14 · SPEC Kit 301
Challenges of Liaison Services
The survey asked respondents to describe up to three
top challenges for their library liaisons. Responses
cover a wide range of concerns. The most common
challenge described is establishing and maintain-
ing contact with faculty, especially when they seem
time-pressured, uninterested, or unresponsive to
outreach, are on campus only part-time, or think
that library services compete with teaching time.
Another challenge is time constraints on liaisons:
they have competing responsibilities, are assigned
too many departments or departments outside
their area of expertise, or may struggle to keep up
with new technology, new ideas, or changes in their
departments. A third challenge can be described as
communication: how to get the word out about
liaison services to the right people when they are
receptive to the message.
The 1992 SPEC survey included a similar ques-
tion that asked, “What barriers to effective liaison
work do librarians encounter at your institution.”
In both surveys, concerns about unreceptive faculty
and about lack of time or expertise were indicated.
Although the two surveys are not directly compa-
rable because of differences in question wording
and response presentation, it is notable that ten li-
braries in the 1992 survey marked over-demanding
faculty as a challenge, but this concern was barely
mentioned in the current survey.
More than half of the academic ARL member librar-
ies provide liaison services to departments at their
universities. While only a few libraries assign liai-
son responsibilities to all librarians, the others have
hired or trained a cadre of librarians and other staff
who have the subject experience, social skills, and
interest to make this their primary job responsibil-
ity. Most of these libraries assign a liaison to every
department, though not every department takes
advantage of the available services. Liaisons are us-
ing a variety of high-tech and in-person approaches
to reach out to their departments. A large majority
of the responding libraries provide liaison services
not just to tenured and tenure-track faculty but to
students and others in the departments they serve.
Most liaisons offer a range of services from collec-
tion development to reference and instruction to
research support, digital project consulting, and
more. Almost all of the libraries provide training
for liaisons to ensure effective service, though only
about half have formally evaluated their success.
There are many challenges to making a liaison
program successful. Each library is in a different
environment. Different departments have different
needs. Many respondents noted that department-
liaison relationships are dependent on a number
of factors, including the ratio of liaisons to depart-
ments, the personal relationships that liaisons have
established with faculty, students, and staff in their
liaison departments, and the ability of the liaison to
have time to devote to this job responsibility.
Just fifteen years ago, over-demanding faculty
was a concern for some libraries and establishing
and maintaining contact was a concern for oth-
ers. Now, establishing and maintaining contact is
a consistent concern. While many liaisons make
establishing and maintaining contacts a priority,
faculty deem library services a low priority in their
daily lives. Getting the opportunity for instruction,
helping students in their research, and integrating
information literacy into the curriculum are some
of the many challenges that face liaisons today.
1. Latta, Gail F. Liaison Services in ARL Libraries. SPEC Kit
189. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries,
November/December 1992.
2. Liaison with Users Committee. Collection
Development and Evaluation Section. Reference and
Adult Services Division. American Library Association.
“RASD Guidelines for Liaison Work.” RQ 32, no. 2
(1992): 198–204.
3. Liaison with Users Committee. Collection
Development and Evaluation Section. Reference and
User Services Association. “Guidelines for Liaison Work
in Managing Collections and Services.” Reference &User
Services Quarterly 41, no. 2 (2001): 107–09.
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