Fostering Effective Liaison Relationships In An Academic Library

Report of the Rutgers University Libraries
Task Force on Liaison Relationships
Connie Wu, Chair
Michael Bowman
Judy Gardner
Robert Sewell
Myoung Chung Wilson


Following is the revised text of a report submitted by the Task Force on Liaison Relationships at Rutgers University Libraries(RUL). The Task Force was appointed in May 1991 by the then Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian Joanne Euster and was charged with exploring and formulating solutions in two related areas: 1) To develop a model which described the major components of a successful liaison relationship and 2) To propose methods for fostering effective liaison between librarians and academic departments and faculty.

The members of the Task Force reviewed related literature and conducted a survey among 44 subject specialists at RUL. In October 1991, a report with recommendations and suggestions was submitted for discussion and review. The report has been distributed widely. Within the libraries, the report was discussed at various library forums and was accepted as a "toolkit" for use in developing working relationships with the teaching faculty. Outside of the libraries, the report was distributed to many university faculty committees. In response to the report, the chair of the Rutgers New Brunswick Campus Faculty Council Library Committee solicited faculty viewpoints. Responses were obtained from 21 departments. The University Senate unanimously adopted a resolution "...that this report be made available to all research, instructional, and service units, so that they may discuss the reciprocal responsibilities of individual faculty members and departments, and communicate, as they find appropriate, with the librarians about their discussions."

Profile of Rutgers University Libraries

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, is a large, public teaching and research institution located on three regional campuses in New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden. 47,000 students, of which more than 14,000 are graduate students attend the university and there are over 2,000 faculty. Ph.D degrees are offered in 61 fields. The largest campus is in New Brunswick where the most of the graduate programs and research institutes are located.

RUL includes 18 libraries on the three campuses. Within New Brunswick there are two research libraries, the Library of Science and Medicine (Natural Sciences and Engineering) and the Alexander Library (Humanities and Social Sciences) as well as specialized libraries including the Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Art, Music, East Asian, Alcohol Studies, Management and Labor Relations, and Urban Studies. There are two undergraduate libraries: Douglass and Kilmer Libraries. Douglass Library also has primary collecting responsibility with for Women's Studies and the Performing Arts and Kilmer Library serves Business Programs on New Brunswick campus. The Dana Library in Newark and the Robeson Library in Camden support both undergraduate and graduate studies on their campuses. Furthermore, the Institute for Jazz Studies and the Criminal Justice Library, two specialized research libraries, are located in Newark.

The administrative structure of the libraries consists of a central administration (composed of the University Librarian, Deputy Librarian, and three Associate University Librarians) which has "systemwide" responsibility for all libraries on three campuses, and the University Librarian's Cabinet (consisting of the central administration and the directors of the six major libraries from the three regional campuses) which develops, coordinates, and implements policies. There are also three Standing Advisory Committees in Collection Development and Management, Public Services, and Technical and Automated Services which are chaired by the appropriate Associate University Librarians and whose membership is composed of library faculty members from all three campuses.

With such a complex system spread out over a large geographical area, communication is complex and essential to maintaining the "unified system," which practically and philosophically brings together all elements of RUL. These circumstances also make liaison relationships an especially critical factor in the functioning of RUL.

A strong relationship between the university libraries and the wider university community is fundamental to the ultimate success of the libraries' mission. The heart of the libraries' mission is to provide library resources and services in support of the research, instructional, and public service programs of the university. It is through liaison relationships that this mission can be realized.

Among the goals established by the Rutgers University Libraries in 1987 is: "To maintain close and continuous communication and liaison with academic faculties through systematic consultation with individuals, departments and schools."

An effective libraries' service philosophy, according to Thomas Michalak1>, requires librarians to reach out to users in order to: (1) identify their information needs; (2) identify the problems they encounter in attempting to fulfill these needs; (3) convey and demonstrate the range of services available in the library; and (4) bring back to the library an appreciation and understanding of user needs and the methods and tools of scholarship and instruction.

"Liaison relationship" in this report refers to those patterns of communication that will enhance the mission of the university by establishing and maintaining mutual understanding between academic librarians and teaching faculty. Although all librarians have a responsibility for liaison activities, the focus of this report is on the role of the subject specialist, who is on the front line in the liaison relationship.

Goals and Components of Effective Liaison Relationships

Library liaison activities include those communication activities that establish and maintain a mutual understanding about library resources and services among librarians, academic departments, faculty and students. The goals of an effective faculty liaison program are:

  1. To render direct and effective aid to university research and scholarship and to assist faculty members, as appropriate, in obtaining resources for their research and teaching;
    II To enhance effective communications among central library administrators, directors, subject specialists and various library groups;
  1. To raise the libraries' visibility on campus and to promote the library as the intellectual heart of the university. The major components of a successful liaison relationship are:
    • a user orientation;
    • effective channels of communication;
    • cooperation between library units;
    • and the continuing development of subject expertise among the selectors.

Individual Roles in Liaison Relationships

Many members of the Rutgers University community have roles to play in library liaison relationships. The nature of an individual's role depends on the position(s) that individual holds within the university. Following is a list of positions and description of the role the individuals in those positions play in the liaison relationship.

Subject Specialists
Subject specialists are the key element in developing the liaison relationship. They proactively inform academic users about library resources, operations, services and policies. They also represent the collection/resource needs of the users in the development and implementation of library operations, services, and policies.

Public Services Librarians
Public services librarians inform users about library resources, operations, services and policies. They bring users' perspectives to subject selectors and technical services librarians. When appropriate, they also direct users to subject specialists for further assistance. In some cases, they are subject specialists as well.

Technical Services Librarians
While not playing as direct a role in liaison relationships as subject specialists and public service librarians, technical services librarians and systems personnel provide vital links between the library and its patrons through creating and controlling bibliographic records. Systems staff develop user-friendly interfaces to online information systems including the online catalog. In addition, the Technical and Automated Services Department trains student-interns from the library school in programs jointly supervised by the teaching faculty and librarians.

Undergraduate Librarians
Undergraduate librarians communicate with academic departments to promote user education programs and assess departments' undergraduate instructional needs. Undergraduate librarians may also seek, as appropriate, advice on building the undergraduate collections. In addition, undergraduate librarians communicate with university staff who are actively engaged in undergraduate services.

Library Directors
Library unit directors foster a library environment where liaison relationships are deemed important and are supported. They encourage liaison relationships when working with university administrators and faculty members. They interact directly with appropriate administrators, such as deans, department chairs, and directors of programs or research centers, to exchange relevant information. They communicate concerns between the central library administration and librarians and relevant faculty.

Library directors respond to concerns from faculty members and other library users. They analyze the problem, supply information about library services, budget, and personnel, and if possible, find a solution or at least produce a better understanding of the situation.

Central Library Administrators
Central library administrators communicate between the libraries and upper-level university administrators on budgets and policies. They present library needs to the university administration. They gather and distribute information that can best be gathered on a systemwide basis. The central library administrators are resource for librarians and directors in the course of their contacts with faculty. In addition, they communicate major library innovations and policy initiatives directly to the university faculty as a whole.

Members of University Committees
Non-librarian members of university committees that deal with library issues also play an important part in the liaison relationship. They deliver information about the academic process and report on library matters to their constituents. They provide an alternate channel of communication between library users and the libraries.

Role of Related Library Groups in Liaison Relationships

The following library groups deal with issues beyond the library unit and coordinate action between library units. Included is a description of their role in the liaison relationship.

Selector Groups Selectors Groups, comprised of subject specialists with selection responsibilities in the same or related disciplines, provide a mechanism for facilitating discussions among selectors in different libraries. The groups are responsible for drafting, interpreting and implementing collection development policies from a systemwide viewpoint in their areas of responsibility.

Bibliographic Instruction Coordinators Group The Bibliographic Instruction Coordinators Group is comprised of librarians from various units responsible for user education. The group contacts academic departments and administrative offices to promote systemwide bibliographic instruction programs and encourage further integration of bibliographic instruction into the curriculum.

Standing Advisory Committees With representation throughout RUL, these committees provide systemwide forums for the free flow of information on public services, collection development, and technical and automated services. The committees help ensure the entire library faculty is well-informed and involved with library issues of interest to the academic community.

Recommendations and Suggestions from the Task Force

Frequent and open communication on an equal footing between the Libraries and academic departments is the best way to establish and maintain effective liaison relationships. If teaching faculty feel that collections in their areas are being successfully developed by subject specialists, strong working relationships can be developed and maintained. The roles identified above make clear the responsibilities of various individuals and groups in the liaison relationship. Following are five recommendations for enhancing the relationship between the Libraries and university community. A "toolbox" of suggested methods and proposals to provide specific means to implement the recommendations is included.

  1. Every year each library shall contact each appropriate academic department and review the channels of communication which may include the following:
    • Contact faculty via e-mail, memos, telephone calls, or face-to-face contact (formal and informal). Informal person-to-person contact is an effective way to disseminate academic information to the Libraries and library information to the departments. such informal occasions are: working lunches, coffee breaks, holiday parties, graduation celebration, and retirement dinners.
    • Attend faculty departmental meetings when appropriate and ask to be placed on departmental mailing lists. Subject specialists may visit faculty in their offices, contact department heads to learn about their problems and academic program changes, talk with deans, chairs, liaisons, and secretaries. Contact with faculty should be in accord with the departmental culture and should fit the style of the librarian.
    • Produce inexpensive but significant house organs such as newsletters, e-mail bulletin boards, or faculty library handbooks. Keep them brief, informal, and newsy.
    • Encourage department chairs and academic administrators to recognize the importance of the liaison relationship and the individual appointed as departmental library liaison as an important resource person. The Libraries may send awards or acknowledgement to the departments and liaisons, or organize special receptions or events to acknowledge the liaisons.
    • Share common experiences with faculty by attending general cultural and social events and related seminars.
    • Provide a list of selectors by subject in every library unit and on the campus-wide information system(INFO) to all faculty and academic administrators. Inform faculty that the libraries work together as a system, not independently of one another.
    • Give personal recognition to faculty members on the publication of books, such as a note congratulating them and informing them of receipt of a copy in the library.
    • Deliver lectures to individual classes on the use of the library, library automation, and online searching. Encourage faculty members to share responsibility in teaching library use to students.
    • Offer library instruction to faculty and graduate students to keep them conversant with the resources and services available. Conduct open houses for new faculty and graduate students.
    • Seek opportunities for collaborative teaching projects or grants with teaching faculty members to incorporate BI into their courses.
    • Participate in university orientation programs for teaching assistants, research assistants and international students. Train students who assist faculty with their research.
    • Provide bibliographic services for special research needs, such as: Selected Dissemination Information service, table of contents service and current awareness services.
  1. Integrate the faculty into all stages of the collection development process.
    • Advise faculty how they can and should participate in the selection process.
    • Ensure that the faculty is aware of the Libraries' collection's strengths and weaknesses. Compile and distribute appropriate journal lists, new acquisitions lists, or library research handbooks and topic guides.
    • Inform faculty about budgetary and allocation issues.
    • Encourage faculty to participate in collection decision making on selection of current materials, retrospective purchasing, conversion of materials into other formats such as microfilm, replacement of missing materials. Obtain advice from faculty liaisons on the acquisition of expensive titles. Send listings of newly published journal titles to appropriate faculty for purchase evaluation.
    • Consult with departmental liaisons and other appropriate faculty members on cancellation and evaluation of serials originally recommended by them or in their subject area. Send a list of specific titles for their consideration and inform faculty throughout the cancellation process.
  1. In their area(s) of responsibility, selectors shall be familiar with the curriculum, reading requirements of undergraduates, the thesis topics undertaken by graduate students, and the research interests of faculty.
    • Obtain information about academic priorities within departments. Identify individual faculty research interests and set-up a profile of appropriate faculty research interests. Obtained data through graduate catalogs and the database of the Faculty Annual Survey, supplemented by sending questionnaires to faculty members.
    • Develop a standardized form to gather information about the department for which the subject specialist are responsible. The form may include items such as:
      1. size of faculty
      2. size of student population: undergrads/grads
      3. new programs
      4. new courses
      5. new faculty
      6. new research interests
      7. new research centers or labs
    • Develop a standardized questionnaire form for individual faculty members. Subject specialists may use the questionnaire to set up profiles of faculty research interests. The following items may be included:
      1. professional subject interests
      2. current research projects
      3. course names taught
      4. other responsibilities
      5. foreign languages
      6. academic rank
  1. Subject specialists shall develop expertise and keep current of developments in their fields
    • Attend relevant lectures and symposia presented at home institution and outside if possible.
    • Read current works in field.
    • Talk to faculty about their current research, teaching, and professional service activities.
  1. All librarians and library units shall cooperate in liaison relationships.
    • Subject specialists and undergraduate librarians with responsibilities in similar academic areas shall regularly communicate and share information.
    • Subject specialists working in overlapping or interdisciplinary areas shall regularly communicate and share information.
    • Librarians involved in bibliographic instruction and subject specialists shall regularly communicate and share information.
    • Public services librarians and subject specialists bring users' comments or suggestions about library online information systems and concerns on library technical issues to the technical services librarians.
    • Library administrators should continually stress the importance of liaison relationships.


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