Collective Agreements and Academic Librarian Research Opportunities

By Kathleen Reed, Assessment and Data Librarian
Vice President, VIU Faculty Association
Vancouver Island University

In this post, I’d like to consider the influence of the collective agreement on librarian research, and in particular, the choice to work in an environment in which research is/isn’t a job requirement. Experienced academic librarians may be familiar with collective agreements, but as a Baby Librarian, I had no clue that these documents governed whether or not I’d have to do research, and the support (or lack thereof) I’d receive to do so. This wasn’t something that was talked about where I did my MLIS, and yet it has significant influence on the lives of academic librarians. Thus, here’s a simplified, brief run-down of how collective agreements influence librarian research.

Librarians at academic institutions have a variety of academic statuses, which are articulated by the Academic Librarian Status wiki:


  1. Librarians with full faculty status and tenure = librarians have titles denoting their rank (e.g., associate professor or associate librarian); are likely required to publish; have seats on faculty committees; and are considered to be members of the university’s faculty with accompanying benefits.
  2. Librarians with faculty or academic status but no tenure = librarians likely have titles denoting their rank; have option to contribute to the profession but may not be required to; may have seats on faculty committees; and have renewable contracts with opportunities for continuing appointments.
  3. College and University Libraries with a mix of professional statuses = institutions that have tenure-track and non-tenure track librarians or faculty and non-faculty librarians, or a combination of each.
  4. Librarians without faculty or academic status = librarians have staff positions without the protections or privileges accorded to faculty or librarians with academic status.
  5. Librarians without faculty or academic status but with status similar to tenure = librarians may have formal ranks; may have option to contribute to the profession but are not required to; do not serve on faculty committees nor receive other faculty benefits; have renewable contracts with opportunities for continuing appointments.”

Many librarians that are required to do research work in rank and tenure systems, in which they are given a probationary appointment, a few years to prove themselves, and then go before a tenure committee which decides whether to grant them a permanent job (i.e. tenure) or not. Once tenured, one’s job is secured with the only way to remove someone being cause or special circumstances (ex. financial exigency). If tenure isn’t granted, one would most likely be looking for a new job. There is a mandate and pressure to undertake and publish research as part of one’s job, but there is also time and support allotted for this activity in collective agreements.

Where I work, faculty (which includes librarians) have academic status that’s similar to being tenured, but with official no rank and tenure system, and no requirement to do research. Technically, we’re a “special purpose teaching university” but in reality lots of faculty undertake research and scholarly activity off the side of our desks with limited support in terms of money and release available.

When I began to understand the tenure system, early in my career I mourned that I didn’t end up at an institution that had it; I’d have time and financial help to undertake research, which I currently lack. Six years in to my job, however, I’m now thankful that I didn’t end up at a place with rank and tenure. Research is done on a shoestring budget off the side of my desk, but I do research because I’ve got an insatiable curiosity about the world – not because I have to. It’s also led to deep collaboration with colleagues; there is no competition for first authorship or rank. Additionally, I have the freedom to pursue research opportunities that don’t relate directly to the LIS field – helpful at a time I’m finding myself being drawn back to my pre-LIS academic roots. Finally, I don’t feel the need to publish. More and more of my findings are ending up in grey literature – reports that never get published, but are helpful to the people or organizations with which I’m working at the time.

If you’re a librarian that wants to do research as part of your job, you should look carefully at the Collective Agreement in place at the institution for which you’re considering working. Whether research is required or not, and how much financial support and time is given are good places to start. Ending up at a place where research isn’t a requirement doesn’t mean one can’t undertake it; there are simply different positives and negatives that need to be considered.

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.

Breaking Though the Bubble

By Frank Winter, Librarian Emeritus
University of Saskatchewan Library

A couple of years ago I attended a talk by the renowned Australian scientist Tim Flannery concerning various issues related to climate change. One of the panelists, frustrated by the narrow focus of remarks by the other panelists, urged the audience not to limit their thinking to Vancouver (the city). He exhorted us to “break through the bubble” and think about Vancouver (the region). His phrase stuck with me and I thought about what sort of bubbles I might unreflectively inhabit. By extension, is there a bubble entitled “the University Library” that Canadian university librarians inhabit? How might they try to break through it as they engage with the challenges and opportunities that face them today?

Can we start by acknowledging that Canadian university librarians in continuing positions in publicly funded institutions have terms and conditions of work that are good by any comparative or absolute standard? Gaining job security through tenure or some other continuing status is demonstrably achievable. Individual librarians at publicly funded Canadian universities exercise a good deal of control over how their work assignments are carried out without overly intrusive management oversight. There are always individual or group cases where the situation is perhaps not quite so rosy for whatever reasons but these are exceptions.

Does this relatively comfortable status encourage complacency and a professional culture that focuses largely on how we perceive ourselves and our work and from that standpoint, how our work can assist others in their work? In Lorcan Dempsey’s phrase, this is an inside-out perspective.[1]

What are some of the conceptual bubbles that we ought to be aware of?

One bubble is not acknowledging that success in our work depends heavily on campus services provided from outside of the library. University libraries have really good infrastructure support from the central campus services in areas such as information technology and networking, physical plant, human resources, finance and other functions that public libraries, for example, typically have to manage for themselves. Without superior on- and off-campus networks, for example, university libraries would be stymied in their ability to deliver information services. Without a good caretaking staff, the heavily used public areas of libraries soon turn into unpleasant pigsties. These support services cost money and a good library manager must be vigilant that these central services receive appropriate budgetary support.

Another bubble is the presumption that the local collection is the most important service that the library provides to the university community. The implications of the concept of a collective collection for a mindset that privileges the primacy of the local print collection are significant. There may be specific areas of activity within a library in which the local collection is the most important service provided to a user community but there are others in which it might not be. Although the trend seems clear, internalizing and then communicating the consequences of this change to users and to senior university managers is difficult. Different approaches will be needed for different communities of campus users.

Many new roles are suggested for university librarians and libraries from a service provider perspective. The recent External Review of the University of Saskatchewan Library contained a typical list of current candidates: “digital humanities, scholarly communication, copyright, research data management, data visualization, and other areas of current and emerging priorities in academic libraries.”[2] They could easily have mentioned research information management services as well.

Deciding which of these services, or parts of these services, the campus community is interested in receiving from the library is challenging. Successfully engaging in any of these services will require breaking through the bubble of treating “the University Library” as an undifferentiated whole and instead viewing it as a disaggregated set of different units working with different user communities on and off campus in different ways. Each of these services involves interacting with experts from outside the library. Negotiating a mutual understanding of how these different expertises can be meshed to achieve a common goal requires that librarians be able to reify their skillsets and mindsets in a manner that can be communicated to other experts so that they can understand what value librarians bring to the table. Conversely, librarians in these multi-disciplinary activities have to be able to understand and work with the often very different skillsets and mindsets of other professionals.

Competitors abound but the bubbles university librarians inhabit may make it difficult to perceive let alone respond effectively to these competitors. Roger Schonfeld has posted some interesting observations on the evolving strategies of commercial content providers such as Elsevier.[3] The motives of the users of the pirate site Sci-Hub have been the subject of innumerable articles and comments while Google Scholar continues its prominence in the activities of people seeking scholarly information. DeDe Dawson’s recent BrainWork post addresses the topic of information privilege from the perspective of Open Access and how undergraduates will be able to access scholarly information once they leave the university.[4] David Worlock’s blog is a good place for tracking developments in the information industry that has developed to serve users in for-profit sectors.[5] He discusses many services that never appear on the radar of university librarians. For me, the bubble here is workflow. Sci-Hub and Google Scholar mesh with users’ workflows while Elsevier, in particular, seems singularly focused on building complete ecosystems for researchers to manage their research workflow. Although most university librarians know the importance of understanding their users’ evolving workflow patterns, the options available to them, and the services they actually use, it remains very challenging to alter our existing models of service delivery.

There are issues of finding the appropriate scale to work at. There is also a non-trivial element of risk. Besides the risks involved in financial and human resource reallocation in breaking through the bubbles described above, there is also the risk of mismatches between the goals of library leaders and the expectations of senior university administrators and between the library and the varied user communities on campus.[6]

Concerns about individual workload abound, as documented in numerous studies.[7] There is, however, an evolving toolkit of organizational and personal responses to resolving workload concerns.[8] In the context of workload, the basic requirement to account for our time remains relevant. Bottom line: librarians are at the university to do work that the university needs to have done. If there were not work that needed to be done, or if that work disappears, there will be fewer jobs for librarians.[9] It is quite possible, at any particular institution and for local reasons, that the institution may not be receptive or interested in what librarians can contribute to the institution’s evolving priorities and activities. In such cases, it is perfectly logical that some resources formerly allocated to the library may be directed elsewhere on campus to higher priority activities and/ or to groups perceived to be better able to deliver the required service.

Communication is key to understanding and breaking through the bubbles we inhabit. Think about how many different people you interact with physically or virtually over the course of a typical day or week or month. If they are always the same few folks and especially if they are library folks, then you are not getting out enough. Librarianship is a contact sport.

[1] Dempsey, Lorcan. (2016). Library collections in the life of the user: two directions. LIBER Quarterly. 26(4),  pp.338–359. DOI: retrieved on May 15, 2017.

[2] University of Saskatchewan.  (2016). University Library:  External Review Report. (2016). Prepared by:  Gerald Beasley Joyce Garnett Elliott Shore, March 10, 2016, retrieved on May 15, 2017.

[3] Schonfeld, Roger C. (2017). The strategic investments of content providers. Ithaka S+R [blog]. on May 15, 2017.

[4] Dawson, DeDe. (2017). Information privilege and the undergraduate student. Brain-Work [blog]. retrieved on May 15, 2017.

[5] See

[6] Schonfeld, Roger C. (2017). The strategic direction of research library leaders: Findings from the latest Ithaka S+R survey. Scholarly Kitchen [blog]. retrieved on May 15, 2017.

[7] Delong, Kathleen, Sorensen, Marianne, Williamson, Vicki. (May 2015) 8Rs Redux: CARL Libraries Human Resources Study. Ottawa: Canadian Association of Research Libraries. retrieved on May 15, 2017; Fox, David. (2007). Finding time for scholarship: a survey of Canadian research university librarians. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 7(4), pp. 451-462, retrieved onMay 17, 2017.

[8] See, for example, University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association. Fact Sheet: Assignment of Duties, The Library has its own detailed guidelines on the assignment of duties. See also, for example, Workload Policy – University of Toronto Library. (2012), retrieved on May 15, 2017.

[9] Winter, Frank. (2014). Traditionalists, Progressives and the Gone-Away World. Brain-Work [blog]. retrieved on May 15, 2017.

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.

Surviving Conference Season

This week we are going back into the Brain-work archives to revisit tips on surviving and thriving during conference season. Happy spring everyone – let us know in the comments which conferences you are planning to attend this year and what your plans are to maximize your time and resources.

by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan
*originally posted May 3, 2016

It’s that time of year again: conference season. It seems like myself and all of my library colleagues are out there right now, presenting, networking, and gathering ideas to bring back to the workplace. That being said, not every conference experience is a positive one. Here are some of my tips and tricks for making it through your next conference like a pro!

1) Plan for success. Preview the conference schedule beforehand and prioritize the things you absolutely need to attend (committee meetings, chapter sessions, your own presentation (!), etc.) and then the ones you’d really like to see. Pick your scheduling method of choice. A colleague of mine prefers to highlight the heck out of the print schedule, while I’ve found that taking advantage of the conference apps such as Guidebook can be really handy.

Don’t forget to give yourself time to see some of the local sights as well! If there’s an afternoon you can get away from the conference or – even better – if you can book an extra day or two on either end of the conference, you’ll be happy you did. It can be really frustrating to travel across the country to only see the inside of a convention centre. Plus, exploring the city with your fellow conference attendees is a great networking activity.

2) Surf the backchannel. Find the conference hashtag and tap into real-time Twitter/Facebook/Instagram conversations to find out what folks are saying about everything from the conference sessions, venue, and the best place to grab a quick bite to eat. It can be a great way to feel engaged and connected. Just remember, if you’ve got something negative to say on Twitter, be sure you’re ready to have the same conversation in person at the coffee break.

When I’m presenting, I find Twitter provides a quick and easy way to see how my presentation went over with the audience and gives me an opportunity to answer questions or send out links following the allotted presentation time. It’s always good to include the presenter in the conversation as well with an @ mention and use the conference hashtag, so those following from afar can also tap into what’s going on. There’s a lot to consider about the merits, drawbacks, and etiquette of conference tweeting. Check out Ryan Cordell’s article and suggested tweeting principles for more ideas.

3) Making networking meaningful. Small talk can be intimidating, but it’s certainly not impossible. Fallon Bleich’s article Small Talk at Conferences: How to Survive It offers some good tips.

As much as it can be tempting to talk to the people you already know, try to also work in some conversations with people you’ve never met, or someone you’ve always wanted to chat with. When in doubt, ask them what they’re working on at the moment. You might learn something new or even find someone new to collaborate with! I’ve had some great collaborative research projects come out of a simple conversation at a conference reception.

4) Presenting like a Pro. So much has already been written about how to give a good presentation. But as a rule of thumb, whether you’re using PowerPoint, Prezi, Google Slides, or Reveal, make sure your presentation slides aren’t more interesting than you are as a speaker. Selinda Berg discussed this in a previous C-EBLIP blog post where she argued for “PowerPoint as a companion…not as a standalone document to be read.” I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be outdone by your own conference slides!

5) Mindful reflection. Take time before the conference to set an intention for your experience there. Is there a particular problem you want to solve, certain people you need to have a face-to-face conversation with or vendors that you need to approach? Conferences can go by quickly. Make sure you’ve identified your goals in advance so they become a priority while you’re there. I like to use a free note taking system such as Evernote to write everything down. Once I get home, I reread my notes and reflect on my experience. How can I apply what I learned in my own practice or research? Who do I need to follow up with?

Everyone has their own approach to traveling, presenting, and networking at professional events. These are some of the things that have worked for me and helped to make the whole experience more beneficial and enjoyable overall. Whatever your approach, I encourage you to sit back and enjoy the ride. Happy conference season, everyone!

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

When Evidence and Emotion Collide: Rolling Out Controversial Evidence-Based Decisions

by Kathleen Reed, Assessment and Data Librarian, Instructor in the Department of Women’s Studies, and VP of the Faculty Association at Vancouver Island University

Last week’s news of Trent University Library’s Innovation Cluster was the latest in a string of controversial decisions centering on academic libraries that jumped from campus debate into the mainstream media. With so many libraries in the middle of decisions that are likely unpopular (e.g. cutting journals, weeding little-used and aging print collections), I’ve been increasingly thinking about best practices for communicating major evidence-based decisions to campus communities.

Simply having the data to support your decision isn’t enough; rolling out a controversial decision is an art form.  Luckily, I’ve had some really good teachers in the form of colleagues and bosses (shout out to Dana, Jean, Tim, and Bob).  With the disclaimer that I’ve taken no change-management training and am in no way an expert, here’s what I’ve learned in my first six years as a librarian:

Start conversations early and have them often.
Decisions do not go well when they’re dropped on people out of the blue. For example, we know that there’s a crisis in scholarly publishing – the fees and inflation vendors are charging are unsustainable and the CAD/USD conversion rate isn’t in our favour. Faculty need to hear that message now, not in a few years when a major journal package has to be cut.  If you talk to communities early, you’re able to hear concerns that may figure into future decision making, and figure out strategies to meet needs in other ways.

Don’t force an idea if you don’t have to.
One of the things my first boss told me was that sometimes you’ll have a great idea, but conditions just aren’t right for uptake.  Now 6 years into my career, I can see what he meant.  In my first year, cutting a particular database was unthinkable to a particular department, even though there was plenty of evidence that this cut should be made.  Four years later and I was able to get an agreement to cancel from the department with little issue.  Sometimes an issue has to be dealt with, but other times you can wait.  Plant a seed, walk away, and come back to it another time if you can.

Be proactive.
When Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) announced that thousands of journals were being reviewed for potential cost-savings and CBC reported on it, Ryerson University Library & Archives did something outstanding: they published a proactive blog article being upfront with their community. There was no beating around the bush, with the first Q&A being: “Can we anticipate similar activities at Ryerson? Yes we can.”  Ryerson didn’t have to do anything – the controversy wasn’t at their institution.  But they showed excellent leadership in addressing the issue head-on and set a great example for other libraries to follow.

Have a plan
A former boss of mine brought the idea of project charters to our work culture. These documents clearly outline goals, deliverables, in/out of scope areas, rationale, stakeholders responsibilities, scheduling considerations, timelines, risks & mitigation strategies, and sustainability. The most recent project charter around my library is related to the evolution of our print collection, which we’re looking to reduce over the next 5 years (evidence-based, of course – shout out to the COPPUL Shared Print Archive Network (SPAN) Project and GreenGlass. Having a project charter allows all librarians and staff to consider the direction of the project, have their input, and get on board with it. And this last point is key – if employees don’t feel consulted and buy-in, it’ll be especially hard to support that decision externally.

I’ll also highlight the “risks & mitigation strategy” section of project charters. This is where risks are identified.  For example, if the decision you’re undertaking is related to reducing the number of journals or print books, you’re probably going to attract negative media attention and dissatisfaction among print-book lovers. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, so plan for it.

Show due diligence and evidence.
I’ve mentioned above that it’s important to give your community plenty of opportunities to talk to librarians about large decisions and to get assistance for mitigation strategies (if necessary). But it’s also important to keep a record of how you did this. I once had an irate student group demand a meeting about a database that was cut over a year prior. When I laid out the process (multiple meetings and emails) and the evidence (rubric numbers, faculty input) used to make the decision, as well as how the library devised alternatives to accessing the cut database’s content, the students were completely satisfied and even apologized for assuming that the library was in the wrong.

At my library, we use a rubric to assess all our databases. Aside from helping us make decisions, this rubric enables us to “show our work” to faculty. When they see that we look at 28 different categories for every database, they’re more inclined to trust our decision-making than if we showed up with limited evidence and told them we need to cancel a database.

Do some anger aikido (if appropriate)
When our library started a consultation with several faculties on cutting a particular database, some of our faculty were understandably upset. But because of prior conversations about the problems in scholarly communications, instead of turning that anger on librarians it was directed at admin for not funding the library better, and at a parasitic scholarly publishing industry. When the latter came up, it gave librarians an opening to talk about the importance of Open Access, and helped convince some faculty to submit their work to our institutional repository to ensure it would no longer be behind a paywall.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take the blame if it’s legit your fault.  If you messed up, own it and don’t throw your colleagues under the bus. But when librarians are doing the best they can – being proactive, using evidence, starting conversations early – and factors beyond our control are the source of anger, I think it’s acceptable to do a little aikido and redirect the anger toward the source (especially if change can be made there).

People may not like a decision but they will usually respect your position if you’ve shown yourself worthy of respect.
Difficult decisions are easier to respect when they’re argued for by trustworthy, respectful, diligent people who have a track record of working on behalf of the community instead of for personal gain.  Be one of those people. As one of my favourite sayings goes, “We’re all smart in academia. Distinguish yourself by being kind.”

Consider the Spectrum of Allies.
I was first introduced to the Spectrum of Allies in the Next Up social justice leadership program, but it’s applicable to any controversial subject. The idea is that you’re not going to radically shift people from opposing an idea to loving it, so it’s better to think of nudging people from one position to the next.

Applying this concept to the decision to cancel a database might look something like this: active allies are those that will advocate for the decision; passive allies are those who agree with the decision but don’t speak up; neutrals are those who don’t care either way; passive opposition is people who oppose the decision but don’t speak up; and active opposition are the folks who are outspoken critics of the decision.  The point becomes to shift each group one position over.  So you may not be able to convince Professor Y that they should support the decision to cancel the database, but you might convince them to move from active opposition to passive, thereby not running to the press.

Accept that some people will be unreasonable.
Some people are just jerks. There will be nothing you can do to satisfy them, and there’s no point in dumping endless energy into convincing them of a decision.  But you can try to neutralizing their influence. If one particular member of a department is being an unreasonable PITA (Pain In The Ass), make sure you’re talking to their departmental colleagues so that those folks aren’t swayed by the individual’s influence.

Build an evidence-based culture.
If your library becomes known as a department that does assessment well and can provide valid evidence, you’ll garner respect on campus which can only make life easier.

Study the people around you who are good at conflict.
Tap into the wisdom of your diplomatic colleagues.  I’m lucky enough to have one who is United Nations-level good at diplomacy, and so when I found myself in a situation where my natural un-diplomatic impulses were about to take over, I’d ask myself “What would (name) do?”  After several years of this practice, I now cut out the middle step and just act tactfully in the first place most of the time (“fake it ‘til you make it” really does work!) But I’d have never been able to get to this place without watching and learning strategies from my co-worker.

At the end of it all, reflect on how it went and what you can do better next time.
Big decisions, like canceling journals or doing significant weeding, are difficult and hard to make roll out perfectly. It’s important to reflect on what’s gone well in the process and what can be improved upon for next time.

What’s your experience with rolling out controversial decisions?  Is there something that should be added or subtracted from this list?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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.

The first few weeks of sabbatical – Time to focus!

by Laura Newton Miller, on sabbatical from Carleton University

I’m lucky to be in the beginning weeks of a one-year sabbatical.  This is my second sabbatical, and I seem to be approaching this one a little differently than 7 years ago.

Unlike my first sabbatical, I started this one with a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to New Zealand. Although it was mostly a holiday, I did have the opportunity to meet and discuss all-things-library with Janet Fletcher and some of the lovely staff at Victoria University of Wellington.  I love seeing how other libraries do things, and our discussions really helped me to focus on my particular research. I was also able to discuss my research focus with family in Wellington, and really appreciated how I can apply their non-library perspective to my own work.

Knowing that I was taking this holiday, I did a lot of initial research pre-sabbatical (ethics approval, survey implementation) so that when I returned, I’d be able to immediately sink my teeth into the analysis. This is different than my first sabbatical, where I started work right away.

So what have I learned so far in my second sabbatical? I will readily admit that I probably have more questions than answers at this point, but I do have some tidbits of what to watch out for….

Limit social media

  • I know, I know – we know this – but it’s tricky sometimes! I find this very easy to do while on vacation, but the combination of jet-lag and arriving back just in time for a lot of turmoil south of the Canadian border made it very difficult to focus my first week back. I’m finding staying off social media a little more difficult this time around, but am aiming to limit myself to checking less often.

Find the time to work

  • I have school-age kids. I’m not sure if the winter weather was better the last sabbatical or not, but my kids seem to be around more because of storm cancellations or catching some sickness/bug. It makes it difficult to try and work during perhaps more “traditional” hours. I’m happy to be there for them, but finding that quiet time can sometimes be a challenge.

I still love analysis

  • I’m reading through comments from my survey. It was overwhelming at first- just sort of “swimming” in all the data, trying to figure out the themes and ways to code things. I’ve finally reached a breakthrough, which is exciting in itself, but even when I’m floundering I still just love it. I’m so excited for all of the things I’m going to learn this year.

I MAY have taken on too much .

Take a vacation/significant break before sinking teeth into work

  • Since I’m really at the beginning of everything right now, I’m still on the fence on whether or not this has helped my productivity. But it has been wonderful to give myself space between my work life and my sabbatical life- to have a chance to “let go” of some of the work-related things and to really focus. Which leads me to….

Stay off work emails

  • I found this very easy to do for my first sabbatical. Because I’m at a different point in my career now, I find myself checking my email *sometimes* this time around. But I try to limit it to infrequently getting rid of junk mail and catching up on major work-related news.

Do you have any tips on staying focused? I would love to hear them. I’m excited and energized about what my sabbatical year holds!

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.

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.

Changing roles and changing needs for academic librarians

by Dr Danny Kingsley, Head of Scholarly Communication, University of Cambridge
Claire Sewell, Research Skills Coordinator, Office of Scholarly Communication, University of Cambridge

The Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) has joined the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Research Network, and as part of this commitment has prepared the following blog which is a literature review of papers published addressing the changing training needs for academic librarians. This work feeds into research currently being carried out by the OSC into the educational background of those working in scholarly communication. The piece concludes with a discussion of this research and potential next steps.

Changing roles

There is no doubt that libraries are experiencing another dramatic change as a result of developments in digital technologies. Twenty years ago in their paper addressing the education of library and information science professionals, Van House and Sutton note that “libraries are only one part of the information industry and for many segments of the society they are not the most important part”.

There is an argument that “as user habits take a digital turn, the library as place and public services in the form of reference, collection development and organisation of library resources for use, all have diminishing value to researchers”. Librarians need to adapt and move beyond these roles to one where they play a greater part in the research process.

To this end scholarly communication is becoming an increasingly established area in many academic libraries. New roles are being created and advertised in order to better support researchers as they face increasing pressure to share their work. Indeed a 2012 analysis into new activities and changing roles for health science librarians identified ‘Scholarly communications librarians’ as a new role for health sciences librarians based on job announcements whilst in their 2015 paper on scholarly communication coaching Todd, Brantley and Duffin argue that: “To successfully address the current needs of a forward-thinking faculty, the academic library needs to place scholarly communication competencies in the toolkit of every librarian who has a role interacting with subject faculty.”

Which skill sets are needed

Much of the literature is in agreement about the specific skill set librarians need to work in scholarly communication. “Reskilling for Research” identified nine areas of skill which would have increasing importance including knowledge about data management and curation. Familiarity with data is an area mentioned repeatedly and acknowledged as something librarians will be familiar with. Mary Anne Kennan describes the concept as “the librarian with more” – traditional library skills with added knowledge of working with and manipulating data.

Many studies reported that generic skills were just as much, if not more so, in demand than discipline specific skills. A thorough knowledge of advocacy and outreach techniques is needed to spread the scholarly communication message to both library staff and researchers. Raju highlighted presentation skills for similar reasons in his 2014 paper.

The report “University Publishing in a Digital Age” further identified a need for library staff to better understand the publishing process and this is something that we have argued at the Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) in the past.

There is also a need to be cautious when demanding new skills. Bresnahan and Johnson (article pay-walled) caution against trying to become the mythical “unicorn librarian” – an individual who possesses every skill an employer could ever wish for. This is not realistic and is ultimately doomed to fail.

In their 2013 paper Jaguszewski and Williams instead advocate a team approach with members drawn from different backgrounds and able to bring a range of different skills to their roles. This was also the argument put forward by Dr Sarah Pittaway at the recent UKSG Forum where her paper addressed the issue of current library qualifications and their narrow focus.

Training deficit

Existing library roles are being adapted to include explicit mention of areas such as Open Access whilst other roles are being created from scratch. This work provides a good fit for library staff but it can be challenging to develop the skills needed. As far back as 2008 it was noted that the curricula of most library schools only covered the basics of digital library management and little seems to have changed since with Van House and Sutton identifying barriers to “the ability of LIS educational programs to respond” to changing needs such as the need to produce well-rounded professionals.

Most people working in this area learn their skills on the job, often from more experienced colleagues. Kennan’s study notes that formal education could help to fill the knowledge gap whilst others look to more hands-on training as this helps to embed knowledge.

The question then becomes should the profession as a whole be doing more to prepare their new recruits for the career path of the 21st century academic librarian? This is something we have been asking ourselves in the OSC at Cambridge. Since the OSC was established at the start of 2015 it has made a concerted effort to educate staff at the one hundred plus libraries in Cambridge through both formal training programmes and targeted advocacy. However we are aware that there is still more to be done. We have begun by distributing a survey to investigate the educational background of those who work in scholarly communications. The survey was popular with over five hundred responses and many offers of follow up interviews which means that we have found an area of interest amongst the profession. We will be analysing the results of the survey in the New Year with a view to sharing them more widely and further participating in the scholarly communication process ourselves.


Wherever the skills gaps are there is no doubt that the training needs of academic librarians are changing. The OSC survey will provide insight into whether these needs are currently being met and give evidence for future developments but there is still work to be done. Hopefully this project will be the start of changes to the way academic library staff are trained which will benefit the future of the profession as a whole.

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.

This article was originally posted on Unlocking Research, the blog of the University of Cambridge Office of Scholarly Communication on November 29, 2016.

Traditionalists, Progressives and the Gone-Away World

by Frank Winter, Librarian Emeritus
University Library, University of Saskatchewan

The question of what the role and mission of academic libraries and librarians should be has occupied my attention for a long time. My answers have evolved over time as circumstances have evolved. Underlying my answers, however, is my belief that every important factor in the evolving mission and role of university libraries is exogenous. We have no meaningful control or influence over the ecosystem of scholarly communication where Elsevier and its ilk and Google are the dominant players. In the Canadian context, the librarians responsible for data services, GIS services, and government documents saw their respective areas of responsibility restructure almost unrecognizably in real time over 3 years because of the exogenous forces of Open government information, Open data and Open GIS. Government goals for universities and university mission statements are developed without input from libraries. We react and try to shape these factors as best we can to meet our own values and goals based on the mission of the Library within the University.

Successfully engaging with these factors requires a clear understanding of how we interpret them and act on those interpretations. In this context, the rise to prominence of the work of cognitive scientists with respect to decision-making is important. In his Presidential Address at the 2013 annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association (published as “Policy, politics and political science,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 46(4), 751-772. doi: Dr. Michael Atkinson identified numerous decision-making pitfalls including framing, prospect theory, status quo bias, loss aversion, overconfidence bias, confirmation bias, my-side bias and recency bias. These pitfalls ought, in his opinion, to be much more formally incorporated into the theoretical underpinning of policy studies and political science. Atkinson notes, “In addition, we draw conclusions based on personally evocative but statistically dubious evidence.” As in policy studies, so in librarianship, I suggest. I would like to focus on another of these pitfalls – mindsets, the mental models of how the world ought to run – that each of us carries in our head.

At the present time, my thinking has focused on two different mindsets: the Traditionalist and the Progressive. Traditionalists are those librarians who believe that the overarching importance of the Library in the University is its local collection (consisting predominantly of published, almost exclusively English-language, secondary academic monographic literature, balanced and representative, and assembled for current and future scholars) and the services that support that local collection.

Progressives are those librarians who view “the Library” and its contributions to the host institution as a bundle of services of which the local collection (a subset of the collective collection) is one of the services.

When discussions arise that challenge a Traditionalist’s mindset, my experience is that evidence-based conclusions and proposals arising from those conclusions are often met with a combination of normative responses (“well, even if that is accurate it shouldn’t be given any weight given on this, that, or the other principle”) and heuristic, anecdotal empiricism (“I know my faculty members”) which are challenging to engage with.

As always, however, things are not black and white. It is quite possible, for example, that life science liaison librarians, for example, are Progressives by this definition and meet the needs for their users very well while humanities liaison librarians are predominantly Traditionalists because the relevant faculty members and graduate student users are traditionalists themselves. There is nothing wrong with that and this arguably is the correct approach to take. So perhaps, at a minimum, more precision and segmentation is needed when discussing options, not just referring to an undifferentiated lump called “the Library.”

But the heading that I now use when thinking about Traditionalist and Progessive mindsets is “the Gone-Away World.” This phrase is taken from the title of a very funny/ sad 2008 science fiction novel by Nick Harkaway. You can read the book yourself but in essence the title refers to a fearsome weapon (called the Go-Away weapon) developed to bring an end to an endless, ugly war between evenly-matched opponents. The weapon – some sort of entropy device – would cause the enemy to just “go away” by, as far as I could understand this narrative MacGuffin, causing information to decohere in the objects it is aimed at. Well, unintended consequences and all that (I think the author intended to show how the 2nd law of thermodynamics and the law of conservation of matter interacted in unexpected ways) but half the book deals with the results of deploying this weapon – the Gone-Away World.

I think, getting to the point, is that our Traditionalists are living (mostly) in a Gone-Away World. The traditional rationale for and way of delivering local collection-based services, traditional reference, traditional information literacy and so on has, for the most part, gone away but they act as if it were still in existence or perhaps are expecting a cyclical return to the status quo ante. Meanwhile, the Canadian tri-council granting agencies, planning processes from the university-wide to the local unit level, and professional bodies such as CARL, OCLC, and Ithaka S+R, among many others, have tried to explain why that world is no more and what roles libraries and librarians might play in the evolving world.

Re-reading these paragraphs I realize that I sound rather preachy. I have no reason to expect that I am any more insightful than any other person. There are lots of other opinions out there from some very informed, very engaged librarians and others who are engaged with issues of the library in the communities that they serve who see the world differently. But you can see some of this impact of these changes in many support staff positions lost over the past few years at MPOW. Many were dealing with physical stuff – stuff that has just Gone-Away. If the local collection of printed scholarly books by-and-large just Goes-Away as a useful and important service, what choice will we have as university libraries and university librarians but to adapt? Evidence-based solutions will be increasingly necessary for good decisions in this environment.

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