Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Connections, Conversations, and Visibility: How the Work of Academic Reference and Liaison Librarians Is Evolving

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Connections, Conversations, and Visibility: How the Work of Academic Reference and Liaison Librarians Is Evolving

Article excerpt

The work of reference, subject, and liaison librarians is evolving, rapidly in some cases. This article provides an overview of the new roles that these librarians are involved in based on an extensive review of the literature in these areas over the last ten years. While some of these roles have been extensively covered in bibliographic essays of their own (data management, changes to information literacy instruction), this article attempts to provide a broader view of the situation, along with highlighting salient examples of the ways that librarians are trying to forge new and different connections with faculty and students, facilitate important conversations, and stay visible and relevant on their campuses.

The mind of the reference librarian is alive with the manifold and marvelous combinations and connections reference work affords, pathways that serendipitously intersect. (1)

--Anthony Verdesca

Historically, reference, liaison, and subject librarians performed the role of connecting people to the information they needed in a visible way, sitting behind a reference desk or, since the 1970s, in front of a classroom full of students for information literacy instruction. Even the presence of print reference collections indicated the librarians who worked with those materials. As fewer reference librarians sit at public desks, as face-to-face instruction moves partially or entirely online, and as users simply click through a Google search to get to the information they need, how do academic reference librarians continue to be visible and connected to the students and faculty they are supposed to be helping? Some, like Tyckoson and Sousulski, argue that the goal of connecting people to the information they need hasn't changed, but that the methods employed have and will need to continue to change. (2)

This idea of the evolving role of the reference and liaison librarian is well rooted. More than seventeen years ago, Pinfield described how the work of subject librarians was changing and how it included all the traditional roles (collections, instruction, and reference work) along with new roles such as "more emphasis on liaison with users," "advocacy of the collections," the much more complicated "selection of e-resources," "working with technical [IT] staff," "organizing the information landscape," and "working with teams," among other things. (3) Twelve years later, Jaguszewski and Williams stated that "the liaison role in research libraries is rapidly evolving," and they too called for liaisons to play two roles: advocate and consultant, "both with an emphasis on campus engagement." (4) Wilson also pointed to the role of the subject liaison as a consultant: "Consultants make connections, network, enhance fundamental facets of the organization, listen and ask pertinent questions to help the organization thrive." (5) This act of listening and asking questions is really the act of conversation, which is a goal common to many types of libraries and librarians, not just academic ones, but it is perhaps one too easily forgotten or lost in the drive to demonstrate our value with statistics. Lankes defined the mission of librarians as "improve[ing] society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities." (6) He argues that people learn through conversation and that librarians both participate in and facilitate those conversations. This seems especially resonant in a higher-education environment that is becoming at once more interdisciplinary and more competitive.

On the basis of an extensive literature review from the last ten years, this article examines the current state of reference and liaison librarianship, including the challenges it faces, and highlights interesting ways academic librarians are working to remain visible, connected to students and faculty, and help facilitate important conversations. While many of these topics could be bibliographic essays in and of themselves (data management or changes in information literacy instruction, for example), this article is an overview intended to provide threads for readers to pursue further on their own. …

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