Muddled Thoughts on Service and Librarian Roles

It was 10:30 at night at the end of the first full day of the conference, I had three other things that I’d brought with me to finish because they were desperately overdue, and I was sitting in a hotel room trying to figure out how frequently publications appear about the community service work of a pre-doctoral health sciences college and the impact on the community.

And I realized a serious moment of frustration that the level of support I was offering to that faculty would not ever be available to me in return.

I’m newly liaison to a second of our six health science colleges and I’ve been trying to make inroads. The coworker who’d referred this faculty member didn’t know that I was out of town, and I had to assume they hadn’t told the faculty after getting my out-of-office, and between those factors, I decided it was important for me to spend that time on that task.

On the campus/tenure level, I’m evaluated similarly to the way the other subject faculty are. I’ll be rated on my librarianship; my service to college, campus, university, and profession; and my research. Because we are a research institution, however, the emphasis falls far more heavily on that last piece. If I’m allowed slack in any of those three areas–it isn’t research.

And yet within the institution our role falls far more heavily into the librarianship role of serving others and my research is in the sideground if not the background. My success as a librarian and-to some degree the success of my college-is reliant on my ability to form relationships with subject faculty and to support my students and faculty. Though it’s certainly never solely quantitative, there is some aspect of successful being measured in if I can tick off x number of classes (where I have to be invited), y number of consults with students (they have to schedule them), z number of research labs that I partner with (again reliant on faculty), q number of questions I answer while I’m supposed to be away. Even this new ARL Report: New Roles for New Times: Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries seems to focus entirely on the supporting nature of our work.

I’ve been trying to come up with any other faculty member whose role focuses on offering the kind of support that librarians offer.  So far I haven’t come up with anyone with “tenure-track/clinical professor” in their title who I feel like I could send a question and they would, due to their role, feel like they needed to drop things and work on said question for me. Nor can I identify anyone else on campus doubling their subject area expertise with “also know what’s happening in the library world insofar as teaching, education, current events, and research.” Wrapped up in that are unclear issues of how little I value my own time; how much I value others’ time; and what support that other faculty may be aware of that is not as readily apparent to the librarians because we’re lumped in on the support side. 

Several people have suggested and pointed out that I need to delay turn around time; that I need to prioritize differently and they are right, although frequently those delays are driven not by me but by others. If I’m in 3-5 meetings per day-which has been the running norm for about a month now-email is going to happen in small bursts here and there. It’s very hard though to say no, though, when you’re in a service-focused profession and librarians do not do say no well. Requests come in for a class, a workshop, a consult and it’s either write over what little time I’d carved out as mine or say no. It’s not always clear, either, when I’m supposed to be able/allowed to value my own time more than theirs. When should the efforts of ensuring a strong liaison program run roughshod over any/all time commitments I’d set aside for my research or personal continuing education time? There’s this underlying fear that “If I say no, they’ll think the library is bad and tell everyone that and/or they’ll never ask for a class or for help again.”  And then it will come back to haunt us on those annual surveys “I asked for help and the librarian said she couldn’t meet with me/teach this class, why do we need a library?”

I also can’t necessarily identify what kind of quid pro quo I’d want, there doesn’t seem a clear opportunity for a two way street. The librarians support the faculty who are giving to the students/their funding agencies. Only, I’m supposed to be in roles one and two in that previous sentence without the role one backing me up. There isn’t a liaison assigned to the University Library, though why not is a question I’m going to bring up.

These thoughts have been chasing around and around my head. I know and agree with many reasons why it is good for librarians to be faculty and to serve at that level. The Loon, over at GaviaLib, goes into those reasons at far better detail and more coherently than I can at the moment but yes, I agree with her.

I’ve also had Madame Storyteller whispering in my ear via some of her recent blog posts about burn out. She frequently talks about the challenges of burning out and the need to manage patron expectations with the health and sanity of your librarians.

There’s not a good summary for this, at least not at present. Sorting some of these responsibilities out and how they are rewarded, acknowledged, and evaluated is something that would take a long time to change. How to get others to value us is a perennial librarian question. If there’s something specific I expect my subject faculty and my students to give back to me, I’d like to start identifying it. And I need to look at my university and see what other resources are available that I’m not taking advantage of–because I’m sure there is help out there that I’m missing.

 

 

One Comment

  1. Comment by Steve Cramer:

    Abigail, thank you for the thoughtful post on issues that many of us face. There is indeed a fine art of saying “no” in order to balance our librarianship/service/research requirements. (3-5 meetings a day? Wow. It’s easy for me to write this, but that seems where the “nos” need to be gently handed out periodically.)