Even though OLA Super Conference 2014 is behind us, I wanted to highlight an excellent showcase of teamwork and bridging communication silos: Better Together: Empowering Library Staff through Mentoring and Collaboration” from Sarah Forbes, Liaison Librarian, Physical and Environmental Sciences and Sue Reynolds, Reference Assistant; U of T Scarborough. A PDF of their presentation is here: OLA SC Session 612- Better Together

Here are my notes:

The issue

  • Liaison Librarian model in place since 2011, where librarians have more instructional duties and are not on the reference desk.
  • Technicians have solo desk shifts, with 5 people covering the desk between 9am and 9pm. 2 new positions were created to aid this. Each technician has about 3 hours on desk with the rest completing other duties off desk.
  • Resulted in communication silos: Librarians were on-call and not always available; Technicians new to reference at U of T were providing conflicting information to students for recurring projects and other issues; and the reference coordinator librarian overseeing the function also had liaison librarian duties.

 Searching for a solution

  •  Having a binder of information, assignments, and recurring issues was tried at the desk, but it didn’t really work as it was incomplete and adhoc.
  • Staff tried to email tips for different questions with attempts to answer, but stopping a reference interview to check email proved difficult.
  • Using the Blackboard program for course management was tried, but didn’t catch on.

 Strategic Plan Process

  •  Technicians provided input into the strategic plan. An exercise with post-it notes with duties and how they tied into the strategic plan was performed.
  • There showed a desire to participate in the liaison alignment, and then technician-librarian pairings were made based on interests of technicians and connection to liaison librarians.
  • It was then left to the pairs to decide how they would manage this.

Sue and Sarah were paired and out of all the groups, seemed to have the most success. Their model included:

  • Meeting every week to talk about what they expected out of the experience and as a catch-up
  • Resources review for Sue to review the tools including participating in a Chemistry workshop with Sarah to new students
  • Walking through all assignments and questions that are commonly asked

Working Together

  •  When Sarah was to have a meeting about a new tool, she brought Sue along with her rather than telling her about the tool so that they could learn together. (Ensuring Sue’s availability through Ref. manager was performed first).
    • After this meeting, they debriefed and saw that each person got something different out of the meeting and these notes proved important for each person.
  •  Sarah has then encouraged Sue’s professional development and a respect and understanding of each other was developed. Sue was also able to extend her network into the university rather than exclusive to those that visit/ use the library.
  •  Sue and Sarah also worked together to demonstrate a tool to Fall class sessions with Sarah teaching, and Sue ensuring students stayed on target and helping them when they got lost. This also gave Sarah a view on her teaching style and how it could improve/ what worked well. This was important when students give false comprehension, as is common.
    •  Through this, Sue was able to give extended support and was a familiar face to those students. This gave students more comfort when coming to the reference desk.
  • Also, through the fall and winter term, Sue and Sarah had monthly meetings to keep on track.
  •  As an investment into bettering her assignments, Sarah gave these to Sue beforehand to test out potential difficulties. This allowed for less mistakes and issues when the students received it. This helped to keep Sue in line with Sarah’s work.


  • Sue was invested in the process
  • Sarah and Sue were more informed about each other’s work and issues raised
  • Students had a more consistent message
  • Students became more familiar with staff
  • Faculty got more feedback on student questions
  • Faculty and students had real time updates to course guides through Blackboard

 Year 2

Continued to review with each other and new review of LibGuides, project work, and the professional development form.

Professional development form used to:

  • Record activities and accomplishments
  • Reflect and set goals
  • Highlight strengths and unique skills
  • ID professional development needs
  • Contribute to library planning

This is NOT a performance evaluation and because of union issues, it was imperative to demonstrate this through it being voluntary and not used to measure.

  •  A Y/N and scale grade was used to mark.
  • Intent of form was for it to be completed at the beginning and end of year to see how things improved.
  • Subject based, and included grading reference activity skill.
  •  These are NOT permanent partnerships and there is possibility for reference technicians to switch around, providing it is desired.

 Lessons learned

  • Think big, start small
  • Find what works for you
  • Do something – whatever that may be