Getting faculty on your side

I gave a tour to librarians from another academic institution to discuss ways to co-locate other student-centered services and make badly needed changes to their library. When we discussed changes to collection development and our technological systems, one librarian asked, “how do you deal with pushback from faculty?” It’s a valid question. Many faculty are much more in love with the idea of physical books. Even if those books are The Guide to Careers for Men from 1982 and features a man with blonde feathered hair on the cover. Many faculty lament that students no longer use periodic guides or indexes. They require students to use REAL journals, not those online things.

We use a number of formal and informal channels to deal with. Granted, we are an institution with about 150 full-time faculty and numerous adjuncts. But the point is, we use proactive, positive means to get faculty on our side so that the day when we majorly pare down our print reference collection, we hope to have less protests and more excitement.

  • Wine and cheese function: one of my colleagues is tasked with getting faculty to use more technology in teaching. She’s hosting a wine and cheese “buffet” at which faculty can drink while browsing tables hosted by their colleagues who already use technology. Soooo, we get ‘em with free food and drink. We’ve got a higher administrator supporting the value of the program. We then have their peers show off projects. And we hopefully reach some technophiles by showing them how technology can support research and teaching. (We are sneaky this way.)
  • Monthly electronic newsletter: we write a few articles that are campus-specific, but we try to be broader. This month I’m writing about Pinterest: what is it, how I use it personally and professionally, and ways they can use it personally and professionally. I have a student who writes regularly on the kinds of technology he and his peers are using (so, instead of having him dust, he’s developing his writing skills and using his strengths.) We use the newsletter to convey campus news, but to also highlight cool digital archives available. We use it to build buzz about upcoming changes; framing them as things to look forward to.
  • Formal liaison: most libraries do this. It’s great and it works. Something we do as part of our program is to invite ourselves to department and division meetings once a semester. As a group, we figure out what we want to highlight in our 15 minutes. So maybe we’ll preview a new database we’re thinking of getting and solicit feedback. Then we’ll talk quickly about how we just subscribed to PollEverywhere and show it off. We use the time to show them what we’ve got in addition to asking what they want.
  • Bait and Switch: at the liaison meetings we’ll often show off great new resources. I’ll host Resource of the Month booths- I set up computers with cookies and folks can check out what the resource of the month is. We’ll write newsletter articles about wonderful new resources. We frontload heavily with what’s great, hopefully getting faculty excited about what we offer. Some faculty will complain when we weed out books, but the hope is to heavily promote what’s good. The better defense is a good offense.
  • The reality of books: I have this grand idea that when my friend Rachel Wightman returns from having worked in a library in Uganda for the past two years of having her come talk about her experience. Rachel has learned that books are important (especially when your electricity is always going out or your wireless runs out), but they do not stand the test of time and stop meeting needs at some point. She wrote a wonderful blog post about books donated to her library in Africa that anyone weeding should read.  She offers a common-sense look at the reality of books: they are not all sacred. Sometimes we have to…gasp…throw them out. You should have Rachel come talk to your faculty and administrators if they’re the sort who cringe at getting rid of a 1963 Emily Post Etiquette for Weddings.
  • Be savvy: okay, that’s vague. But here’s what I mean: if you are making changes let the administration know. Explain to the provost (or have your boss do it) why this will support teaching and learning. Let the president/chancellor know what day you are throwing all of those books out. Then make sure your staff don’t put them in the dumpster until pick-up day!
  • Get partners in crime: or create them! I asked to meet with a faculty member who asked me about periodic guides to show him some databases. He was very resistant to students getting away with “easy” research, but I kept at him and showed him the marvels of modern technology. He never stopped telling students about his old research days, but he does invite me to do library instruction every semester. I regularly email faculty when we acquire a new database in their field or when I find a digital collection or technology I think they would like. First, it let’s them know we’re trying to meet their needs, but it also opens the door for conversation. It takes about three minutes of my time to email the English faculty when we get a cool new literature series.

There will always be faculty who complain. And who complain to higher-ups. By using some proactive, positive formal and informal means of communication, we hope to get and keep faculty on our sides.

Many of you at larger institutions could do some of this on smaller levels. Instead of hosting a wine and cheese event for the entire faculty, why not do it a division or college at a time? Think about how our ideas could fit into your institution, with a little tweaking.

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