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.

Looking Back: A Yearly Wrap-Up

I’ve (almost) made it! As of May, I’m eleven months into my first not-so-new-anymore academic librarian position. Looking back on my first year in an academic library, there are a handful of lessons, moments, and people that come to mind – including just how fast time flies while working at a university. In the spirit of growth, this month’s post reflects back on my various lessons from this academic year.

Teaching a library credit-course has always loomed rather large for my first position. So, it makes sense that there’s more to be said about teaching than I have space for (see my January post, for example). That being said, here are couple of lessons from the library classroom.

Proper Preparation

I’m going to let you in on a little-known secret – I get nervous each and every single time I have to teach. It doesn’t matter how many years of teaching I have under my belt, it doesn’t matter if it’s a one-shot lesson I’ve delivered ten times. I always get at least a little nervous whenever I have to teach, and it took me a while to realize that that’s okay.  There’s something that’s always stuck with me from my alternative teacher certification days that still holds true for me to this day – proper preparation prevents pitiful performance. Aside from being an impressive example of alliteration, this maxim has become something I live by when it comes to teaching. 

Teaching is stressful. Each class, each lecture, each activity comes with its laundry list like number of considerations to think about. Activating students’ prior knowledge, preparing mini-lectures, creating opportunities for students to practice new skills, assessing those skills; these are just some of the few things an instructor has to take into consideration whenever planning an instruction session. Granted, some level of stress is unavoidable when teaching, but craving time out each day to prepare and plan instruction has made teaching a lot more manageable for me.

Reflection

Planning takes time, but actual instruction sessions themselves fly by. It’s because of this that reflection has become a staple of my pedagogical praxis. Thanks to my lovely colleagues who introduced me to the concept, I now have a journal specifically for both planning out my classes but also reflecting on each instruction session. Having a space for reflecting on each class session has afforded me a variety of insights. Something I learned early on about teaching is that classes don’t always turn out the way we image, so having a journal filled with the ups and downs of instruction helps me better plan for future sessions. In a way, my reflection journal works as a form of self-assessment, but it also serves as a marker of progress – comparing my notes from the first week of Fall classes to this Spring lets me know I’ve come a long way as both a librarian and an instructor.

Working Out a Workflow

Prior to my current position, my old workflow consisted of notes in a very lovely planner that I would consistently forget to regularly check. I regretfully admit that, because of my lax scheduling, there are a handful of work and nonwork related events that I missed. But, I’m happy to report that since starting at my current institution, I’ve become the type of person who lives by their Outlook calendar. My last to-do every day before leaving the office is taking a look at my calendar for the next day and locking in exactly what I need to be working on and when. More importantly, I’ve grown into the habit of setting my calendar up in advance as often as possible. This means that sometimes I place an event or deadline on my calendar months in advance but, thanks to my calendar’s reminders function, the likelihood of me forgetting to prep for that event or deadline is much smaller than it has ever been.

Outreach

It seems to me that figuring out your approach to outreach is an almost universal librarian experience. Each library and each campus come with their own set of distinct factors to take into consideration when planning outreach. Because of that, I think it’s safe to say that there’s no one hard and fast rule for conducting outreach to your campus community. What I’ve come to learn about outreach is that most of all it requires time and visibility.

Connecting with students has quickly become one of the most rewarding parts of my position. But, like that phrase about Rome, those connections aren’t built in a day. Whether it’s in the classroom or a campus cultural center, building relationships with students and the on-campus organizations that serve them require an investment of time and presence. My biggest success story in this regard has been my outreach to my campus’ César Chávez Cultural Center (I touched on this in my March post) which led to me being personally sought out by students.

Service

Service to the library, service to the university, service to the profession at large – service period is something I didn’t have much experience with till this year. Much like the other lessons, figuring out my approach to service work has taken time. Though it seems like a requirement typical of most academic libraries, service seems like the type of work that can either become an additional burden or a fulfilling joy. My approach to service has consisted of finding opportunities aligned to my passions. For example, back in March I took part in two training sessions with the library internship program I was in during grad school. During the sessions, I had the opportunity to discuss my experiences in the job market and my transition from intern to full-time librarian with current interns. Maybe it’s something to do with the type of people this profession attracts, but I’ve found that incoming librarians tend to be very responsive and appreciative of hearing earnest advice about the profession to which I usually reply with, “this is one of the fun parts about my job” – and, it’s true. I’ve found that sharing the experiences and advice I’ve received along my path to the profession thus far to be immensely gratifying. Doing so has made my service feel a lots less like work and more like giving back.

Friendship

Last and most certainly not least, friendship. Having people that you know that you can lean-on, as well as making space for those people to lean-on you, goes a long way for me in my personal life. But, I’ve come to learn that that’s also the case for me at work. I know, I know – librarians typical tend to identify as introverts (myself included) but having a close-knit circle of work friends has been huge for me. All of us have our fair share of bad days, but not everyone has someone that they can lean on during those times. Being open and vulnerable with my circle at work has gotten me through some of my roughest days at the library.

In a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve finally gotten adjusted to my new career. I fully recognize I still have much to learn but reflecting back on my first year has allowed to realize just how far I’ve come in a relatively short period of time. Though I’m happy to report that I’ll be taking some time off this Summer – I’m really excited to catch Rage Against the Machine and Kendrick Lamar in July – I’m looking forward to all the new lessons and challenges the coming academic year will bring.

Service as a Resident Librarian

Though I often heard about the importance of membership in a professional organization and had some exposure to the concept of service as a graduate student, professional service is something I wasn’t very familiar until my current position. Part of the orientation process for my current position consisted of my department head going over and explaining the criteria for my yearly evaluation. Lo and behold, service made up a significant portion of my evaluation. As a first-year librarian and a library resident, figuring out my approach to service work has made for an interesting journey.

My experiences with service during grad school, specifically librarians active in service work, were fairly varied. Of course, there was my school’s own Library and Information Sciences Student Association. Though I was only ever a very casual member (grad school, work, and my personal life were more than enough for me at the time), I was always surprised by the number of events held by the organization as well as the variety of librarians involved with said events. By volunteering to staff my area’s annual archives event, I got a small glimpse into just how small librarianship is as well as how easy it can be to meet other librarians. Looking back, I realize I probably volunteered for the event more out of hearing about the importance of volunteering rather than the relevance of what I volunteered for – archives is something I’ve never really had any interest in. Through the events I was required to attend as a Spectrum and Kaleidoscope Scholar, I got a glimpse into just how powerful mentorship and community with other librarians and library students of color can be. In retrospect, Spectrum and Kaleidoscope is where the potential of service work clicked for me – service doesn’t necessary always feel like work whenever it’s related to one’s passion.

Knowing that service was required of me, I decided to make sure that whatever service work I became involved with related to one of my areas of passion. After taking inventory of what those passion are – library instruction, BIPOC library organizations, supporting library students – I ultimately landed on a couple of organizations. REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos & the Spanish Speaking) and ACRL’s Residency Interest Group (RIG) were where I first decided to try my hand at service work.

Through REFORMA and RIG, I realized that sometimes interest is really all that’s needed in order to get involved with a professional organization. Neither organizations asked for much to serve: REFORMA required an application while RIG brought to my attention a call for volunteers to help develop a program for library students. Through REFORMA, I was able to join the scholarship committee which assess applications and selects recipients of the two scholarships given out by the organization (as I’ve been working on this post, we’ve actually begun this work). After sending an email expressing interest in the RIG project for LIS students, I found myself in a small planning group consisting of four other library residents. After our initial meeting, we decided our program would be a panel series that would serve as an introduction to the world of academic libraries. The series, aptly named Into the Stacks: An Academic Libraries Panel Series, took place once a month from January to April with one resident taking charge of a panel each month. Admittedly, I was nervous to host a panel by myself, but luckily my panelist were librarians who are a part of my own journey through librarianship. As such, my nerves calmed down a bit after we got going. If anything, the panel just reinforced how much I really enjoy chatting about librarianship period.

Understanding that service work can function as a form of professional development turned out to be a surprise lesson for me. It was determined during my orientation that, due to the temporary nature of my position, my service work would have a national focus. This led me to seek out national service opportunities and this is where ALA’s Emerging Leaders program came in. Through the program, early career librarians like myself are given the opportunity to participate in a national working group with their peers. Once selected for the program, I was given a number of different options in regard to the type of project I would work on. Luckily for me, among the options was a working on a LibGuide over inclusive pedagogy. Through my working group’s discussions and the collection and evaluation of resources for our LibGuide, I’ve been able to further develop my knowledge of pedagogical best practices. This has allowed me to reflect on my current instruction praxis with an eye for ensuring said practices are as inclusive as possible.

Looking back on my introduction to service work, there are a handful of lessons I’ve come to learn. Planning ahead is crucial. For instance, whenever I initially applied for Emerging Leaders last Fall semester, I knew that the program and its project would end by June. Thus I made sure to apply for some ACRL committees, knowing that they would begin right around the time Emerging Leaders would end. Yet, perhaps my biggest takeaway is that aligning my service work with my passions has made the work itself far more enjoyable than I could’ve imagined. Though service is a typical requirement for academic librarians, framing that requirement as an opportunity to give back to a field I love has made the work all that much more gratifying.

The flyer for our panel series

Outreach as a Resident Librarian

Being a library resident has made my first year as an academic librarian an interesting experience to say the least. Through my residency, I have a level of autonomy I’ve come to realize isn’t afford to every first-year librarian. Some of my responsibilities are non-negotiable. Being an information literacy librarian on a campus where librarians are considered faculty means I have to teach a credit course, I have to publish, and I have to complete service work. Aside from teaching, I have a significant say in what the other aspects of my position look like.

Though my position didn’t come with any predesignated liaison areas, I’m still responsible for conducting outreach to my institution’s community. My autonomy has allowed me to think about the areas and populations I’m passionate about and focus my outreach efforts there. I ultimately decided that I wanted my outreach work to benefit others from similar backgrounds as mine. This meant that my outreach would be geared towards undergraduate, underserved, first-generation students. Since I wasn’t able to get much outreach experience during grad school – the second year of my program and internship was entirely remote – I knew I had to seek out advice and guidance from other librarians.

Luckily for me, my wonderful campus mentor was already working with several of the groups I was interested in supporting. More importantly, he was more than willing to let me collaborate with him in his outreach efforts. My mentor’s outreach areas include our institution’s McNair Scholars Program and the Center for Human Enrichment (CHE), another TRiO program focused on first-generation college students.

Our outreach to McNair and CHE takes on a variety of forms, but the overall strategy consists of being present during the times students will most likely be on campus. For example, both my mentor and I staff monthly office hours for each individual group. For CHE, they take place during their monthly study nights – students in the program are required to attend a certain number of CHE sponsored events each semester. For McNair, office hours are held an hour before their class starts in the McNair office. In addition to office hours, we also provide both groups with library instruction sessions. For CHE, this took the form of a library services session during orientation for the newest cohort. For McNair, instruction was more hands-on. For these students, we taught three separate sessions covering a variety of topics such as library research services, writing a literature review, and an overview of citation styles. That being said, our involvement with these groups isn’t limited to academics.

My library mentor introduced me to the idea of attending the events of your liaison groups. Though it may seem like a small gesture, I’ve come to realize that being present and participating in the social aspects of students’ lives is not only beneficial for their social-emotional wellbeing, but also demonstrates that librarians care about more than just academics. For example, this past Fall semester, my mentor and I both attended CHE’s student employee orientation and McNair’s Annual Awards Banquet. Attending these events allowed me the opportunity to get to better know the students we work with and vice-versa. Though I’m still new at my institution, I’ve quickly come to realize just how much more willing students are to meet with and ask for help from librarians they regularly see and interact with versus approaching a stranger at the reference desk. The outreach I’ve done for our campus’ César Chávez Cultural Center has served to reinforce this realization.

My institution is home to eight different cultural centers. From the Marcus Garvey Cultural Center to Veteran’s Services, each center focuses on one of the various populations present on campus. It’s important to note that resources like cultural centers can be crucial to supporting the success of underserved students, especially since BIPOC students account for half of all first-generation students. This, along with my desire to give back to and support students from my background, is why I provide outreach to my institution’s César Chávez Cultural Center.

My outreach to the Chávez Center is not that different than the outreach my colleague and I provide CHE and McNair. The Chávez Center typically hosts support events during both mid-terms and finals. In order to meet students where they’ll be, I work with the Chávez Center’s director and graduate assistant to coordinate office hours to coincide with other mid-term/finals week events held at the Center. When possible, I also do my best to attend cultural events held by the Center such as their annual Latinx Heritage Month Celebration Kickoff.

Like all good things, I’ve come to learn that building healthy outreach relationships takes time. Earning the trust of campus partners, especially those focused on supporting traditionally underserved students, doesn’t happen overnight. Assessing the fruits of that trust can be tricky but, for me, being recognized by students outside their respective social spaces serves as a significant marker of success. In one such instance, a cultural fraternity recognized me from the Chávez Center and used that connection to request a library session for the brothers themselves. Though I’m still crafting my outreach methods, being specifically sought out by students has been among my proudest moments as a first-year librarian.  

A First Year Librarian’s First Service

Outreach has quickly become one of my favorite parts of being a librarian. I love the fact that I get to work and interact with students in several nonjudgmental capacities. Whether it’s a research consultation or a one-shot library session, I love telling students that the library isn’t here to judge you; it’s here to provide the support you need to be successful. I trace this habit back to my library internship and my old supervisor. Coincidently, my internship is also where I picked up the idea for my first library service – Research and Writing Lab (R&W Lab).

Much of my current philosophy of librarianship is informed by my internship’s supervisor. For instance, the importance of one-on-one interactions between students and librarians is something I picked up from him. As part of my internship, I often observed my supervisor in several capacities. One of those was sitting in on his R&W Lab sessions. The R&W Lab was designed as a one-stop shop for students needing help with either or both the research and writing components of their assignments. It was through these observations that I realized how important student-librarian interactions really are – especially since typically the highest number of interactions librarians have with students are through one-shots. This is most certainly the case at my current institution as well.

Aside from our credit-bearing courses, one-shots, and consultations, our library doesn’t really have a set time devoted to helping students with their research. On top of that, our Writing Center is typically booked up well in advance. Because of this, I realized that replicating my previous supervisor’s service at my institution could go a long way for our students. The thing is that, since this was to be my first library service, I wasn’t entirely sure how to get the ball rolling.

Like all good ideas, I proposed R&W Lab on a whim during one of my department meetings. Lucky for me, my department head was receptive to the idea and helped me get the service going. She set up the initial meeting between us and the Writing Center director, and I came up with a game plan. This might sound a bit basic, but I drafted my plan using the tried-and-true method of answering the Five Ws – who, what, when, where, and why. After coming up with and proposing a plan to the Writing Center Director, the next thing the service needed was volunteers and promotion.

In comparison to the rest of the planning process, this next step was relatively easy. I’d attribute this to my colleagues’ commitment to service and the wonderful support of our libraries’ communication specialist. Thanks to my lovely colleagues, we were able to staff the service from mid-terms to the week before finals. I sent out emails about R&W Lab to our campus cultural centers as well as groups focused on first-generation/first-year students. But, we were really able to promote the service across campus thanks to our communication specialist who knew exactly which channels to use in order to get the word out.

Flash forward to this semester, we’ve actually expanded R&W Lab. Instead of starting at mid-terms, this semester the lab has been running since the fourth week of classes. Though it feels a bit early for assessments, if there’s one thing I learned from starting R&W Lab it’s that nothing happens in a vacuum – especially on a college campus. Much like campus itself, there are often several moving pieces that need to be taken into consideration before a service can even be planned out. Thankfully, I had several people in my corner to aid and support me throughout the process.  

This semester’s flier for Research & Writing Lab