Libraries Rebound: Directly supporting researchers

In a previous blog post, Ricky explained a little about our format. I’ll now continue with more of the content of the meeting, focusing on our first panel, where we asked speakers to talk about how librarians are working directly with researchers on their information needs as they plan, carry out, and disseminate their research. I should emphasize that I’m summarizing what I think are high points. All of these talks were quite rich, and will be posted online along with the video for the sessions soon.

Kurt de Belder (Leiden University) told us that the title of his strategic plan is “partner in knowledge”–the library is striving to become library to become the “expert center” for research and teaching and has been gearing up to provide what they see as key services: virtual research environments, capacities in text and data mining, support for data curation, GIS services. Services that focus on the dissemination part of the cycle include copyright consultation and publication support. Librarians have also been given an additional role of providing ICT support. The library is conducting in-depth focus groups with faculty to see which of these services are of highest value, and where they need additional support. As librarians move to becoming service experts, they have been allocated time to developing their new skills. Early signs are that the shift has been well received, with uptake of new services, an emerging reputation of the library as a “go-to” place, and the library being included as partner in developing funding requests.

Tracy GabridgeTracy Gabridge (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) talked about shifting from a model where librarians acted as “loan wolves” in separate services points to a team based model, and a move from providing reactive service to being more proactive in outreach to faculty. At the core of this shift was an effort to equip liaisons with some universal structures, but at the same time allow them to draw on the unique skills required for work with a particular disciplines. For example, there is are now a shared practice for contacting new faculty, which saves each librarian the time of doing this work individually and ensures consistency. There is also dedicated time for liaisons to debrief and share with one another as a large group, and also time for work within “communities of practice” that may share more deeply. Tracy reveled that 60% of MIT liaisons have domain knowledge. She does not consider domain knowledge universally essential — what is most important is continuous learning skills. Curiosity, fearlessness, and enthusiasm were also listed as necessary qualities. A sign of success? Half of MIT reference questions now come to the research liaisons directly, rather than over the reference desk.

David ShumakerDavid Shumaker (Catholic University of America) gave a rationale for moving towards “embedded librarians” in reaction to shifts in information seeking behavior and also disruption of higher education (a topic I’ll be blogging about soon!). The mission of librarians is “to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities*” (emphasis added), then librarians need to become part of communities. Embedded librarians develop deep relationships with researchers, shared goals, and provide custom, high-value contributions as part of a research team. This is not going out for coffee or having a first date, this is marriage! However, librarians need be outgoing to build these strong relationships, which can be a problem because, according to David, librarianship is a “profession dominated by introverted. Librarians should recognize that they bring unique perspective and skills to research teams. Librarians should also seek to develop the right high value services, and expect that this is will be a moving target — you may be continually reinventing services and that’s okay.

Service Panel: Chris, Liz, DanaNext was our reactor panel: Liz Chapman (London School of Economics), Chris Bourg (Stanford University), and Dana Rooks (University of Houston). We asked our reactors to be provocative and they did not disappoint! Liz questioned the concept of embedded librarianship; is this really a new thing? (This notion was met with both approval and pushback – the difference is a focus on deeper engagement and connection to both teaching and research, we are being more responsive to needs.) Chris took on education, stating that subject librarians absolutely need to have domain expertise. (This too, received both agreement and disagreement. Chris, as a good social scientist, called for evidence!) Dana Rooks talked about the importance of the library connectors and matchmakers on campus; if we leave the desk and can become engaged and active. We can put ourselves in a position to the big picture, and can help make connections (and burnish our own reputation in the process). Others in the audience both applauded and took issue with the notion of a continually evolving new services, seeing this as path where it is difficult to get ahead, and quite possible to fall off a cliff.

Some other quotable quotes:
“We should not be in the business of saving libraries, we should be serving scholarship.” – Chris Bourg
On where librarians “live” within the institution: “Work wherever you want, but get together and drink beer every once in awhile.” – David Shumaker
“We need to be comfortable with the idea of working ourselves out of a job.” Douglas Jones, U. Arizona #LibRebound

We’ll continue this series of summaries, so stay tuned! You can also take a look at Chris Bourg’s summary of the meeting here.

*attributed to David Lankes

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