Saturday, November 24, 2007

interdisciplinarity (a fun word to say)

Jane Blumenthal brought up an interesting point at Wednesday's Librarians' Forum. Since so much of the research being done today is interdisciplinary, we ought to rethink the way we support our faculty research teams.

Here's an example. This semester, I taught a library research session for COMM 488, Health Communication and Health Behavior Change. This class focused in on media effects on human health. Students researched not only the communications and mass media literature, but also needed to analyze health statistics and public policy on health communication. When I taught the class, I stumbled through much of the statistics and public policy portion - these resources are relatively foreign to me.

Jane's suggestion was to have teams of librarians in support of those faculty whose research crosses disciplinary boundaries. COMM 488, clearly something that spans disciplinary boundaries, is a prime example of a situation in which a team approach would have been not only appropriate, but extremely beneficial.

This kind of thing probably already happens informally. I could have easily asked colleagues in the Public Health and Informatics library for suggestions; I could have asked our Government Documents librarians for tips on finding statistics. Why am I so excited about Jane's idea? It gives us a new way to market our services to faculty.

This is in no way a service we offer formally, but I imagine if we did, the publicity to go something like this:

(front of postcard)

(back of postcard)

Not only will the faculty benefit from having the expertise of librarians with a variety of subject specialties, but librarians will benefit by becoming more aware of what's going on at the University. Collections, services, and communication can be made very relevant to faculty needs with that kind of information. As a team of subject specialists ourselves, we will pull more weight as colleagues.

Has this been done anywhere that anyone knows about? Please comment and let me know!


CogSci Librarian said...

I'm totally biased, but my ideal job (one of them, anyway) would be to be the Cognitive Science librarian for a few different schools. Not enough work at one school for an ace cog sci researcher, but 2-3 schools would be swell.

It's definitely an interdisciplinary discipline -- philosophy! psychology! computer science! education! linguistics! evolutionary biology! -- and who is better at searching interdisiciplinarily than we are?!

It would also be good for the schools, assuming they are open to collaboration, because the cog sci librarian would know who was working on what and could help people network with each other.

Next question: who will pay for this?!

Eric Frierson said...

pay for? i don't know what extra funding would be necessary.. but then again, that could just be my naivety - i don't see why I couldn't participate on these teams. It's not like these research teams are going to flood in questions any more than an individual research interacting with their subject specialist librarian; and even if there were more questions, a team of librarians would be there to respond, not just one.

i can also see myself developing more expertise from working more closely with my own librarian colleagues...

seems like it should be part of our job descriptions.

janeblum said...

Like cogsci librarian, I've had my share of faculty and decanal conversations that included "Did you know Dr. XYZ in ABC was working on a similar project?" Those discussions underscore the need for knowledge management rather than just information management in our institutions. I agree that librarians are philosophically and professionally suited to be the knowledge managers we need. That's why I like the idea of interdisciplinary teams, especially ad hoc teams formed in response to particular information needs.

Who will pay for this? In a pilot phase, I think eric is correct that reallocating existing resources would work, as would volunteer participation. Beyond that, if it's popular enough to merit expansion, well - that's what directors are for: to find the money and other resources, to empower the library team, and to enable good work to get done.

Obviously, I like this service model since I was willing to propose it publicly in a room full of my peers. The best part of that exercise was hearing a little buzz that told me I'd captured the imagination and enthusiasm of some in the room. That's when the fun starts.

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