Though not all of us work in the context of academic libraries, a significant enough proportion do that at one point or another in our careers we’ll need to—or have the opportunity to!—collaborate with professors. In this week’s post, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned about communicating and collaborating with professors in my career, and suggest a few best practices that have generally helped smooth my way. Some of the projects I’ve worked on with professor colleagues in the past have included jointly creating custom classroom sessions and activities surrounding the library’s medieval facsimile collection, an instruction project that culminated in a student curated exhibit of library materials and student work, and a three-part series of information literacy sessions including librarian-graded assignments that were incorporated into students’ final course grades.
First of all, I want to acknowledge that not all the elements for establishing a successful faculty relationship may be under the individual librarian’s control. For instance, when I started my position as Art Librarian and Coordinator of Instruction at Alfred University, I was the dedicated liaison to the School of Art and Design, without other liaison duties. This perception of me as “belonging” to the art and art history faculty departments helped me become more embedded in both. (I also happened to be stepping into a position that hadn’t been filled for years, so the faculty were very eager to have a librarian again!) Perception of professional status also seems to make a big difference, particularly having full faculty status and being included on faculty committees, where librarians are able to serve alongside their professor colleagues. It might be valuable for library administrators (or librarians who hope to enter admin) to consider and advocate for some of these changes when seeking to enhance librarian-professor collaboration.
A particularly valuable time to make connections with professors is when you are just starting in a new role. If the department is small enough that you can contact all the faculty individually and arrange a meeting with them to discuss your plans, that would be ideal, but simply introducing yourself to them individually and then working to be included at their next department meeting is a great step.
On that note, having concrete plans has always been one of the most important elements of my connection and collaboration strategy. While some professors will respond well to requests for an open meeting to discuss future collaborations, I’ve found that most faculty (and people in general) are more likely to reply to you if you have specific ideas for how you would like to collaborate with them—particularly if you can clearly explain how those ideas would align with their needs. Whenever possible, I try to have at least a basic outline of how I would achieve the goals I’ve set out, so that they seem more feasible and tangible for the person I’d like to work with, making it easier for them to imagine getting involved.
Some of my favorite collaborations have been with faculty who shared research interests with me, and this was often a great place to start brainstorming future projects. If there are professors that study a period of art history that you also have an interest in, it could be easier for you to suggest particular instructional projects for that topic. You may even wish to read one or two of that professor’s publications to get a sense of their specific interests.
Of course, there’s no one size fits all approach guaranteed to result in a robust working relationship with a faculty member. My guiding principles are persistence and personal connection—if one email goes unseen, don’t hesitate to seek out another way to connect with that individual. And, of course, once people have a face to link with an email, they tend to be far more responsive, so attending faculty social events or arranging coffee meetings are both reliable ways to lay the groundwork for future projects. Not everyone will have the time or bandwidth to work with you, but by forging personal connections based on shared interests and reaching out with concrete and well-realized plans, you should hopefully have greater success!
First Year Engagement Librarian