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Five tips for better faculty-librarian communication and collaboration

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By Bruce Rosenstein

Image: Bruce RosensteinBruce Rosenstein

Bruce Rosenstein is Managing Editor of Leader to Leader, and author of  Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way (2013) and Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker's Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life (2009).

He is an adjunct professor at The Catholic University of America's Department of Library and Information Science, and was a reference librarian at USA TODAY for 21 years.

Effective communication and collaboration between librarians and faculty sounds great in theory. But in practice it's not always so easy. Fortunately, some recent articles give great guidance on how to get the most out of this relationship, and boost student success in the bargain.

Following these tips on strengthening this relationship should make your work more rewarding and increase your sense of connection:

  1. Take the initiative. Librarians must not wait for faculty to originate ideas about how to collaborate, but rather should actively seek out ways to work together. They should learn about what has worked elsewhere, and see how it can be applied.  Sometimes, faculty-generated ideas and requests aren't particularly helpful or useful. In "Not at your service: building genuine faculty‐librarian partnerships," Yvonne Nalani Meulemans and Allison Carr reject short-term, simplistic solutions that do not lead to lasting learning. This means librarians should engage faculty in a true dialogue (more as equals than as service providers).

  2. Seize opportunities. It's clear that librarians must take the initiative in showing how their skills apply beyond the four walls of the library. In their provocative article, Meulemans and Carr describe librarian presentations to new faculty in multiple workshops throughout the academic year at their institution, California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM). These replaced an earlier, 30-minute fall-only format that was meant to "sell" an instruction program. Among other things, the new program addresses "misperceptions and assumptions" faculty members may have about how students conduct research assignments at the school. These include such areas as realizing some students aren't aware that they can come to the library for help, and that sending students on a tour of the physical library can be counterproductive.

  3. Be open-minded. There are multiple ways that librarians can work with faculty to contribute both in-person and virtually. For instance, Starr Hoffman's "Embedded academic librarian experiences in online courses: Roles, faculty collaboration, and opinion" examines how librarians at six different institutions in the United States handled their online embedded role. The librarians generally reported positive interactions with faculty, even those who were wary at first of librarian involvement. Hoffman was at University of North Texas in Denton, Texas when she wrote the article, and is now a librarian at Columbia University in New York City.

    "Faculty‐librarian collaboration in improving information literacy of educational opportunity program students" discusses how librarians and faculty teamed up to teach basic information literacy skills to "socio-economically disadvantaged students" at Rider University, in New Jersey. The article was written by librarians (Ma Lei Hsieh and Sharon Yang) and faculty (Susan McManimon) at the school. "For many years," the authors point out, "librarians at the Moore Library have worked closely with the Communication and journalism faculty on incorporating information literacy (IL) skills into the Speech Communication course to help students build a solid foundation of research skills for their academic work."
  1. Be purpose-driven. Collaboration and communication are used not for their own sake, but for the ultimate purpose of successful student learning. In "Communicating the library: librarians and faculty in dialogue," Peter Brophy believes that "academic libraries are in the business of human learning rather than in the information business."  It's not necessarily a matter of librarians vs. faculty in who is viewed as more important by students and others. He writes of today's overall "battleground for influence" in dealing with data and information. Brophy (of the Centre for Research in Library and Information Management, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK) points to potential marginalization for librarians unless they can clearly articulate the value they add to teaching and research.

  2. Break down silos. In theory, everyone understands that silos (whether representing the faculty or library) are dangerous and can obstruct success. Yet it's easy to fall into a silo mentality. Librarians and faculty working together represent a productive way to break out for the benefit of students. In "Librarians and faculty collaboration – partners in student success," Bruce E. Massis explains how faculty and librarians working jointly can develop a targeted selection of trusted resources for first-year college students. From his vantage point at Columbus State Community College, in Columbus, Ohio, he writes of the need for a "critical path for ensuring a vibrant and robust collaborative environment."

The years ahead for academic institutions and their libraries are likely to be even more turbulent and uncertain than today.  As the future of teaching, learning, and research becomes more nuanced and complex, librarians are better off being perceived as part of the solution, not as part of the problem.