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Faculty-Librarian Gaps, Perceived and Actual

I sometimes feel as though when we talk about faculty-librarian collaboration in academia, the conversation starts to feel a little bit like Ghostbusters:

Dogs and Cats Living Together!!! Mass Hysteria!!!!!

Gale and Library Journal just released the results of a survey of approximately 1,000 academic librarians and faculty around the U.S. in their new report, Bridging the Librarian-Faculty Gap in the Academic Library. You can view a summary of the survey findings as an infographic, request a PDF of the full report and survey instruments, or read a short summary in Inside Higher Ed (if, like me, you loooooooove reading comment trolls).

On its surface, it’s kind of a bummer of a report. Here are some of the highlights (according to the infographic):

  • 98% of academic librarians wish for better communication with faculty, while only 45% of faculty feel the same.
  • 57% of faculty are more likely to say they coordinate with librarians, but only 31% of librarians say they coordinate with faculty.
  • 54% of faculty vs. 66% of librarians say their library does an excellent/above average job of developing collections in direct support of course curriculum.

It would seem, based on these results, that we want to talk to them more than they want to talk to us. In a word, that sucks. It makes me want to stop trying so hard. But I decided to look at the full report and examine the Academic Faculty Questionnaire in more detail before completely throwing in the towel.

What Questions are Being Asked?

In Question 4 faculty were asked “How essential is it for your campus library to provide the following services for you and your students?” 51% of faculty surveyed rated “instruction of students in information literacy” as a Very Essential service, while 34% of faculty rated it as Essential. How was this not one of the leading stats in the survey result summary??!?! About 70% of faculty state that they devote class time to teaching information literacy, but 51% state that they cover this themselves. I wonder why that number is so high, and if it might be an issue of librarians needing to better communicate the kinds of teaching we can do. I also noticed that the survey asked about faculty coordinating with librarians to address course reserves and acquisitions to meet curricular needs. That was the question that resulting in the 57% faculty coordinating with librarians stat. There was no question that asked about collaborating with librarians for instructional purposes, which I found strange. Additional questions focused on whether or not faculty created handouts that pointed to library resources or embed links to library resources in course of faculty websites. There was no question about whether or not faculty encourage students to consult librarians as a part of the research process.

I think this survey suffered from a lack of understanding of the role of the education/teaching/instruction librarians in an academic setting. There was a big emphasis on “communication and coordination” but not collaboration. So many of the questions focused on services and library resources, but few really delved into the teaching partnerships that are possible between librarians and faculty.

Why Do I Care?

As someone who just completed a major action research project examining the relationship between faculty-librarian collaboration and first year students’ information literacy abilities, I was struck by the plethora of literature in librarianship focused on growing these collaborative relationships and how difficult it can be to do so. It was interesting to note how important information literacy instruction was to faculty in this survey, and think that this is something we can build on. In informal conversation with departmental faculty colleagues so many of them express relief that librarians can address the intricacies of literature searching, the conceptual process of developing a research approach, and the use of basic research tools and services. Some colleagues initially have a very narrow view of what librarians can and do teach, but when presented with different options are eager to take advantage of our expertise.

I know that personally, my desire for greater collaboration with faculty stems from not having a classroom to call my own. Because I work at a school with no credit-bearing information literacy course offerings, I’m dependent on my colleagues for opportunities to teach students, opportunities that I know would benefit students who are struggling to meet the expectations of college-level research. I suspect that librarians who do teach credit-bearing courses suffer from less of the let-me-in-your-class angst that we as liaison librarians fight to overcome (let me know if I’m wrong, of course).

As I grow older and more comfortable with my role as a librarian in academia, I’ve begun letting go of some of the desperation to be included that I know I suffered from as an early-career librarian. Some of this is a result of experience. I feel more knowledgeable about information literacy education and pedagogy and more at-ease in a classroom setting. I still have plenty of self-doubt/impostor syndrome moments, but I’ve learned to let go of it a bit. I know that I have something to offer students and faculty who want to incorporate a research/information literacy component in their courses. I’m becoming better at understanding that there are some faculty who just aren’t interested in partnering with me, and that’s ok. I will still continue to do outreach to my liaison departments but I’m not going to spend my professional time chasing, pleading, or begging. I’m going to focus my energy where it will do the most good, which often means working with what I have and strengthening existing relationships.

Have you read the Gale-LJ survey? What was your reaction? What are the librarian-faculty dynamics like at your institution? 

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