Playing Triple-A Ball with Faculty

How to use advocacy, access, and authority in liaison activities.

In an ideal world, librarians and all faculty work together to build a collection. In the real world, librarians typically work only with faculty in certain disciplines (usually humanities) and with certain faculty who value libraries and want students to use them. Reaching the others is a perennial problem that is more critical in times of increased competition for funds and continued questioning of the library’s value, since “everything’s on the Internet.” As budgets tighten it is essential to avoid having resources that are unused and needs that are unmet. Faculty direction helps in establishing an efficient collection. To improve communication, it is essential to move from providing information when asked to developing partnerships and sharing the information librarians offer and can access (Thull and Hansen).

How do we reach faculty? Advocacy efforts have a dual purpose. They market the library collection and help broaden access to services to the faculty and college community. Advocacy includes events such as workshops, open houses, and cultural events, which reinforce our presence as part of the cultural and academic life of the college and help faculty recognize our abilities. Once aware that the collection includes e-books, databases, research guides, citation information, and recommended websites as well as books, faculty may direct students to these resources and become more willing to work with us to collect information in their discipline (Silver).

Access to faculty expertise requires the development of faculty-librarian communication so that we understand curriculum and research needs, and so important resources don’t go unnoticed. Liaison activities traditionally involved assessment of collection and user needs with the collaboration and input of faculty (“Guidelines for Liaison Work in Managing Collections and Services;” Henry). In practice, this meant a librarian was designated as a liaison to faculty in an academic discipline, and it was hoped that the department had professors who would respond to his/her efforts to collaborate.

A newer model, the “embedded librarian,” offers decentralized service by spending time where faculty work and where research is done, thus getting a clearer idea of curricular changes and research needs. The embedded librarian concept began when medical librarians started attending hospital rounds, and grew to include participation in other research situations (Freiberger and Kramer; Shumaker). The embedded librarian becomes an academic collaborator, is aware of teaching trends, and can more closely work with faculty to develop the collection.

Another model is the facilitator, who establishes direct contacts in an academic department, works with them to identify user and curricular needs, and provides direct access to services. The facilitator participates in departmental web pages, blogs, and email communications (Crossno et al.). Newer models show that librarians are moving toward a more active way of interacting with faculty, becoming collaborators rather than contact points.

Librarians need to have the authority to put their collection expertise in practice. We can do this by developing strong relationships with our constituents and demonstrating our leadership in managing and disseminating information. Librarians see the collection as a whole, not just in disciplinary areas, are aware of information trends, and are knowledgeable in assessing student research and information literacy needs. Although we want faculty collaboration, the buck (literally and figuratively) stops with librarians as far as responsibly creating, shaping, and delivering library resources. The more we encourage college faculty to see us as equal partners and demonstrate our importance to college administration, the more likely that our authority as librarians will be recognized. That is why our advocacy efforts and our attempts to develop working relations are important.

Promoting the library and developing faculty contacts consumes time and energy, which is difficult when staff positions are being cut or left unfilled. However, these efforts achieve greater visibility for the library and better collaborative relationships.

What is the best way to work toward advocacy, access, and authority?

  • Let faculty know their input is needed in developing all parts of the collection, including database and ebook selection and web and research guide development. We are the ultimate authority in these endeavors, but faculty input may result in greater use. Also, their participation helps puncture the “musty old books” stereotype.
  • Many academic programs, such as nursing and paralegal studies, require the school to provide specific academic resources for accreditation purposes. This is a perfect starting point not only for collection building, but as a concrete and definite way to encourage faculty in these disciplines to work with you.
  • Faculty may be unaware that librarians are selected to be liaisons to an academic department because they have undergraduate degrees in an appropriate academic discipline. Reinforce this when you meet with professors in a particular field. It will improve their confidence in librarians’ ability to understand disciplinary needs.
  • Make contact with every new faculty member. Become part of formal orientation programs your college has for new faculty. You may be able to answer some of their questions during what is likely a busy time for them.
  • Participate in information sessions or other programs your college offers before the start of the semester. This is another chance to raise library awareness and show off your professional capabilities. Presentations such as the use of primary sources for the study of different subjects or the demonstration of databases that work well for certain disciplines highlight your skill in understanding and working with academic subjects and help faculty see you as a collaborator.
  • Now that professors place their syllabi online, it is easy to know what assignments will be given during the semester and check that you have the resources students will need. You can also email brief questionnaires to find out faculty research topics and to determine how they will be planning their curriculum in future semesters.
  • A librarian must be a member of the curriculum committee so that the collection can adapt as courses are developed, changed, and withdrawn. New courses may require significant purchases. Knowing this ahead of time helps if significant budget adjustments are needed. Also, the person developing the program can be your contact for maintaining the collection.
  • Meetings are a fact of academic life. Why not use them to the library’s benefit?
  • Department and division meetings are a way to be aware of academic developments and to keep faculty updated on how media and services are evolving. Try for time on agendas to discuss the library, highlight new developments and get input on library issues.

Librarians who have faculty status have the responsibilities that go with it, which include meetings and more meetings. These are time-consuming but provide many formal and informal ways to keep aware of changes and to let faculty know about new library developments. Every academic connection we make (presentations, committee membership, involvement in tenure and promotion activities) reinforces that we are a viable and important member of the academic community.

If you don’t have faculty status, get permission to attend some meetings to provide updates. Request minutes of faculty and department/division meetings. Got time for more meetings? Do you have a Library Advisory Committee? Chances are participants will be people who are library supporters, but they can be instrumental in bringing information to their peers. Including people from all academic disciplines broadens the range of people you reach. Discussion of the collection at these meetings is another avenue for collaboration.

  • Consider the value of informal networking. Even if it’s meeting for lunch, talking before meetings, or waiting for the rain to let up, casual meetings are a chance to reinforce that you are part of the academic community. Ask about classes or research and show you understand what the teacher is doing. Mention your projects and the classes you teach.
  • Be specific. Once you have taken all the steps toward creating collaborative relationships, try setting appointments to discuss the collection. Meet with faculty as they plan their syllabi and review the curriculum. Offer to meet through Skyped meetings or by email. Invite faculty to demonstrations or webinars about new databases you are considering for purchase (if you feed them, they will come). Make discussions of the collection part of your participation in departmental blogs or listservs.

Once you have made connections, reinforced your professional value, and demonstrated how much the library has to offer, you have taken steps toward building collaborative relationships.


Crossno, J., et. al. (2012). A Case Study: The Evolution of a “Facilitator Model” Liaison Program in an Academic Medical library. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 100 (3), 171–75.

Freiburger, G., and S. Kramer (2009). Embedded Librarians: One Library’s Model for Decentralized Service. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 97 (2), 139–42.

Guidelines for Liaison Work in Managing Collections and Services (2010, March). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from

Henry, J. (2012). Academic Library Liaison Programs: Four Case Studies. Library Review 61 (7), 485–96.

Shumaker, D. (2012). The Embedded Librarians: Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed. Online 36 (4). 24–7.

Silver, I. Outreach Activities for Library Liaisons (2014) Reference & User Services Quarterly, 54(2), 8–14.

Thull, J., and M. Hansen (2009). Academic Library Liaison Programs in US Libraries: Methods and Benefits. New Library World, 110 (11/12). 529–40.