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Library Liaison Models in Academic Libraries  

This LibGuide is a collection of information about subject liaisons in academic libraries. What are the current models that work? What are the duties of these liaisons?

by Lori Harrison
Last Updated: Jul 21, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Liaison Models - Lit Review Print Page

Literature Review on Library Liaisons

The purpose of this paper is to describe and analyze the restructuring process of the
University of Arizona libraries. The paper focuses more specifically on the research support services
(RSS) team, one of the librarian teams, that moved from a subject liaison model to a domain model
focused on different work areas.

Liaison librarians and faculty in chemistry, English, and psychology departments at colleges and universities in the United States were surveyed. They answered questions about services provided by the liaison and satisfaction. Liaisons’ satisfaction with their performance was associated with active liaison service, such as recent contact with the department and more time spent on liaison work. Faculty satisfaction with liaisons was associated with contact with their liaisons. We did not find associations between liaisons’ descriptions of their work and faculty satisfaction with their liaisons for the pairs of faculty and their liaisons we were able to match.

Liaison librarians focus their work in a particular subject area and provide services to clients in that discipline. The value of and need for formal subject background for such liaisons have been debated for decades [1]. Some believe a relevant background (either through a degree or work experience in the field) is beneficial but not a necessity [2, 3], while others find a formal academic background is vital to this type of work [4, 5]. These differences of opinion are often related to the degree of subject-specific services provided by the liaison program; multitiered programs often require formal education in a subject area for liaisons at the higher or more specialized level [6]. The information specialist in context (ISIC) or informationist, a new career path evolving in health sciences, integrates hybrid specialists with formal training in both information management and a particular subject discipline or other expert training into clinical or research teams [7, 8].

Abstract: Liaisons (subject specialists) keep getting busier. Research instruction, embedding in classes, outreach, collection development, weeding, assessing teaching and collections, promoting scholarly communication issues, and creating online learning objects are all potentially part of what a liaison is expected to do nowadays. So we hope every liaison is very interested—and very good—at all those responsibilities. Is that realistic? And does a liaison have time for all those things? At University of North Caroline at Greensboro (UNCG), library administrators decided it is time to examine how liaisons are organized to manage all of these competing responsibilities. The library formed a Liaison Collection Responsibilities Task Force to benchmark how other libraries might be handling the complexities of liaison responsibilities in innovative ways and to recommend several possible new organizational models for the collection development and public services work of liaisons. Members of the task force will review their benchmark findings and invite the audience to provide their own examples. Then we will present our recommendations for new organization models. Some recommendations will reflect incremental changes; others will be radical. We will ask the audience for feedback on the recommendations and suggestions for other models.

Question: What type of liaison program would best utilize both librarians and other library staff to effectively promote library services and resources to campus departments? Setting: The case is an academic medical center library serving a large, diverse campus. Methods: The library implemented a "facilitator model" program to provide personalized service to targeted clients that allowed for maximum staff participation with limited subject familiarity. To determine success, details of liaison-contact interactions and results of liaison and department surveys were reviewed. Results: Liaisons successfully recorded 595 interactions during the program's first 10 months of existence. A significant majority of departmental contact persons (82.5%) indicated they were aware of the liaison program, and 75% indicated they preferred email communication. Conclusion: The "facilitator model" provides a well- defined structure for assigning liaisons to departments or groups; however, training is essential to ensure that liaisons are able to communicate effectively with their clients.

The University of Florida's Health Science Center Libraries (HSCL) serve more than 12,000 faculty, students, staff, and administrators distributed among 6 colleges (dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health and health professions, and veterinary medicine) as well as associated centers and institutes (i.e., the Institute on Aging and the University of Florida Shands Cancer Center). Clients from other campus colleges such as liberal arts and sciences and agricultural and life sciences are patrons as well.

The original library liaison program began at the Gainesville campus in the spring of 1999 as an outcome of strategic planning. Developed by a work group appointed in January 1998, this program was based on fifty-two potential liaison activities in seven focal areas and aimed to increase communication with clients and to customize services [I]. To increase their effectiveness, liaison librarians would focus on the subject matter of a limited number of disciplines, and clients would have one contact person with whom they could form a more personalized relationship [2]. Liaison librarians volunteered for, or were assigned to, specific colleges or departments based on their knowledge, skills, and interests. Each served as a "personal" librarian to local and distance education clients with activities tied to the seven focal areas. Individual librarians were assigned to the smaller University of Florida Health Science Center (HSC) Colleges of Nursing, Dentistry, Pharmacy, and Veterinary Medicine. The other librarians served departments in the two larger or more diverse colleges: medicine and public health and health professions. Ongoing program evaluations to address issues and challenges were planned.

Henry, J. (2012). Academic library liaison programs: four case studies. Library Review, 61(7), 485-496.


Purpose – The purpose of this study is to compare and contrast four academic liaison programs. Design/methodology/approach – Areas addressed include liaison subject specialization, communication methods, duties, and program evaluation. Findings – This paper found similarities in areas of orientation meetings, library guides, and information literacy classes. Unique concepts among the four libraries studied include physical classroom embedment, use of specialized class web pages, faculty literacy classes, and concentrated faculty information literacy assistance. Originality/value – The results presented provide insight into current academic library liaison practices and the faculty-liaison relationship.

Macaluso, S. J., & Petruzzelli, B. (2005). The Library Liaison Toolkit: Learning to Bridge the Communication Gap. Reference Librarian, (89/90), 163-177.


SUNY New Paltz established a library liaison program in 2001, long after such programs were commonplace at many U.S. college and university libraries. The program emerged, not simply from a desire to enhance library service, but because library faculty came to view it as a multi-faceted mechanism capable of addressing multiple concerns. The new library-wide initiative demanded high-level communication skills, an in-depth understanding of library policies and collection development practices, and increased knowledge about individual departments and the college. A collection of campus information resources and liaison training sessions, collectively called The Library Liaison Toolkit, was developed to build liaison expertise in these areas.

Meier, J. J. (2010). Solutions for the New Subject Specialist Librarian. Endnotes, 1(1), F1-F10.


This paper examines approaches to reference, collection development, and information literacy taken by a new subject specialist librarian at a large research university. It presents case studies for using various qualitative surveys and quantitative methods, including a collection development survey and information literacy post-assessments. Strategies are presented for tackling the challenges faced by a subject specialist librarian in an unfamiliar field. These efforts led to new services and liaison relationships with user constituencies. Specific services and approaches used are detailed including collection development decisions, information literacy program planning, and outreach programming. Finally, this paper proposes further research and recommends professional development resources. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Mozenter, F., Sanders, B., & Welch, J. (2000). Restructuring a liaison program in an academic library. College & Research Libraries, 61(5), 432-440.


New technologies, an expanding universe of knowledge, and a more sophisticated user base influence not only how we provide access to information, but also how we define and organize ourselves in relation to the public. The J. Murrey Atkins Library of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has endeavored to strengthen the relationship between the library and the teaching faculty by restructuring the library’s liaison program. Concurrently, but independent of this redesign, three experienced reference librarians assessed their effectiveness as liai­sons by conducting a survey of selected departments. A review of the development and implementation of the library’s program, together with an assessment of the faculty survey, confirm that specific elements are prerequisites of an effective liaison program.
Rodwell, J., , & Fairbairn, L. (2008). Dangerous liaisons? Library Management, 29(1-2), 116-124. doi:10.1108/01435120810844694.
Many university libraries are adopting a faculty liaison librarian structure as an integral part of their organization and service delivery model. This paper aims to examine, in a pragmatic way, the variations in the definition of the role of the faculty liaison librarian, the expectations of those librarians, their library managers and their clients and the impact of environmental factors. The faculty liaison librarian role is not entirely new, evolving from the traditional subject librarian and university special/branch library role. However the emerging role is characterized by a more outward-looking perspective and complexity, emphasizing stronger involvement and partnership with the faculty and direct engagement in the University’s teaching and research programs.


Building on the experiences of librarian representatives to curriculum committees in the colleges of dentistry, medicine, and nursing, the Health Science Center Libraries (HSCL) Strategic Plan recommended the formation of a Library Liaison Work Group to create a formal Library Liaison Program to serve the six Health Science Center (HSC) colleges and several affiliated centers and institutes. The work group's charge was to define the purpose and scope of the program, identify models of best practice, and recommend activities for liaisons. The work group gathered background information, performed an environmental scan, and developed a philosophy statement, a program of liaison activities focusing on seven |primary areas, and a forum for liaison communication. Hallmarks of the plan included intensive subject specialization (beyond collection development), extensive communication with users, and personal information services. Specialization was expected to promote competence, communication, confidence, comfort, and customization. Development of the program required close coordination with other strategic plan implementation teams, including teams for collection development, education, and marketing. This paper discusses the HSCL's planning process and the resulting Library Liaison Program. Although focusing on an academic health center, the planning process and liaison model may be applied to any library serving diverse, subject-specific user populations.


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to provide an updated definition of academic liaison work and examine methods for developing effective liaison relationships. Design/methodology/approach – The authors reviewed and incorporated recently published (1989-2009) material relating to academic liaison work. In addition to published material the authors conducted a survey of faculty in their liaison areas during the fall 2008 semester in order to access their knowledge and satisfaction with liaison services. Findings – The paper finds that liaison work is multifaceted and success is based both on administrative support and the individual liaisons efforts. Originality/value – The originality of this work includes the definition of liaison work and requirements of academic liaisons in today's libraries. The paper is of value to current academic liaisons and librarians just entering the field of academia. The paper incorporates recent research, an author conducted survey and the authors' nearly two decades of combined liaison experience and may serve as an overview of the expectations and potential benefits of academic liaison work.
 Liaison librarians have always been connectors between their patrons and the information that is collected in libraries. However, this role as connector, or middleware as it was termed by Rick Luce at the 2008 ARL and CNI Fall Forum, has taken on new twists for liaison librarians today, or liaison 2.0 as I have come to think of us. Liaison 2.0 represents more than a simple refinement of liaison librarianship; it represents a significant rewrite of the basic skills and services typically associated with liaison librarianship. As we move further and further into the age of Google, where faculty and administrators feel that all information is online and easily located, it is increasingly important that liaison librarians use the relationships that they have built to connect the library's work to the academic mission of their university. This role as middleware is core to the liaison 2.0. Building relationships is becoming the essence of what it is to be a liaison librarian -- one that connects users with their information needs, whatever the format and whatever the technology. The role of librarians as middleware is the real brains behind the traditional roles for liaison 2.0, and, if this connection works well, all the rest will be informed by it and flow from it.
    At New York University we have spent a significant amount of time in the past academic year thinking about science library services, and a large part of that work has included reexamining our roles as liaison librarians and how we might evolve to better serve the changing needs of our students and researchers. In the process I have formed a new appreciation of the concept of librarians as middleware, as well as roles we leave behind as we offer new services and acquire new skills.
This paper examines essential skills required to develop as an information consultant for departments or colleges. The consulting role library liaisons perform is similar to a business consultant's role in analyzing and advising. Business consultants realign, redress, reinforce, solve problems, deliver messages, examine processes, and fulfill other tasks. Consultants make connections, network, enhance fundamental facets of the organization, listen and ask pertinent questions to help the organization thrive. In academia subject liaisons utilize the same fundamental tenets. Librarians build relationships with faculty members on a departmental level. Librarians serve as information specialists to support specific instructional and research-oriented needs.


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