Intersection 3: New Roles for Librarians

The imperative to contribute to the building of new infrastructures for scholarship and to be deeply involved with evolutions in teaching

3.1. Why New Roles

Librarians’ roles have been rapidly evolving in response to new initiatives in academic organizations. Notable initiatives for information literacy librarians are online learning, embedding librarians in courses, the “flipped” classroom, an emphasis on assessment, emerging literacies, and a deeper involvement in developing and supporting course projects. Notable initiatives for scholarly communication librarians are open access policies, digital repositories, copyright education and support, and library publishing programs. We explore these threads and the ways they intersect, with a focus on new roles we see evolving to meet the demands of these initiatives.


Sidebar: Changing Roles in Instruction

The recent move by the Graduate School at the University of Washington to open access digital theses and dissertations led to opportunities within the UW Libraries to better educate students on their rights as authors and as the holders of copyright to their work. Before this move, our purpose in working with graduate students on their theses and dissertations was to help them find appropriate resources and cite works properly. Now we are expanding our roles to include interactive discussions about the implications of different access options for their thesis or dissertation, including the default option of having their work be open to anyone on the Internet.

All library staff involved in these efforts had to become comfortable addressing the various options available to students and the implications of each option for the student/author. We found that students who were going through the electronic thesis and dissertation process have a greater interest in issues related to publishing, copyright, author rights, open access, and other scholarly communication-related issues. As a result, UW graduate students are better educated about many of these issues and are better positioned to make informed decisions related to their intellectual output.


3.2. Recent History of Librarian Roles

As we explore intersections between information literacy and scholarly communication, it is worth noting that not long ago, information literacy evolved from bibliographic instruction. Scholarly communication is, by comparison, a very new role. Some libraries have added scholarly communication responsibilities to the job descriptions and portfolios of subject specialist librarians to encourage them to develop confidence and clarity in dealing with these issues, and to influence change through education and outreach about new publishing options such as open access.

Traditionally, subject librarians had strong academic backgrounds in the subject areas to which they were assigned, and used that background in running a branch library, developing and managing collections, and providing reference, outreach, and instruction, along with other assignments as needed due to the specific training and talents of the librarian. The subject specialist librarian’s role has evolved to include an emphasis on liaison activities, including close involvement with publishing in the disciplines, and with teaching using methods such as active learning, to better engage the 21st century lifelong learner.

3.3. Requirements for New Roles

In order to integrate the full scope of scholarly communication issues into their work, liaison librarians have to sufficiently understand copyright and fair use, authors’ rights, open access, citation metrics (traditional and “alt”), publishing options, digital preservation, and institutional repository development and management. To be effective teachers, these librarians need to be continually refreshing their teaching skills. In the work of many liaison librarians we see a natural intersection of information literacy and scholarly communication, as these librarians are necessarily teaching informally and formally about the changing nature of scholarship and art in the digital world. Specific examples include copy rights education programs targeted to user groups such as graduate students, as well as working with undergraduate teaching librarians to integrate information about reuse of content into their projects.

With this focus on liaison activities and close collaboration with the faculty and students creating content, subject librarians become valuable partners in new initiatives and services. Digital repositories and open access policies are initiatives in which librarians play an important role in managing academic scholarship, and in encouraging faculty and scholars to retain copyrights to their scholarly work. The creation of digital collections through digitization of special print collections also involves close work with faculty. Digital initiatives like these offer an unprecedented opportunity to bring scholarly communication and information literacy librarians together with faculty and students. These programs all benefit from robust outreach and education components, in collaboration with technology experts. Partnerships are vital to achieving success in the new roles librarians now play, and are characteristic of areas of library work where information literacy skills and scholarly communication expertise are both critical components of education and outreach programs.

Exploring our evolving roles has the potential to uncover other intersections and commonalities between scholarly communication and information literacy, and helps us identify strategic responses for librarians. We propose and discuss three such responses in the next section.


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