Relationships Not Carved in Stone

This week’s readings about the many facets of collaboration got me thinking about how I would characterize the library-faculty relationships that I observe on a daily basis.  I see 4 categories of relationships:

  • Intense
  • Emerging
  • Uncharted
  • Resistant

INTENSE library-faculty relationships run closest to the true collaboration and well-developed cooperation described by Leeder in Part 2 of her blog series on Collaborating with Faculty. These are working relationships where teamwork is the norm and communication is easy. They are near perfect marriages, to borrow Leeder’s analogy.

EMERGING library-faculty relationships are instances of first partnerships.  They can be small forays into classrooms or disciplines where the library hasn’t had even a toehold before.  First projects, if handled well, can foster an ongoing, deeper collaboration.

UNCHARTED relationships involve faculty who work in pockets of an institution…. in classrooms, wings or entire buildings…..where librarians never roam!   The curriculum and the needs of the faculty, and their students, here are unexplored territory.   Both parties are largely unaware of what might be gained by working together.  Nothing has been ventured.  Nothing tried.

RESISTANT relationships arise when librarians do venture boldly into uncharted territories but come away feeling unwelcomed or somehow thwarted in their efforts.  (Perhaps this works the other way around more often than librarians realize!)  Librarians can have long memories about such occasions, no matter how brief, where they felt rebuffed by faculty.  Those impressions can get institutionalized in such a way that the library never launches another attempt at relationship-building with that faculty member, or even the department as a whole.

All of these types of relationships can be nurtured and, to some extent, each in its own way.  A well-developed, intense library-faculty relationship can offer chances to experiment with more complete partnerships, like direct library involvement in assessment or student needs scanning.  But the danger with intense library-faculty relationships is that they can be so reaffirming and all-absorbing for librarians that there is little time nor inclination to explore other pairings that are more uncertain.  I think too that faculty on the outside of that inner circle of library-faculty coziness can sometimes feel excluded or at least perplexed about how to join in.

Emerging relationships need attentive care.  Newly receptive faculty partners might get a better feel for library contributions through customized prototypes, for instance.  Carefully tended emerging relationships are wonderful incubators for other new library-faculty match-ups.  Capturing the enthusiasm of one faculty member in a department unused to library collaboration can provide an inside champion.

Uncharted relationships call out for other strategies.   They might benefit from a descriptive menu of library services, like the brochure that Olivares developed for the College of Business at Saint Cloud State University.   She wisely showcased a “spectrum of services” to be “as hands-on or as distant as the faculty member wished” (Olivaries 144).  This strategic combination of proactive soft-pedaling is very similar to what Leeder encourages in her Five-Step Program.  She suggests, for instance, that librarians avoid stoking their service menu with only technology-rich or complex scenarios that can scare off first partnerships.

Finally, resistant relationships need gentle cultivating too.  Leeder and Olivares both display a bold, congenial and buoyant mix of attributes that can soften resistance or, at least, diffuse it.  They both emphasize the importance of genuine curiosity and what Olivares refers to as “schmoozing”!  They suggest simply making small changes in habits (eg., vary lunch venues, attend evening lectures) to broaden the chances of interacting, in an informal way, with a larger number of faculty.

No matter what descriptors we use to characterize library-faculty relationships, a healthy variety is certainly routinely juggled by librarians in institutions of all sorts.  I like the idea, suggested by Leeder, that such relationships are not carved in stone but instead are part of a progression from, say, uncharted/resistant to emerging to intense.  Librarians need to stay hopeful and engaged to greet faculty wherever they are and craft the next iteration of a genuine working relationship.

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11 Responses to Relationships Not Carved in Stone

  1. mgfarkas says:

    Well put, Ruth! I think you’re right that if you have enough “intense” faculty collaborations, they can lead you to rest on your laurels a bit. I love my “intense” faculty partners because they let me experiment with interesting new teaching/assessment methods and I don’t feel like I have to prove myself to them. With “emerging relationships” you do have to work a lot more, but the pleasure of seeing an “emerging relationship” turn into an intense one is worth the effort. I love that a faculty member whose Freshman Inquiry class (it’s a full-year program) I only worked with once/year, is now coming to me for advice on her assignments and is asking me to come in several times for bite-sized chunks of instruction on earlier and smaller research assignments. With the number of departments I have, I find myself busy enough with these two types, but then I find that a faculty member I’ve never worked with before (who is either uncharted or resistant) is teaching a key course in my liaison area, and I go “once more into the breach” to see if I can be of help in their courses. Plenty of times, I’m turned down, but it’s never a bad thing to remain a helpful presence in the back of their minds. And when you can change someone from resistant to intense… well, that’s the greatest triumph. I’ve only done it once and it took a long time, but again, totally worth it. I have turned some resistant people into emerging, but getting over that final hump with them can be daunting.

    • embendered says:

      “Going once more into the breach”

      A librarian has to keep the flame of hope alive in order to do that! It is very nice to hear that you have had your hopes confirmed many times. It gives the rest of us courage….and our own measure of hope. 🙂

  2. ZemLee says:

    Hi Ruth!
    I too, really took a lot out of Leeder’s articles this week–[btw, side topic, how AWESOME is that title “In the Library with a Lead Pipe”?!]–in that Leeder’s approach doesn’t take a “us vs. them” mentality and suggests some very do-able things that begin with changing our mind-frames first in viewing cross-disciplinary collaboration. I think this approach is so much more useful than simply telling people how some libraries conduct their “faculty luncheons” and “100 ways to reach your faculty success stories” because while programs are all well and good, and might even inspire ways to rework certain programs for each library or organization, we all operate differently. What works for one library isn’t going to always work for another, and while I know we all know this, I think Leeder makes a more salient point in suggesting that we all look to ourselves and our own mindsets in deciding how best to tackle librarian/faculty collaboration efforts on their own campuses.

    I also like what you wrote in that “a healthy variety” of different approaches is what we see out in libraries today and really–a variety of methods, whether they’re working or not, certainly underlies the very idea that at least we all can recognize the value of trying. 🙂

    • embendered says:

      That makes sense, Zem. Collaboration will look different on a macro level, from library to library, and then again on a micro level, from one librarian-faculty pairing to another. You make a good point that we must “look to ourselves and our own mindsets” to find solutions. In any collaborative relationship, the only person I truly have control over is myself……and that’s on a good day! 🙂 If I keep examining my contribution to collaborations that work, don’t work or don’t exist….I might be able to make the shift that takes collaboration to the next level. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Zem!

  3. rpritchard says:

    What a great analysis, Ruth! I think you really hit the nail on the head here.

    I particularly liked your observation of resistant relationships going the other way. We like to talk about how faculty are uncooperative, but perhaps we aren’t as approachable as we might like to think. In fact, when I was doing my environmental scan, one thing one of the librarians mentioned was that if a faculty member asks her to do a generic one-shot session for their class without having a specific assignment to tie it to, she denies the request. She said, “I just don’t have time to teach a bunch of meaningless sessions.” On the one hand, I get where she’s coming from. Without a relevant assignment to tailor the instruction to, it’s not going to be as meaningful for the students and everyone will just be bored to tears. On the other hand, if I was on the receiving end of that attitude, it would probably be the last time I asked the library for help. (That being said, my library actually has a pretty stellar instruction program and they work very hard to embed services into the curriculum. Don’t get the impression they’re too lazy or too good to do one-shots!)

    It seems to me that the “Intense” relationship category would be a great candidate for “Train the Trainer” approaches so that librarians can spend more time cultivating the “Emerging” relationships and continuing the effort with the “Uncharted” and “Resistant” groups.

    • embendered says:

      Good point about the Train the Trainer approach. I didn’t really know about it until Meredith mentioned it in her first lecture. I am actually thinking about exploring that angle for my final project. In addition to extending our reach to emerging, uncharted and resistant groups, a Train the Trainer approach shares “ownership” of the IL mission beyond the library.

  4. mgfarkas says:

    In thinking about this more, I think I’d add one more “type” to this list and that would be “complacent.” There are some faculty whose classes we teach in year after year, but there is little actual collaboration happening about the design of the instruction, continuing it in the classroom, or its impact on student work. The faculty member may have little interest in doing any more than bringing their students to the library and we may be satisfied enough with the consistency not to push for more.

    • embendered says:

      Yes! Thank you! Complacent is definitely another type to add to the list. And, yes, both faculty and librarians can take turns wearing that label! When things appear to “work”, we often don’t look to see what might be broken.

      Sometimes our hyper-involvement in some arenas makes complacency elsewhere seems like a minor sin. This week, for instance, our 6-week-long collaboration on the 9th grade individual research projects comes to an end. I may sink into some complacency. How many Hail Marys would that be? 🙂

      • mgfarkas says:

        After that project, I think you’re justified in having a little “complacency time.” 🙂

        I think you’re right that we are sometimes complacent because we have other faculty with whom we are doing a great deal, and we really can’t be hyper-involved in every class (at least most of us can’t) so we pick and choose based on our relationships with the faculty members and the import of the course in the curriculum.

  5. georgereads says:

    Once again, a very insightful post! Ruth, have you ever thought about starting your own blog? I know, little time, right?

    I loved your own interpretation of the collaboration scale. Recognizing where our colleagues fit on that scale is fundamental to helping those seeds of change grow. One lesson that keeps coming back to me is exactly to recognize where my colleagues are at in terms of collaborating on projects together, collection development, etc.

    Thank you!

  6. Joanne says:

    Such a great summary Ruth! I agree that the different types of relationships are not carved in stone and there is still hope to cultivate the relationship. I really appreciated your breakdown of the different groups because I think that is the root of so much of our discussion – there is no one size fits all. Every institution is different and each librarian is dealing with faculty with different viewpoints and expectations. I think if recognize this point it will give us a framework for moving forward!

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