Mainstreaming Scholarly Communication Support: C-EBLIP Journal Club, January 5, 2017

by DeDe Dawson
Science Liaison Librarian,
University of Saskatchewan

The C-EBLIP Journal Club kicked off 2017 with a “classic” article:

Malenfant, K. J. (2010). Leading Change in the System of Scholarly Communication : A Case Study of Engaging Liaison Librarians for Outreach to Faculty. College & Research Libraries, 71(1), 63–76. Retrieved from

In journal club we tend to select newer articles from the last year or two. Although 2010 is not that long ago it is outside our usual range. I recently revisited this article while working on a strategic action item that I am leading for our library. Our team for this action item is tasked with positioning the library as the source for open access expertise and advocacy on campus. As we contemplate ways to engage our library colleagues in this topic we have been doing what all good academics do: consult the literature! This article, in particular, seemed a good one to discuss beyond our team.

Kara Malenfant is a Senior Strategist with ACRL. At the time of writing this article her main responsibility and interest was in changes in scholarly communication and how libraries are responding to them. The article is an intrinsic case study: “…a special, significant example, not a typical or average case of how libraries implement scholarly communication outreach programs” (p 64). She describes how the University of Minnesota (UMN) Libraries “mainstreamed” scholarly communication duties into the work of all liaison librarians.

The notion of an “intrinsic” case study was new and intriguing to me. Indeed, the methods of this research were the first discussion point raised in our journal club. Malenfant conducted semi-structured interviews with two liaisons involved in this transition as well as Karen Williams, the library administrator at the time who implemented the change. A few of us raised concerns about the low number of people interviewed and their obvious bias in support of the changes, while another objected to the lack of generalizability of this kind of method. Despite these concerns, we all agreed strongly that this article is highly valuable and worthwhile – and one of the better case study articles we have read! Biases are labelled and acknowledged, and Malefant is clear about the methods and limitations.

Apparently, many other readers agree too. The article is highly cited and was selected as a landmark paper for republication in the College & Research Libraries’ 75th Anniversary issue. We discussed this popularity a bit too. Malenfant clearly states that the findings of a case study of this type are not generalizable… but they are transferable. This rings true: we noted many situations described where we saw ourselves and our library! We identified with the challenges the UMN Libraries faced. It is likely the case for other readers as well. All academic libraries face this challenge of how to address the changing needs of their users with the same, or fewer, resources and how to engage liaisons in new areas when they are already overwhelmed with numerous responsibilities. So, it is not surprising that the journal club discussion veered away from the article and towards this meaty and contentious topic.
Scholarly communication support is an obvious and pressing need on campus, and liaison librarians are ideally positioned to provide this kind of support. Making this kind of transition, getting everyone on board and (most critically) stopping doing some other things, is a rough road however. The successful strategies discussed in this intrinsic case study are useful to many libraries struggling with the same challenges.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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