Career Strategies for Librarians
Liaising Around: Essentials for a New Liaison Librarian
by Kelly Glossop
Liaison librarians act as a link between the library and its clients. They are the face of the library to many
clients; they exist to demystify the library and its many services by providing information, guidance, and
training in using the library’s resources. Liaison librarians usually specialise in specific subject areas or
are assigned to specific client groups in order to capitalise on their specialist knowledge. This enables
liaison librarians to tailor library services to their clients’ needs. It can be a role full of variety and
challenges, but does require an approach that differs from other library roles. The liaison librarian’s
main role is obviously to liaise, which can at times make you feel like a salesperson. Convincing clients
that they can’t do without the library can take some skill, but having spent the last few years learning the
ropes, I would suggest the following essentials for achieving success as a liaison librarian.
Know Your Clients
If you are new to a position and the clients that position serves, it's important to learn as much as you
can about their core business. I found the best way to do this at the special library where I work was to
contact the heads of each group that make up my client base. I asked them to find time to meet with me
as I was interested in getting an overview of their group to gain an understanding that would enable me
to better meet their needs. Really it was an excuse to introduce myself, to get my face seen and known,
and to get an idea of who was where in terms of location and who did what in terms of tasks. People
generally love to talk about their work and appreciate someone who shows an interest. While I may not
need to spend an hour having the principles of radar explained to me, the contact I made by meeting with
the head of a group is invaluable for the promotion of the library’s services.
Besides meeting and talking with key stakeholders in your client base, another way to be informed about
your clients is to read what they read. Get yourself on the distribution list for industry or trade publications
that your clients receive—if you don't know what these are, just ask your clients. Most people are happy to
answer questions you have. If your groups, departments, or faculties have individual websites,
bookmark them and check them regularly. You may find out some very useful information that, along with
all these suggestions, can enable you to develop the next essential quality - proactivity.
Proactivity is the key to being a liaison librarian. In fact, unless you work in an organisation that highly
values its librarian already, you won’t succeed as a liaison librarian if you are not proactive. After you
have learned about your clients and their business, you can start tailoring library services to best suit
their needs. While you’ll get interest and requests from many clients without seeking them, it always
looks good if you can anticipate what your clients may be interested in before they ask. For example, I
send clients email alerts, articles of interest, and news items that I know relate to their work. I attach a
quick note explaining that I thought they might be interested in this information and send it off. Keep it
simple and let them make the next move. This is a great way to keep the library brand and your name in
their minds, so that when they do have a question, it’s not a big leap for them to approach you.
Another way to be proactive is to actively seek invitations to make visits to your clients’ work areas to give
presentations to groups or to run training sessions. I try to visit each client group at least once a year. I
see many of my groups every week because their interest is high. You could also ask to attend group
meetings to find out the day-to-day issues your clients are facing and see if you can provide any
assistance. Use the introduction of new services or resources as an excuse to give a library update at
these meetings. You don’t have to talk at length, but this shows not only that you have their interests in
mind, and that the library is a dynamic and progressive service.
Don't Take It Personally!
I’ll be honest: being a liaison librarian is not always easy. You’ll often experience disinterest and
rejection from clients who feel the library service is not for them. This is not something to take personally.
Just because some of your clients don’t share your enthusiasm for the services you offer doesn’t mean
you are doing your job badly. This is just a fact of life. Clients may feel they don’t have time to meet you or
simply may not have a reason to use the library. Don’t despair; you can still be a successful liaison
librarian without having 100% of your client base on board.
Learn the Art of Persuasion
If you do encounter disinterested clients, it is often wise to try a little persuasion. This is where you really
need to know your clients’ needs and emphasise the services or resources you can offer that will be
relevant to them. Clients may not know how the library can help them, so you need to make this apparent
to them. One good benefit to start with is the ”time factor.” Stress to clients how you can save them time
and trouble in their workday by doing research for them. You could also focus on the “performance”
benefit. Detail how the services you offer can enhance their work processes and even contribute to their
professional and personal development. Remember, always stress to the client what is in it for them—
this will usually grab their attention, so have some key phrases ready when you go to visit a client.
Another key to persuasion is being able to provide supporting evidence, so keep statistics handy as you
go about your interactions with clients. Heads of groups sometimes tell me that their personnel don’t
need to know about library services. I usually counter this by providing details about how many requests
for service we have received from their group in the past month or year, and add that it would be great to
be able to inform the rest of the group about what’s available to them. You may not be able to persuade
everyone, but remember to celebrate any small victories you have as they are great incentives to keep
going. You may not always have success, but rejection or disinterest is no reason not to persist.
Although at times it can feel like you're banging your head against a brick wall, don't give up. As a new
liaison librarian, remember that it takes time to build relationships. Effort needs to be directed towards
actively cultivating relationships with clients; you'll learn over time what works, and for whom. It may be
that different strokes are required for different folks. Every year I arrange visits to all my groups to
promote the library’s services, making sure I especially target new personnel. Some group heads are
not that keen to allow a visit—they may not be able to spare the time, or may not believe a library briefing
is necessary for their staff. This doesn't mean that I just give up on that group altogether. I try to think of
other approaches I can use that satisfy my need to promote the library and also fit in with the group's
requirements. For example, if you can't secure a time for a group presentation, try to target individuals
instead. If you can't fit in with the group's schedule, opt to send some flyers or posters to be displayed in
their work area. There are many ways to get your message out there, and sometimes you need to be a
bit creative, and of course very flexible, when disseminating that message.
Be the Library
As a liaison librarian it is important to not see yourself as part of the library, but rather to see yourself AS
the library. A liaison librarian should not be tied to a physical space. While the physical library is still an
important part of the library’s services, the liaison librarian, as a conduit, needs to embody the library,
represent the library, and be the library to his or her clients. This will involve a willingness to go to the
client—certainly don’t wait for them to come to you—so circulate often. Not only will you become a
familiar face, but clients may be more likely to approach you in person if they are unsure about what they
can ask you to do. Try seeing yourself as the most important library resource your clients have access
to—not the physical space, not the online presence, not the resources available. It is you who organises,
acts, and provides guidance for any library query they have. Certainly using the resources you have
behind you is important, but providing a facade of seamless library service creates a great impression.
Being seen as the face of the library should therefore dominate any decisions you make regarding
approaches to clients, marketing, service provision, or any other endeavour the library initiates. When
clients think of the library, you want them to think of their liaison librarian.
About the Author:
Kelly Glossop is a Liaison Librarian for the Defence Library Service – South Australia, a DSTO Research
Library service for all non-DSTO Defence personnel in South Australia, Australia.
Article published Feb 2007
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.