Collaborating with Faculty Part 2: What Our Partnerships Look Like

This is the second in a two-part series on librarian collaboration with faculty. Part 1, published on April 7, 2011, presents a five-step program for building collaborative relationships, while Part 2 addresses specific examples and strategies for collaboration.

Photo by Flickr user Trace Meek  (CC BY 2.0)


I. What we talk about when we talk about collaboration

On April 7, 2011, I published “Collaborating with Faculty Part 1: A Five-Step Program,” a post that described my strategies for developing collaborative relationships with disciplinary faculty. To briefly summarize my “program,” I identified five steps to collaboration as: (1) Be confident, (2) Make the connection, (3) Reinforce the connection, (4) Build the relationship, and (5) Go collaborate. These steps are admittedly simplified, but they do serve to remind us of the importance of cultivating relationships beyond email updates or visits to department meetings. In this article, Part 2, I’ll share some of the most common and most innovative approaches to librarian-faculty collaboration that I’ve heard about or seen in the literature. As I was researching this post I created a spreadsheet of some of the notable projects I discovered in the literature of the past ten years that may be helpful to others. This is not intended to be comprehensive, and I invite you to review, comment, argue, and/or add to it, as you see fit (I’m drawing primarily from the published literature here, but descriptions of non-published projects are also welcome). It is my wish that these examples will help us reconsider our existing collaborative efforts, and will be useful for hopeful librarian collaborators in reassessing and expanding their own initiatives. Partnering with faculty on projects, instruction, and other initiatives offers a whole array of rewards such as improved services, greater student learning, and the ability to grow as a professional. Plus, working with others on campus allows us to extend our reach and achieve more of our goals than we could do alone.

However, “collaboration” is a broad term that can be difficult to define. In thinking about librarian-faculty partnerships, I find it helpful to consider them on a spectrum of possibility. There are two models I think are useful for this. The first is Pritchard’s (2010) scale to describe various levels of librarian-faculty partnerships on information literacy instruction. Pritchard makes the following distinctions between different types of support that may be offered by librarians for information literacy instruction in coursework:

  1. Supplemental, which happens outside the curriculum through workshops and instruction, reflecting no cooperation between librarian and faculty member.
  2. Integrated, which involves librarian support for a course without input into the curriculum.
  3. Embedded, which implies co-development of course curriculum and/or assignments

While Pritchard’s criteria are specific to teaching, we can extrapolate the same concepts to address collaboration more broadly. To expand these definitions to our discussion of librarian-faculty partnerships, we can identify parallel levels at which individuals may work together, as follows:

  1. Communication: In which librarians and faculty members may notify each other of their activities and work with the same students, but without actually consulting one another, such as when a faculty member alerts a librarian to an existing assignment that will send students to the library, or a librarian sends a newsletter to faculty.
  2. Cooperation: In which faculty and librarians work together on a project or initiative, with one partner supporting the other’s goals, such as through typical instruction sessions (where the librarian is asked to support an existing curriculum or assignment), or through faculty workshops offered by librarians to educate faculty about library resources.
  3. Collaboration: In which librarians and faculty work together in an equal partnership that requires them to align their different perspectives on a project, such as curriculum design and co-teaching or co-writing an article or grant, develop common goals, and reach a new shared understanding.

The second model I find useful was created by Black, Crest, Volland (2001), who came up with a simple flowchart that presents a comparable scale of librarian-faculty partnership. The major difference is that they view partnerships as a progression instead of a spectrum, and assert that each step along the scale leads to the next. In their minds the process begins with relationship-building (librarian and faculty getting to know each other) and faculty development (librarian teaching faculty about library resources), leads to collaborative instructional design (both parties working together to achieve course goals), and results in tailored instruction for classes.

The fact that both of these models provide similar “levels” of partnership reinforces the idea that collaboration can be achieved in a variety of ways. While all levels of partnership have intrinsic value, this post will focus primarily upon initiatives that embody the definitions of cooperation and collaboration as described above.

II. Cooperative partnerships between librarians and faculty

Cooperation requires that the librarian and faculty member work together at some level to identify and achieve a common goal. This often involves a one-way direction of effort, as one partner becomes involved to support the other’s established goals. These partnerships are more in-depth than communication partnerships as there is some combined effort between the two participants, but the two individuals generally work independently of each other. For instance, at my institution I developed a tiered instructional plan to support a series of courses in my liaison department. The plan included a breakdown of the various research assignments that were required of students in the different courses, and described my strategy for building their skills throughout the series. While I consulted the faculty member who taught these courses and ensured that she was on board with my plan, my work did not have an influence on her course content. I created the plan to support her existing curriculum, assignments, and goals.

Cooperative partnerships come in several common formats, including:

  • Faculty training
  • Technology assistance
  • Collection development
  • Information Literacy instruction

I describe each of these in more depth in the following sections.

Faculty training

Faculty workshops typically involve librarians planning and executing sessions intended to teach and/or raise awareness among faculty about the resources and services offered at the library. These sessions usually involve one or both of the following goals: (i) encouraging faculty to use the library more, e.g. marketing, and/or (ii) “training the trainer,” with the purpose of empowering faculty to pass on deeper knowledge about the library to their students, e.g. instruction. For an example of faculty workshops in action, Lucas (2011) provides a helpful case study of the faculty in-service approach at D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York. Lucas defines the in-service as “the act of collaboratively introducing new and existing faculty to the library resources and services.” The article lays out the details of what they cover in their in-service sessions.

Faculty workshops may also be targeted to specific audiences such as distance faculty, as noted by Miller et al. (2010). At the University of Maryland University College, librarians have taken a slightly different approach to the in-service model by presenting asynchronous online workshops lasting seven to twelve days that introduce distance faculty to the library. These sessions are cofacilitated by a librarian and the academic director of a given department, but content is created solely by the library. Miller et al.’s article includes detailed descriptions of the workshops that are likely to be useful for anyone considering a similar approach.

Cooperative faculty training occasionally goes beyond the typical workshop. Take, for instance the work of librarians at Jinwen University of Science and Technology (JUST) in Taiwan. They serve as a example of a library that trains faculty to serve as stand-in librarians, or “library specialists,” for a semester at a time. Yu (2009) explains how, to expand the library staff’s limited reach, they advanced a proposal to train one or two faculty representatives from each academic department as volunteer “library specialists.” These faculty members were required to attend special library skills training, as well as to serve two hours of reference a week and function as consultants for subject-specific reference questions. The faculty become stand-in librarians for the purposes of helping students, and acted as consultants to the library on collection development and subject-specific reference. This unique program enabled faculty to become intimately familiar with their library while expanding its ability to serve a growing student body.

Technology assistance

In some cases librarians leverage their tech-savvy to raise their profile on campus beyond the scope of research, for instance by assisting them in creating websites or media. Bailey, Blunt, & Magner (2011) describe how librarians can leverage technology skills, in this case video and multimedia creation, to support faculty goals, instruction, and conference presentations. This reasserts the importance of librarians on campus and may potentially build a foundation for greater partnerships. In addition to video creation, it is common for librarians to work with faculty in groups or one-on-one to assist them with new technologies such as blogs, mobile access, social media, and RSS.

Collection development

Collection development is an area in which librarian-faculty partnerships have long been common, typically at the communication level but sometimes evolving into cooperative relationships with the intention of expanding a particular part of the collection to support relevant coursework. As one example, Ratto & Lynch (2011) describes an effort at the University of Southern New Hampshire to supplement traditional textbook access with a program to provide focused course content for a Marketing course through the use of electronic textbooks. The texts were licensed and cataloged by the library in coordination with the faculty member.

Another example of cooperative relationships in collection development is the designation of specific funds either as “new faculty funds” or as internal grants. Horava (2005) described a program at The University of Ottawa to get new faculty more involved in working with librarians to expand the collection in their research areas through the use of designated funds in the amount of $2,000 per faculty member. The program met with some success in building bridges between librarians and faculty and increasing collection development in current research and teaching areas.

Information Literacy instruction

The most common cooperative efforts between librarians and faculty relate to IL instruction in a wide variety of ways. The traditional “one-shot” instruction session is a classic example of this. There are also an array of variations on the “one-shot,” from a similar “two-shot” to strategies that many refer to as “embedded” librarianship, in which a librarian is present as some level throughout the entire course. Kobzina (2010) describes a scenario at the University of California at Berkeley in which librarians embed in a prominent environmental studies course, with multiple library sessions, access to the online course site, and the ability to respond to course content on an ongoing basis. The only thing separating this effort from collaboration as defined in the introduction to this post is the fact that they don’t contribute to the creation of the course curriculum or assignments.

III. Collaborative partnerships between librarians and faculty

Before taking this discussion further, I’d like to restate my own belief that collaboration, as distinct from communication and cooperation, requires an equal partnership between librarian and faculty member. I make this assertion because collaboration, as I define it, requires both parties to acknowledge, understand, and even embrace the other’s viewpoint, with the result being a shared vision or product that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is not easy. More casual partnerships, in which participants align their goals but don’t blend them, often accomplish great things but don’t achieve the same shift in perception for those participating. I base this perspective on my own collaborative experiences with my institution’s first-year writing program faculty, which has entirely changed my perspective on teaching research to first-year students. By working together to build a shared curriculum for our co-requisite research and writing courses, we all become more fully cognizant of the differences between our two approaches and the natural ways we could bridge them. The effects of our work together have rippled outwards into the way our two units interact and understand each other’s work.

Thus, collaboration takes the initiatives described in the “Cooperation” section above and stretches them further by adding a give-and-take element to the relationship between librarian and faculty member. In collaboration we are forced to consider the other person’s perspective, compromise, and often walk away with a new understanding of the project at hand. Collaborative partnerships result in a product that reflects the contributions of both parties. These efforts may take the following forms:

  • Information Literacy instruction
  • Professional (writing, research, presentation, grant, etc.) projects

As I did above, I’ll now discuss each of these in more depth with some examples, though there are fewer examples of collaboration as I define it.

Information Literacy instruction

When it comes to teaching, collaboration often involves the librarian and faculty member partnering on curriculum design and development, and often extends into co-teaching. The literature of instructional collaboration is extensive, but Mounce’s (2010) literature review covering articles published in 2000-2009 is helpful in gaining a big picture perspective.

For instance, Gaspar & Wetzel (2009) describe a case study in which they participate in an Institutionalized partnership for specific programs in which librarians and writing professors collaborate on curriculum and assignment development. The beautiful thing about this example is that The George Washington University created a program requiring this collaboration and recognizing its benefits. As a result the program has central administrative support that makes it sustainable for the parties involved.

There are also models of embedded librarianship that meet the same criteria without the co-teaching element. In addition to presenting the useful model of integrated instruction that I described in Part I above, Pritchard describes an embedded experience in a nanoscience course at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Students in the course write an article for a locally published academic journal for which the librarian serves as editor-in-chief, and partners with the faculty member and students to ensure that their research and articles are up to par. This unique example of embedded librarianship involves extensive collaboration with several individuals on campus. Pritchard includes advice for collaborative-minded librarians at the end of her article, much of which echoes my Part 1 Lead Pipe post. She says:

Entering into faculty–librarian partnerships is not a simple matter of introducing oneself to teaching faculty and announcing our plans for embedding IL and AL into their courses. It involves the careful cultivation of collegial relationships, the clear and consistent communication of the specialized knowledge and expertise we bring to the curriculum development process, and a sustained commitment to staying visible, available and involved (389).

Professional projects

Another project area that requires deep collaboration is the librarian-faculty co-written article, conference co-presentation, or co-administered grant project. Cross-disciplinary professional contributions are challenging for any faculty, but the benefits to the collaborators and to the field can be substantial. Fonseca & Viator (2009) recommend that librarian faculty act more like faculty and cultivate multi-disciplinary expertise by entering into collaborative projects (writing, grant proposals) with non-library faculty, and by engaging in active service on campus, particularly in leadership roles. Fonseca & Viator’s highly readable article is a call to action for academic librarians around the nation. While it is common for librarians to serve on campus committees, I wonder how often we actually step up to the chair or president position to assert ourselves as professionals on our campuses. Local leadership by librarians not only allows the individual librarian to increase his skill set but raises the library’s profile on campus by making it clear to faculty that the library is interested and engaged in campus issues at more than an administrative level.

There are a few examples out there of librarians and faculty members co-presenting. As recently as March 2011 the ACRL Conference included a poster session by Ratto (librarian) & Lynch (Marketing professor), entitled “Collaboration unleashes e-book database potential for replacing traditional textbook options.” Their poster describes the cooperative collection development described above.

IV. Final thoughts

The variety of possible ways in which librarians and faculty can partner together, and the spectrum of what those partnerships might look like, far exceeds this post. For instance, though I did not find examples in the literature, I could envision many projects similar to those describe above that involve graduate students as future faculty. MyLead Pipe colleague Hilary Davis described a project at her institution in which her colleague worked with a graduate student association to plan workshops for their members. This program creates the opportunity not only to help graduate students build their research skills, but also to set a foundation for future collaboration when those individuals have moved on to faculty positions.

Overall I have attempted to capture a snapshot here of the wealth of opportunities at hand to remind and inspire us to extend beyond the limits of our buildings, our offices, and our daily interactions. It can be challenging  at times to find the space and the emotional energy to cultivate the relationships required for productive cooperation and collaboration. However, the benefits to students, to faculty, and to our own job satisfaction are guaranteed to make the effort worthwhile.


For information about the references cited in this post, please view my spreadsheet. You are also welcome to add to it if you know of great collaborative models that might interest our readers.


Many thanks to Brooke Ratto, Ellie Collier, Hilary Davis, and Emily Ford for their feedback that helped to shape this post.



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