Engaging with Students and Faculty Through the Liaison Model
Duke University Medical Center Library Builds a Responsive Model that Fosters Two-Way Collaboration
November 7, 2019
Liaison models vary from library to library, but what they have in common is that individual staff members serve as a bridge between the library and a specific department, school, or group, offering teaching, learning, and research support. The goal is to improve communication between client and library, ultimately enhancing library services.
We spoke to Brandi Tuttle, Research and Education Librarian at the Duke University Medical Center Library & Archives, about how the liaison model works at her library.
Q: What spurred your library’s adoption of the liaison model?
A: Our current model is about a dozen years old. There was an earlier version of the model, which employed more of a one-size-fits-all approach. It didn’t take off as hoped and later grew back as a much more tailored program, responsive to student, faculty, and educational program needs. Realizing that learner groups have different needs, librarians embedded themselves into the groups to better understand and serve their populations.
Q: Describe your liaison program.
A: We have eight liaisons and all of us are librarians. Each liaison supports one or more Duke educational programs such as the doctor of the physical therapy program, physician assistant program, school of medicine, and the school of nursing. We also have a graduate medical education liaison who works with the residents and fellows, a biomedical research liaison who works with all the researchers and the Institute for Animal Care and Use Committee, and a nursing liaison who works with all the hospital nurses.
I’m the liaison to the physician assistant program, the pathologists’ assistant program, and the master of biomedical sciences program, all of which are within the school of medicine. The liaisons meet every two weeks as a team to discuss what’s going on with our groups, what we have on our plate, and whether we need help with anything. There are very busy times of the year for certain educational groups, such as right before the students’ transition to their clinical year rotations and when new cohorts of students start. During those times, we might chip in to help that liaison teach classes, organize an event, or handle an orientation.
Q: What types of classes do you teach?
A: We are most heavily embedded with each program’s evidence-based practice (EBP) courses, as well as those covering clinical resources such as mobile apps and point-of-care tools. We also teach classes to students and faculty on productivity tools, scholarly publishing, systematic reviews, research impact, poster creation, citation management, and more.
Q: What are the goals of liaisons at Duke?
A: Our goals vary depending on the educational program, accreditation requirements, specific initiatives, and the library’s goals. Generally, our goal is to help our students, faculty, researchers, clinicians, and staff in whatever way they need. I strive to be their advocate and voice at the table. No matter where I am, whether at a library all-staff meeting, talking with a vendor at a conference, or collaborating with other groups around campus, I always have my user groups in mind.
Q: Can you give an example of how you have advocated for one of your groups?
A: Recently, a student in an evidence-based practice class I was teaching mentioned that a specific area of the library seemed not well-lit at night. As I’m not commonly in that section of the library in the evening, I wasn’t aware of this, but I passed on the information. Serving as a conduit between our users and the library can bring about a change that ends up benefitting everyone. I think we make the library more approachable simply due to the relationships and connections we’ve fostered over the years.
Q: Do liaisons need to have expertise in the areas that they cover?
A: While it’s not required, it certainly makes your job easier. The most important thing is to have a strong health sciences library background. You’ll learn the specifics of your program(s), the faculty, the curriculum, the schedule, and more on the job. Our newest colleague, our physical therapy liaison, was previously a nursing liaison. As long as you come in with academic library experience and some knowledge of the databases and evidence-based practice, you will be fine. In fact, sometimes it may be better to have had experience with a different population. That liaison will bring a different perspective to the job.
Q: How do you get to know the programs that you work with and how do they get to know you?
A: Our first foothold is usually through the EBP courses that we teach or via our library champions among faculty and staff. As one of the course instructors, I have several meaningful interactions with the physician assistant students through their assignments and project work. I’ve gotten to know my programs by becoming a member of some important committees. For example, I am on the curriculum committee, the admissions committee, and the technology committee for the physician assistant program. I have worked closely with the faculty during their reaccreditation process as well as helped to redesign several courses. Because I have all these different touchpoints with students and faculty, I have a better idea of their daily needs as well as the details of their program.
Q: Besides teaching evidence-based practice, what other sorts of activities do liaisons do to support their groups?
A: Similar to other institutions, our incoming students get an orientation to the library — at the very least to make sure they know they have a liaison librarian, a physical library, and a website full of resources collected with their needs in mind. The liaisons are very knowledgeable about their programs’ curricula as well as what the students and faculty are busy with, such as assignments, preparations for conferences, or program initiatives.
Nearly all our educational groups have a customized online resource guide that organizes article databases, journals, eBooks, websites, and resources useful for their classes and projects. I’ll reach out to students when they start anatomy to remind them about specific resources, such as Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy, or the many anatomy eBooks we have. Before their clinical rotations, I make sure to point them to the eBooks available by specialty and teach them how to form and answer clinical questions using point-of-care resources. We have heard repeatedly that they find it helpful that we ensure they have their mobile devices loaded with all the apps Duke provides and give them time to practice answering clinical questions using the apps before they hit the clinical wards. Students are especially thankful when we go through their textbook listings to provide links to those we have available electronically, as this saves them time and money. Many faculty, in conjunction with their liaisons, are more aware of the textbooks and databases that Duke provides access to when they are making their assignments.
Regarding the faculty, I’ll reach out when I know they are preparing paper/poster submissions for the Physician Assistant Education Association Forum, working on tenure and promotion endeavors, or involved in the research. We help with systematic and literature reviews, citation management, study methodology, data management, assessing research impact, finding materials, and the institutional repository. My PA faculty will ask about resources before they send students on rotations abroad. For example, they might ask for medical Spanish resources or what resources they’ll be able to access with low connectivity.
Q: How do you onboard new liaisons?
A: Our onboarding is part deliberate, part organic. While we have a long checklist of things we cover with each new colleague, it definitely depends on our new colleague’s experiences and needs. They shadow other liaisons’ classes, cover reference shifts to serve a variety of our library users, meet with other library colleagues and program faculty, and jump into some ongoing projects and committees. We also work with new liaisons to discover their strengths, ideas, and what they like doing, because we want them to make their liaison work their own and enjoy it.
Q: Do liaisons track the interactions they have with their groups?
A: We track our educational output, taking note in an online system of the specific educational program or patron group, the number of attendees, the length of time, the topics, and the format. We also track our consultations, orientations, and the searches performed with similar types of information collected. Having this level of detail helps us create a more robust picture of the many ways we serve our educational programs and user groups.
Q: What do you do with the data?
A: We create annual snapshots of the work we’ve done using data and stories to show our impact and the breadth of our services, as well as to provide leadership and administrative stakeholders with specific data. We use the data when we work on library-wide strategic planning and goal setting, in budget considerations, and when setting our research and education departmental goals. Sometimes we have learned something surprising in examining the data, such as an uptick in requests from a specific department. I think this can help both the library and the program plan, tweak assignments, budget, and respond to needs.
Q: What percentage of librarians’ time is spent on their liaison duties?
A: Since part of the role is to always advocate for and communicate with our liaison groups, it’s virtually impossible to tease apart liaison work from general research and education responsibilities. It’s also different for each liaison and can depend on the time of year. For example, in late June/early July, the graduate medical education liaison has a flurry of orientations. Of course, the ongoing work of the researchers, clinicians, and faculty keeps us on our toes.
Q: Do you have any final advice for libraries that want to start a liaison program?
A: While it may be good to have a standard approach, in the beginning, recognize that each department or group will require customization, depending on needs. And don’t become a silo. Always prioritize information sharing and working as a team within your library and the groups you serve.