INLS 501: Liaison Librarianship

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One of the most important developments in recent years in the services offered by academic libraries is the rise of the liaison librarian. Rodwell & Fairbairn write that "university libraries are seeking to embed their activities within academic programs, rather than just supporting or aligning with them," and that part of this embedding involves conducting reference-like work with and for individuals in academic programs. These close ties to academic programs naturally often require subject expertise in these academic areas.

This assignment has 3 parts:

  • Interview scribe
  • Interviews with liaison librarians
  • Consulting


A taskforce exists in the UNC libraries to identify the scope of existing work of liaison librarians on campus (many of whose jobs evolved organically), and the desirable directions for liaison librarianship on campus to evolve in. Part of the work of this taskforce is to interview all librarians on campus whose jobs involve liaison work. These interviews will use a semi-structured interview protocol that the taskforce has developed. You will sit in on one interview, take notes, clean up those notes, and hand the notes over to the taskforce.


The HSL has had a liaison librarianship model in place for several years, though it continues to evolve. A liaison model was implemented in Davis library in 2010 [?], and it is evolving rapidly. I will identify librarians on campus whose jobs involve liaison work. You will be matched with one of these librarians, and you will conduct a one-on-one interview about the librarian's job. I will provide you with a set of suggested interview questions, but feel free to go off-script.

Write a post discussing what you learned about your interviewee's job. Give your post the category Liaison Interview.


For this assignment, you will perform reference work in a style similar to that performed by a liaison librarian: that is, at a high level of subject expertise. You will serve as an information intermediary for a "client." These clients are free to ask you to fulfill any information need they like... as in real life. Your task is to provide service at level two or greater, as articulated by Ferree, et al. In other words, you will conduct searches, identify and evaluate resources, deliver resources, provide bibliographic instruction, set up alert services, whatever it takes, for your client.

Working individually or in pairs, you will consult with a UNC faculty member, on a topic related to their work. This faculty member or PhD student may be in SILS -- because you are in a Library & Information Science program, you have at least a little expertise in Library & Information Science to bring to bear. If you have some depth of expertise in another field (a second Masters degree, professional experience, etc.), and you would rather work with a faculty member or PhD student in that field, I will be happy to work with you to make such a contact. However, if you do this assignment in pairs, both students need to have at least a passable level of expertise in the field in question.

You should meet with your client as early as possible to conduct an initial interview and needs assessment. Then go and do work on your own. Then you should meet again with your client to present some initial work, and get their feedback. When I took a course on information retrieval as a grad student, the professor said that there were two laws of IR: (1) TF-IDF, and (2) Relevance feedback works. Point #1 is probably not relevant in this context. Point #2 means that an IR tool that solicits the user's input on the relevance of resources retrieved in a search, can retrieve more relevant resources on the next search. I would argue that this is a law not just of IR, but of information work generally.

The content and scope of your deliverable to your client is open to negotiation between you and your client. However, in order that this consulting does not turn into a full-time job, you should limit the time you spend on this work to 40 hours. You will have several weeks to work on this assignment.

Write a post discussing your experience consulting to your client. Describe the process of interviewing and negotiating with your client and eliciting your client's information needs, seeking and evaluating information and sources, any ongoing discussions with your client, the process of creating your deliverable to your client, and anything else involved in your work for your client. Discuss how your consultation work intersects (or not) with your expectations of liaison work, given our readings and your experience with the interview parts of this assignment. The work that you negotiate with your client will be different for every client and every project, so it's impossible to specify here exactly what you should include in your post. Give your post the category Consultation.

You must also submit a copy to me of whatever final deliverable you deliver to your client -- unless your client is unwilling to share it, for whatever reason. I will also speak with all of your clients at the end of the semester, to elicit their perspective on your ability to elicit their information needs.


This assignment has several deliverables, to different parties. Each part is worth 25% of the grade for this assignment.

  • Interview notes: to the liaison librarianship taskforce
  • Post about your interviewee: to the course site
  • Materials for your client: to your client and to me
  • Post about your experience consulting to your client: to the course site

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