Though their specific daily tasks differ, college faculty and academic librarians share the common mission of educating, engaging, and supporting students on their paths towards achievement of their academic goals. When they collaborate, their efforts can produce positive and effective results for students.

But how often are faculty and academic librarians able to collaborate and interact to reach this level of maximum effectiveness?

Library Journal and Gale, a global provider of library resources and part of Cengage Learning, recently conducted a survey of college faculty and academic librarians, which addressed a variety of topics related to the purpose and functions of the academic library. In their recent report, “Bridging the Librarian-Faculty Gap in the Academic Library,” they cover the survey results, comprised of responses from 547 faculty members and 499 academic librarians.

One of the survey’s key findings centered on the topic of communication and collaboration among faculty and librarians. Almost all of the surveyed academic librarians (99%) indicated that they’d appreciate improved conversation. However, less than half (45%) of the faculty agreed with this same statement.

Given this gap in perception, we wanted to take a closer look at faculty and librarians’ responses to the questions relating to communication and collaboration. Below, we’ll review some of the results of the survey, and also provide some solutions that could foster improved collaboration among faculty and academic librarians.

What causes the gap in communication between faculty and academic librarians?

In the Library Journal/Gale survey, both faculty and librarians were asked: “What prevents faculty and campus librarians from consulting with one another to coordinate acquisitions or help meet curricular needs?”

The largest proportion of academic librarians seemed to think that busyness was the key factor; 63% said that faculty don’t coordinate with them because they have “no time” or they’re “too busy.” However, only 15% of faculty gave this as their top response. Rather, the largest percentage of faculty (27%) said that they don’t coordinate because they have “no need” to do so. Though 27% is not, on the whole, a large percentage, it does indicate that there’s much room for further emphasizing the value of collaborating with the library.

Many librarians may agree with that sentiment as well. Only 31% say that they work with faculty to contribute to course reserve development, and only 30% contribute to curriculum planning. Interestingly, 57% of the responding faculty said that they consult with the library to coordinate course reserves. (What might account for this discrepancy in perspective?)

On a positive note, when asked about the level of responsiveness to their requests, most faculty who do contact librarians (73%) said that their library is “very responsive,” and 22% said that the library was “adequately responsive,” indicating to us that, when faculty do partner with or make requests of academic librarians, they reach their desired goals in a timely and satisfactory manner.

Best practices for collaboration among faculty and academic librarians

Are you among the faculty who now want to begin building a more collaborative relationship with your college librarians? Below, we’ve shared some best practices for getting the ball rolling.

The best (and perhaps) most obvious way to begin: take the time to reach out to the librarian. You may be surprised to learn that email was the most-wanted form of communication! Of faculty, 61% prefer to communicate by email; and 49% of academic librarians agreed.

Despite the fact that we’d all say we get too much email… this mode of communication does have its benefits; it can be written at a time that’s convenient to the requestor, read at a time that’s convenient to the recipient, and saved for future reference.

The “runner up” response, “in-person consultations,” was more popular among academic librarians than faculty. Thus, if you want to further develop and solidify your professional relationship with your campus librarian, you may have the best results if you contact the librarian by email, then set up a time to meet in person.

Invite your librarian to your class. They can customize a presentation based on your syllabus. Building this bridge between the students and the librarians (through you) can help students develop skills such as critical thinking and source evaluation that will help them significantly in your class as well as their career. In addition, most students aren’t aware of what the library has to offer, and they may very well be paying for access to something your library provides for free!

Timing also plays a strong factor in your ultimate effectiveness. Do plan ahead; chances are, your librarian would appreciate and need some lead time to best support your course needs. Of course, that amount of lead time may vary based on the librarian, the time of year, and the scope of your request, so discuss with your librarian what works best for him or her. That conversation, in and of itself, may open up the door to improved collaboration.

Ways to improve collaboration: Ideas from faculty and academic librarians

Respondents from among the faculty and academic librarian pools provided their own suggestions for improving communication and collaboration. Here are a few of their ideas:

  • “Regular meetings between departmental ‘library liaisons’ and librarians. Librarians occasionally visiting department meetings.” (Faculty)
  • “More ‘forced collisions,’ such as librarians serving on faculty committees, or institution wide grant project committees.” (Librarian)
  • “Meet with us, make efforts to learn our discipline.” (Faculty)
  • “Have discipline-specific workshops once a semester where new additions to the reserves could be introduced and faculty members could inform librarians about what they need.” (Faculty)
  • “At the beginning of a relationship between faculty and librarians, it would be nice if administration would allow for certain required times of interaction like at department meetings.” (Librarian)

What are your suggestions for improving collaboration among faculty and librarians? Can you share an example of strong faculty—librarian collaboration? Submit your story and ideas in the comments.


Download the complete report by Library Journal and Gale: “Bridging the Librarian-Faculty Gap in the Academic Library