5 May 2014

Fundamentals for the Academic Liaison (Review) by Richard Moniz, Jo Henry and Joe Eschleman

As somebody relatively new to the liaison role in an academic library myself, I was attracted to this title for obvious reasons. In this respect, the book is very much true to its title in promising “fundamentals”, and presents a practical, nuts and bolts overview of most aspects of the role of a liaison librarian.

However, at times I feel that the content and coverage of the book is perhaps too “fundamental”, with the risk that readers may outgrow it quickly. The checklist approach that is used throughou, simplifies and distils aspects of the role into key tasks or activities, which will likely be of value to somebody very new to the area. On occasion however, I feel it borders on ‘stating the obvious’ - are separate checklists of real-time and virtual-time communication channels really necessary for instance? The sequencing of some of the chapters could also have been tweaked a little – in particular, the placement of Communication with Faculty after Subject Expertise reads a little out of logical order in my view, as in many ways subject knowledge can be partly acquired as a direct result of building relationships and interacting with academic staff. Similarly, I feel it may have been more fitting to position the Online Tutorials chapter after Teaching Information Literacy rather than much earlier on, as I would consider designing learning objects to be part of the overall instructional role.

The chapter on Information Literacy also suffers from the aforementioned problem of being overly basic in my view, with nearly three pages discussing the ACRL definition and standards (I wonder why these were chosen over say SCONUL Seven Pillars or other models? More discussion on this for example would have been welcome). These are concepts that should already be very familiar to anyone who has completed an MLIS - even if they may be very new to a liaison role. It is also a little database-heavy and perhaps too ‘traditional’ in terms of the teaching content that is discussed. That said, there are still some useful tips included, such as the value that can be gleaned from observing an experienced colleague or peer teaching a class, and the idea that less can be more when it comes to teaching IL. The Library Guides chapter primarily discusses LibGuides which may or may not be useful, depending on whether your institution has access to the product (there is really only a single page devoted to open source alternatives). As a Libguides user myself however, I found the section on inventive uses did provide some interesting ideas and inspiration.

As somebody getting to grips with the role of a liaison librarian, I would have preferred more discussion of the evolving nature of the role – how it has changed and where liaison librarians might position themselves in the future. For instance, there is little mention of topics such as open access, data management and bibliometrics and the implications thereof. A deeper analysis of the challenges, threats and opportunities would also have been welcome. Indeed one of the most useful chapters - Faculty Assistance - does allude to some of these issues, including the move away from the traditional collection development role and issues surrounding the status of librarians, but largely it feels as though the discussion is only skimming the surface.

At times, I feel the book paints an overly traditional picture of the role, which does not necessarily reflect the disparate and diverse nature of liaison roles across institutions and indeed countries today. Unfortunately I feel most liaison librarians would probably quickly outgrow the text, instead opting for more specialised texts on teaching, management or communications. However, as an introductory text that promises the “fundamentals”, I am probably being overly critical to expect a more wide-ranging and comprehensive treatment.

Fundamentals for the Academic Liaison is published by Facet, April 2014


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