Information Commons–Partnerhips and (New) Roles

“The information commons brings a new degree of collaboration between librarians and other key professionals in the organization who bring different professional training and cultures together.  Genuine collaboration among historically distinct and physically separated student support services require immense attention, support, and nurturance.  There is excellent potential for success, improvement to services, and epiphanies that lead to better outcomes for patrons.” (Scott Bennett, Designing for Uncertainty: Three Approaches, p.166)

Our group studied the emerging trend of the Library as the “Information Commons” in both academic and public spaces.  My section of the presentation focuses more intently on two facets:  the partnerships that are needed across the organization in order to facilitate a smoothly-operating Information Commons, and the new role of the “Reference Librarian”.

Why are partnerships essential?

  • Partnerships are an essential component of the computer workstation environment.

Look at the many banks of computers in this Nazareth College Library sitting amongst the traditional “stacks” of library reference material.  In order to meet the needs of the students, Nazareth College must employ staff for answering both reference questions and technical questions

Partnerships offer different perspectives for improving serviceThis image was found on the Flickr stream for “THE HUB” Information Commons at the William T. Young Library at the University of Kentucky.  As you can see, they are not simply asking for ways to improve the library, but ways to improve the library and technology.  By recognizing this significant partnership, THE HUB is able to collect perspectives from a wide variety of places to improve their services.

  • Partnerships help resolve problems more quickly vs. departments that maintain silos
  • Partnerships allow for more accurate referrals.  When there are partnerships, employees understand one another’s skills and strengths better so they can more appropriately direct unfamiliar questions to staff members that are more knowledgeable
  • Partnerships remove barriers between departments with different cultures and values to meet the needs of a combined user audience

Who are the “key players” involved in partnerships?

  • Reference Librarians
  • Information Technology Staff
  • Users (students, patrons, etc)
  • Support Staff
  • Administration/Board Members
  • Key Community Members/University Sponsors

The information commons is really a one-stop-shop for patrons, so you want to think outside of the box when it comes to establishing partnerships in the IC:

  • Tutoring centers

Library@Sinclair Community College – Tutoring & Learning Center

This is a walk-in tutoring facility for students working on math, reading, and writing skills.

  • Writing Centers

Hodges Library Writing Center at the University of Tennessee Knoxville

The Library branch of the Writing Center is intended to help students who are working at the Library on written assignments for any UT course. Trained tutors from the English Department will talk with students about their assignments, and Research Service Librarians are close by to assist with the research process, as well.

  • Academic Advisement Centers

ARC in the Library@Sinclair Community College

The Academic Resource Center prepares students to take placement exams. Sinclair has ARCs in various high schools throughout its service area. This is the ARC for the Dayton campus. Data clearly demonstrates that students improved their placement test scores significantly when they used the ARC.

  • Career Centers
  • Service Learning Centers
  • Foreign Language Centers
  • Food Vendors–Establish a partnership with a local coffee shop (or the cafeteria) to provide food and drink the in IC.  Food and drink is a crucial element that assists in keeping students/patrons in the IC for longer periods of time

Grub @ THE HUB

Upscale vending machines provide food and drink to hungry students

University of New Haven–Library Café

Featuring Starbucks brand coffee and other products.  Coffee, tea, lattes, smoothies, and bottled water are available.  Cookies, muffins, scones, pastries and bagels with cream cheese or butter, fruit cups, sandwiches, and salads can be purchased.  There is seating at tables and in overstuffed chairs.  Staff at the Library Café encourage students to enjoy some refreshments as they study and look out over the University’s main quadrangle.

How can partnerships be established/maintained?

  • Integrating Service at a single desk

Library@Sinclair Community College – Service Desk

The Library Service Desk includes three functional units. Reference, Circulation, and IT Lab Support. In this picture, the reference librarian is seated nearest the camera, the circulation support staff person is at the center station, and the IT lab staff at the far station.

  • Staffing Separate but co-located desks

“THE HUB” at William T. Young Library

Example of creating a space where students can receive both library and IT help by partners working side by side

What are some challenges that partnerships face?

When you establish partnerships there will always be challenges to overcome.  This is because you are dealing with different and historically separated support services.  Up until this idea of the Information Commons, every “section” of the library had their own space.  The information commons really works to integrate the service experience so you have people from different backgrounds working together.  This can be difficult for several reasons:

  • Transition
  • Assimilation
  • Cultural Divide
  • Collaboration
  • Communication

There are many hurdles these partnerships will have to overcome to ensure their longevity and strength and make sure that each “type” of staff member’s voices are being heard.

How can you combat these Challenges?

It’s important to make sure that prior to integrating these separate types of staff members that there is significant types of:

  • Committee work between departments.  Create a team to work on a project like a new website that promotes the IC.  Get representatives from many different areas of the library to work on this project and monitor the ways in which group dynamic and partnership develop over time.
  • Retreats
  • Open and constant communication

It is also helpful to:

  • Establish clear guidelines and job descriptions.  Make sure that everyone understands what they are essentially responsible for and how their role fits into the bigger picture of the information commons
  • Cross Train—is it possible that some staff could transition between departments to fill certain needs? Examples:
    • Reference librarian that can handle academic advisement
    • Foreign language tutor that can act as a reference librarian for ESL patrons
    • IT staff member who’s fun and engaging and wants to run the café on weekend to attract customers

Changes in administrative structure also help combat challenges that occur when blending different departments into one collaborative Information Commons team.  However, the question of who will lead the new organization triggers anxiety for both librarians and IT professionals.  This is because both IT and Librarians have very specific sets of skills and want to be led by people who have the same degree and qualifications as they do

Many ICs have created a “CIO”—Chief Information Officer that presides over the partnershipsKaren Stanton–Chief Information Officer and College Librarian at King’s College in London

Kings College participates in a library system that has adopted the principle of convergence.  They describe convergence as:

‘Convergence is used to describe the situation in which the library and computing services, with or without other services, are brought together for management purposes under a full time executive director’

The person who fills the role of the CIO most often tends to be a degreed librarian that has significant technological and media skills and/or knowledge.  This is because degreed librarians have a strong understanding of the tradition and tenants of the library.  It is important to have someone that understands where libraries have been, where they are now, and where they are going

Now it’s time to take a more in-depth look at the role of the “reference librarian” in the Information Commons.

What is the role of the Reference Librarian in the IC?

From the beginning of librarianship, Reference Librarians have been expected to apply critical thinking skills, emotional intelligence, and teaching ability in order to connect the user with the appropriate resource.  Now, more than ever, librarians are expected to become “Jacks of all Trades”

Many experts agree that the Information Commons should employ “blended librarians”

A blended librarian is “an academic librarian who combines the traditional skill set of librarianship with the information technologist’s hardware/software skills, and the instructional or educational designer’s ability to apply technology appropriately in the teaching-learning process”

The Reference Librarian’s Future Role:

  • Manage everything from face-to-face contact to text messaging

Monterey Institute of International Studies–Text-A-Librarian Service

  • Overcome the “we don’t need a library–we have Google mentality among patrons, especially within the economic climate of today
  • Reference librarian as a liaison to the teaching faculty

Sinclair Community College–Library Instruction Classroom

  • Develop online resources
  • Develop a strong online presence
  • Be well versed in the technology students are using (IM, mobile devices, social networking, etc)

Michale Stevens (Dominican University) on Twitter @mstephens7

  • Do more with less as funding decreases

To conclude, please follow this link to examine an actual job description that I found for the E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College who was looking for a Reference Librarian to be part of the IC-team.  Below are highlights of the job description:

  • “E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College seeks a dynamic proactive, service-oriented reference librarian to be a key member of the information commons team”
  • “As part of the Information Commons team, this position will develop productive relationships with appropriate individuals and departments to advance the objectives and mission of the Information Commons. This position will also provide reference services, including teaching and training (some nights and weekends may be required), and will serve as a liaison to one or more academic departments.”
  • “Persons selected for interviews for the position will be expected to make a 30 minute presentation to the library faculty and staff.  The presentation should address a current topic in library studies

Essential Functions:

  • Development of online instruction and assessment modules
  • Establish collaborative working relationship with individuals and departments in the library
  • Provide reference service, training and teaching
  • Act as a liaison to one or more academic departments
  • Work effectively in a diverse environment

Required Qualifications:

  • MLS degree from an ALA-accredited institution
  • Reference experience in an academic library
  • Excellent communication skills

Preferred qualifications:

  • Teaching experience
  • Experience with ANGEL, HTML, WEB 2.0
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Ability to work independently and in a team environment
  • Virtual reference experience

Up Next–Read about Outreach and Feedback in the Information Commons on Lee’s Blog

Or, check out our SlideShare presentation for our complete report!

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  1. April 8th, 2011

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