Librarians Do What Now?

Facilitator: Sarah Oeiker, Mt Holyoke Science Librarian and Instructional Technologist
Notes by Sara Tompson, JPL

Oeiker’s initial thoughts: making case for professional development, what you need to know for future to stay sustainable, etc.

Big crowd!  Introduced selves and ideas…

Round the room ideas:

  • Project management and using effectively in library
  • One Desk – closing reference desk? #2 have closed. F2F connection is rewarding and brings random, good relationship discussions
  • MLIS Student involved w maker spaces
  • Recent MLIS grad interested in less traditional roles
  • Beyond three legged stool of collection development/instruction/reference
  • Career development especially re data mgmt and data curation
  • What should we be doing?  Partly prioritizing what should be doing what can drop
  • Feeling you do everything but nothing as well as you could
  • Training students to do reference
  • GIS Skills to develop
  • Liaison 3.0 – how to do?
  • Staffing trends – for example removing middle management level- means line and line managers have more workload
  • Balancing frontline work and project mgmt
  • Explaining what we do to management
  • Presenting on the value of the library
  • Instructional technology support
  • Copyright

Uber – is there a core skill set??  Is this good, limiting, what?
Posited: reference interview as core skill, philosophy even – listening – communicating – works in any modality, but different challenges.

But need to find out what users need.
Some ways…
* Ethnographic training? No one has had, but interested.
* Design Thinking D2 school at Stanford an example:

Do we need to produce more deliverables of some sort?
Yes!  Instruction as a key product.
Some academic manager deans don’t realize how much librarians teach.

Some venues not conducive to instruction though, for example labs. So librarians must do front ends, other ways to help the busy users DIY.

Success: users find what they need when they need it.  Further explained as: be proactive; stay one step ahead of users. Requires the reference interview type thinking!

Proving value- success def above. Get your champions. Sometimes easier to do if librarians have faculty status. Attendees- some have some not, are staff. Could be a whole ‘nother discussion!

How to measure impact?  Lib visits. Research behaviors of students before and after library instruction.
Further points on be proactive, get out there.
Metrics- top questions, etc.

Look for vulnerabilities, gaps at your institution, and see if library can fill.

Pros and cons of students at ref desk. They need to refer appropriately to librarians. Works at some attendees’ institutions but at some students think they know even when they don’t. Train them more on reference interview techniques is one answer.   Test them in reference they must pass before can staff desk.

Point of we’ve been discussing more soft skills. Are there hard skills we need to learn?  What skills have the most ROI? Here are some some attendees are working on.

  • Python script coding
  • Coding in LaTeX
  • Share w/ colleagues development of these skills
  • Patent research and development
  • Partnerships to help develop new skills
  • Copyright negotiating
  • Contracts and e-resource licensing negotiating
  • How about distributed work forces?  Matrixed w head count in library but other group funds. Some experimenting with telecommuting. Works better in some library units than others. The telecommuting often driven by an employee who would like that option. But it can benefit library.  Better than not being at work, for example in bad weather. One who telecommuted for 6 years missed collegiality and went to different job. Another, a vendor, has worked from home for 10 years and also misses collegiality, water cooler chats; meetings like this help fill that networking need.
  • The skills must be relevant.  Just because a librarian wants to do x does not mean x is relevant. On the other hand, x could be a new service.
  • How to stay hooked in to grapevine.

Librarian / Liaison 3.0 – what is it?  Not sure!  Even at institution embarking on. Partly how to do more w less people more efficiently.

Do we want to/will we become TEACHERS, PROGRAMMERS something we don’t want to be?

Philosophy- connect people with information they need. Several said this definition. And quality information.  If we think on this level might we find other opportunities?

How proactive can one be if one is not a manager?  Will one get in trouble?!

Revenue – inter library loan charging. Most do not do, one does for everyone.

Consortiums – do we need more?  Buying group access vs negotiating discounts.
Side conversations – Are The Big Deal(s) from publishers sustainable?  Even vendor doesn’t know. Most like. Even those from bigger institutions that foot more of the bill.


Work on soft skills like project management, communicating value, negotiating contracts, people skills, project management, interaction with people, telling the story to the higher ups about our value, etc.

Stressors – Focus on what’s feeling stressful or like it’s too much juggling or like it’s invisible

Favorite things we talked about: Library liaisons 3.0, find a higher level description of what we are doing when we’re doing our jobs, and use those in order to communicate what we do and to figure out how to _change_ what we do? Look at ourselves ethnographically. What can I do to make it really different? It’s not “use this new tool to do this same function,” it’s figuring out a new function we need to do and moving away from things we think we need to stop doing.

Look at things from a higher, philosophical level to open up our thinking and see what new places we can apply these approaches.
And, be MORE innovative. Not just a new modality.   “Reference is not the desk.”