New from ACRL: Approaches to Liaison Librarianship

ACRL announces the publication of Approaches to Liaison Librarianship: Innovations in Organization and Engagement, edited by Robin Canuel and Chad Crichton. The book showcases different implementations of the liaison model across a range of institutions and describes in detail many of the tailored programs and services that liaison librarians are so well-positioned to provide.

Learn more about Approaches to Liaison Librarianship in this excerpt from the Introduction by Robin Canuel and Chad Crichton, licensed under a CC BY-NC.


Liaison librarianship, prevalent in today’s college and university libraries, is a well-established system for framing our work and organizational structures in order to effectively meet the needs of faculty and students. This conception of library services, wherein liaison librarians support the missions of specific departments and programs, allows these librarians to pursue more focused disciplinary specialization in service of the varied needs of our diverse academic communities. Liaison librarians are well-positioned to acquire the subject knowledge that enables them to engage more deeply with faculty and students in ways that would be impractical for librarians with broader responsibilities. This more discipline-focused approach allows liaison librarians to finely tailor their services and support to effect greater impact on campus research, teaching, and learning. Services such as collection development, information literacy instruction, and reference and research support benefit greatly when approached from a disciplinary perspective by a librarian who is well-versed in the nuances of a particular academic field. The liaison model also provides opportunities for some librarians to focus on supporting emerging areas of specialized need that cross disciplinary boundaries, such as digital scholarship, copyright and scholarly communication support, and research data management. These areas can also benefit from the focused support of what many institutions would still refer to as a “liaison librarian” despite the lack of assignment to, or responsibility for, a single scholarly discipline.

Despite the rich history of liaison librarianship, its precise meaning remains somewhat fluid. The details of liaison models, how they are implemented, and how we evaluate the success of our liaison librarians and programs must, by necessity, be flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of institutional contexts. The size and nature of an academic institution, the library’s financial and human resources, and the diversity and size of local programs are only some of the multitude of variables that librarians must consider when evaluating the suitability of a liaison model for their library, and determining the specific form that such a model should take in order to best suit their circumstances. The book’s authors showcase a number of different implementations of the liaison model, across a range of institutions, and they describe in detail many of the tailored programs and services that liaison librarians are so well-positioned to provide. There have also been a variety of liaison institutes dedicated to this model and a great deal of literature written regarding liaison librarianship, much of which is cited in the ensuing chapters.

At the outset, the book is focused on the design and establishment of liaison librarian programs at a number of institutions from a broad programmatic perspective and on the ongoing efforts by librarians to refresh said programs periodically to reflect local campus changes and demands for new services and support from faculty and students. The challenges of managing liaison programs through these types of changes are also addressed with reference to the specific experiences of a number of librarians in supervisory and management positions. Many of our authors then focus on describing their day-to-day experiences as liaison librarians. From collaborating with teaching faculty on crafting and delivering information literacy instruction to designing online research support tools, our authors describe the opportunities and challenges faced by liaison librarians. These chapters outline how these librarians have leveraged their specialized skills and knowledge of their users’ needs to satisfy a wide variety of demands. Subsequent chapters focus on librarians working to become fully embedded in their liaison departments in order to benefit from an even closer connection to the workflows and culture of the departments they serve or participating in special projects in collaboration with research and teaching faculty that leverage the specialized knowledge and skills of today’s liaison librarians. Throughout, the flexibility and adaptability of the liaison model are highlighted as our authors discuss the ways in which libraries work to customize solutions for their local environments and integrate new resources and services into their liaison models.

Although liaison librarianship is a relatively long-established model in the academic world, the wide variety of case studies and perspectives manifest throughout the book attest to its flexibility and adaptability in specific colleges and universities. From one-off teaching collaborations with individual instructors to the increasingly embedded role of liaisons who find themselves fully immersed in the intellectual lives of their departments, liaison librarians are connecting users to the services they require, both within and beyond the library. Through their close connection to the people they support, liaison librarians can provide these services in customized ways that acknowledge and incorporate the unique perspectives of our user communities. Ideally, liaison librarians can become true partners and collaborators in all aspects of campus intellectual life, from information literacy instruction and collection development to research support and departmental curriculum and program planning. Academic liaison librarianship is an excellent organizational model that facilitates effective outreach and engagement with our faculty and students, and its flexibility and responsiveness indicate that it will likely continue to be the standard for academic libraries for the foreseeable future.