for the two of us and allows us to speak freely and express our thoughts and ideas. As I said before, the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is a two-way street. You both should benefit from this relationship.

How so? You should be able to teach your mentor new things, whether it’s about your interests or bringing a new perspective. Learning from your mentor about their career experiences and observations should also be beneficial to you.

-There will always be challenges in not only the workplace, but in your research agenda, service, or other aspects on your career. Have honest conversations, because if you can’t have these conversations about career struggles or successes, then who can you have them with?

-Write everything down. Even if you’re having coffee or lunch with your mentor, it is still a meeting about your career, your research plans, etc. I always have my notebook and pen with me and it’s also useful to have when you and your mentor are bouncing ideas off of each other.

-Have a plan and take the initiative yourself. Before having coffee or lunch/dinner with my mentor, I like to have a good idea of what my next plans are. For example, the Spring semester is coming to an end and our department has been discussing summer projects. Along with summer tasks/projects, I also have to work on presentations for a conference in August. Having an update and a timeline for my mentor is helpful for myself because I can get feedback.

The mentor-mentee relationship is what you make of it! This also brings up another question. What if you don’t have a mentor, but you would like one? There are a couple ways you could go about this.

Depending on your institution, the library might have a mentorship program in place already. Ask about the program(s) and find out what it consists of. Would you get paired? Or be able to choose your own mentor? What are your research interests? Ask questions!

The other option would be finding a mentor on your own. I’m glad I didn’t have to do this because I would feel intimidated. However, if there is someone that you feel would be a good fit, ask them if they would be willing to mentor you. I am not the expert at this, so I cannot say much. However, I would urge anyone to do their research on how to approach this subject. There are a couple of good articles out there for further reading into the subject. For example, “Are you my mentor? New perspectives and Research on Informal Mentorship” written by Julie James, Ashley Rayner, and Jeannette Bruno provides insight into informal mentorship, and how it might be the preferred method.

Another option would be to research the mentorship programs within professional library organizations. ACRL and ALA have mentoring programs to fit different interests and needs. It’s all about finding out what your options are!

On a personal note, I am very grateful for the mentor I have right now. This experience has been more than I imagined and I hope to continue growing, as well as updating you all!