Collaborating Off Campus: Creating Communities of Practice with New Partners

Collaborating Off Campus: Creating Communities of Practice with New Partners

Adam T. Brisk (University of Minnesota Duluth, USA), Kim Pittman (University of Minnesota Duluth, USA) and Matt Rosendahl (University of Minnesota Duluth, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0323-1.ch009
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This chapter describes how academic libraries can partner with public, school, and special libraries – despite differences in mission or size – to meet the professional development needs of librarians, support staff, administrators, trustees, and volunteers. Using Lake Superior Libraries Symposium as a model, the chapter will explore methods for initiating and sustaining an effective community of practice. By joining forces with colleagues off campus, academic library staff members can better meet the needs of increasingly technologically sophisticated students and faculty and provide the highest quality service. The chapter will provide a literature review about communities of practice and look at how librarians can establish and nurturing a productive group of library professionals. Additional examples of academic librarians' involvement in regional, homegrown library networks and organizations is included to compare and contrast with LSLS.
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The buzz-phrase advice for innovative problem solving is to “think outside the box.” If that box is the library, then academic librarians have accomplished a lot of thinking and action outside the box: remote and virtual reference services, embedded and personal librarians, discovery layers and external linking with Google Scholar, and much more. The literature is full of ways for academic librarians to collaborate with each other and with their campus stakeholders.

But in the current state of higher education, academic libraries face unique challenges. While institutions work to demonstrate the value of a degree, librarians are striving to demonstrate the value they contribute to student persistence, retention, and success. This work takes place under significant economic pressures and amid constant, accelerating change. Declining enrollments at many institutions and reductions in public aid to colleges and universities hurt the entire institution. But in particular, they impair the library, which invests significantly in developing collections that have burdensome inflationary costs. Opportunities for collaboration on campus can be difficult in this environment of financial instability, and access to professional development for librarians can be nearly impossible given the high cost of conference travel, employee-funded membership dues, and registration fees for online or in-person events that feature experts and leaders. The Association of College and Research Libraries Metrics 2014 survey queried libraries about their trends in the application of professional development funds, and the results indicated that this is an area of concern or at least a topic worthy of our collective attention.

Limited access to professional development opportunities is especially problematic for library employees in rural or remote areas. Kendrick, Leaver, and Tritt (2013) surveyed academic librarians working in small and rural libraries in order to identify their primary interests in professional development and the barriers they encountered when seeking learning opportunities. The most significant barrier for librarians seeking professional development was funding, with participants noting that institutional financial support is often insufficient to cover the full cost of conference attendance. Small and rural academic librarians also found travel distance to be a significant challenge, noting that the cost of attendance becomes even more prohibitive when conferences and workshops are held in locations that are not easily accessible. All of these hurdles lead to a sense of isolation, what Kendrick, Leaver, and Tritt refer to as “the negative emotional impact of being physically separated from larger professional communities of practice” (p. 59). Additionally, those surveyed indicated that larger conferences often address topics or projects “geared more towards academic libraries where there are more staff members and people can do some specialization and have time to pursue a wider variety of activities...academics are generally forgotten when it comes to training tailored more specifically to our needs” (p. 61).

Other studies have highlighted the importance of continuing professional development for library staff, particularly for early-career professionals. Black and Leysen (2002) indicate that new librarians encounter many challenges as they acclimate to the profession, “including negative attitudes of other librarians on the staff, low salaries, a feeling of isolation within the library, a negative image of the librarian within the institution, and bureaucracy and politics within the profession” (p. 8). Henrich and Attebury (2010) suggest that professional development is especially crucial for new academic librarians seeking tenure and promotion, particularly given most librarians’ limited experience with research and publication. Kendrick, Leaver, and Tritt found that librarians from small and rural academic libraries are highly motivated to seek professional development opportunities and are particularly interested in learning more about technology and information literacy or instruction. Bell (2015) argues that continuing professional development is paramount for all academic librarians: “To neglect personal professional development is a failure to uphold our values of professionalism and commitment to excellent service. Professional development enables academic librarians to enhance existing and gain vital new skills needed to best serve community members” (p. 87).

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