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Get to Know Your Departmental Liaison Librarians

Image by Chantay Alexander .

It’s a universal Arts student experience: you’re finishing up a term paper but can’t find that one perfect source to tie up loose ends. McGill’s libraries provide students with the perfect solution: departmental Liaison Librarians, who are trained in specific research areas and subjects. Each department has a specific contact person to whom you can reach out for help in navigating the McGill library systems. We spoke with three Liaison Librarians to find out more about the types of support they offer to both undergraduate and graduate students

Sandy Hervieux (Liaison Librarian for Political Science, Italian Studies, and Religious Studies) did her Masters of Library and Information Studies at McGill, and provides some useful insight on the role of Artificial Intelligence within academia and intellectual communication.

What does the role of Liaison Librarian for the Political Science, Italian Studies, and Religious Studies departments entail?

I support the teaching, learning, and research in the departments of Political Science and Italian Studies and the School of Religious Studies. I liaise with faculty members and create Library research workshops for their students so that they can find the relevant information to complete their assignments. I also offer one-on-one help for students and meet with graduate students who are working on their theses and research projects. I collaborate with other librarians to create and teach Library workshops that are open to all students such as the Research Data Management workshop that I offer with my colleague Alisa B. Rod. I’m also responsible for purchasing the books in the areas of Political Science, Italian Studies, and Religious Studies.

What is the most common question you get from students about McGill’s library systems and how do you address it?

I would say probably how to find articles on specific topics. We have access to over 1,500 databases so it’s not always clear which one to use. I usually start by asking students for more details about their assignment or research project and the information they are trying to find. I then show students the Library Subject Guides for their area of research; we have them for each subject taught at McGill and it’s a great place to start their research since it lists the best information sources and tools for that area of study. I tell them about the best article database to use for their question and then review how to build an effective search strategy. I would usually wrap up the interaction with the importance of evaluating the information that we found. 

How does Artificial Intelligence play a role in how we consume and retrieve information in an academic setting?

The presence of AI in research tools has increased over the last few years, the problem is that we are not always aware that it’s there or what it’s doing. Several tools in medicine and law use AI components that impact their search functionalities and several databases in other fields also have recommended lists of articles based on the one you selected. There are also new tools like Research Rabbit that use AI to augment literature searching. These technological advancements can be beneficial; they can help you find information or content that you may not have encountered otherwise but I think it’s important to also be aware of some of the trade-offs or potential biases that the tools can support. We should all aim to have some level of AI literacy and be aware of how tools are using AI to recommend content (my colleague Amanda Wheatley and I offer a workshop series called "Keeping Up With AI" on this topic). It’s important to make sure that these tools not only help us find information but that it doesn’t contribute to marginalizing authors or making smaller academic presses or journals more difficult to find. It can be a great addition to research but much like any step of the research process, it’s important to remain analytical and use other sources of information.

Image by Chantay Alexander .

Kristen Howard (Liaison Librarian for History, Classical Studies, Indigenous Studies, and Government Information) got her Masters in Information Science from McGill. One of her areas of specialization is archival literacy, and she talks about how her academic expertise in History helps supplement her work as Liaison Librarian.

How does the role of Liaison Librarian support students in accessing useful academic information?

Every department and program in the Faculty of Arts has their own Liaison Librarian who is a subject specialist in that field. Your Liaison Librarian knows the best databases for your research projects and term papers, and has created Subject Guides tailored to specific fields of study. Liaison Librarians also teach workshops in individual classes – I’ve taught over 800 History students this term! – and offer one-on-one consultations to help you decide how to jump into your research and find the information you need.

How has your academic background in History helped your understanding of libraries and archives?

Studying and teaching history has definitely helped me understand what types of information resources History students need to succeed in their coursework, but more importantly to develop nuanced understandings of historical events. My graduate degrees in history also provide me with insight into some of the unique parts of grad school – like comprehensive exams, confronting the job market, applying for fellowships, and conducting archival research or fieldwork. I am happy to work closely with graduate students in History and Classical Studies (and other departments in the Faculty of Arts!) as they navigate these parts of their programs. I hope that students consider me to be one more resource in addition to their colleagues, professors, and advisors during both their undergraduate and graduate studies. 

What are some ways in which ethics play a role in academic libraries?

Ethics are integral to librarianship at every level, from our interactions with students at the circulation desk to collection building to research. Several of my colleagues have held workshops or conducted research on various aspects of ethics in librarianship, like Nikki Tummon and Dawn McKinnon on privacy and Sandy Hervieux and Amanda Wheatley on artificial intelligence. In my own research, I have examined how libraries, archives, and museums have sometimes relied on exploitative prison labour to make historical materials such as yearbooks more accessible – and what we should do as a profession to right this moral wrong.

In your opinion, what is the most useful tool students can take advantage of when navigating McGill’s digital library resources?

Their Liaison Librarian! Don’t hesitate to email your Liaison Librarian to ask for help in finding the right database, eBook, or other information resource for your research. Our job is to help you succeed! Just consult the Find a Librarian list to find the Liaison for your subject area. Also remember that Liaison Librarians are available to help you with research questions in-person in the McLennan Library on Monday to Friday from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, and virtually on weekdays from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm and on weekends from 12:00 – 5:00 pm. You can ask questions here.

Image by Chantay Alexander .

David Greene (Liaison Librarian for Architecture, Art History, Communication Studies, and Urban Planning) specializes in digital humanities, and comments on how the ways we consume knowledge shift with technological advances.

How did you become interested in pursuing Information Science and how have your studies translated into your work as Liaison Librarian?

I have a background in the humanities but have an interest in technology – these interests, in combination with my experience working in university archives as an undergraduate student, made a graduate degree in information science a natural choice for me. My studies have translated to my work in many ways. For instance, learning advanced search and tech skills, about emerging trends in scholarly communication and open access, or about how information is organized and how different people seek it out.

Do you have any useful tips on finding academic sources for students studying in your specialized areas?

Search engines, catalogues and databases are great tools, but they will only get you so far when researching a specific artwork, building, or media object. Remember that the full text of books and articles is most often not being captured in your search; this means that there can be many books and articles which discuss, say, a certain painting, but will not show up as search results when you type the name of that painting into a database. Start with more general searches on artist/architect, geography, and time period and then spend time looking through books on those topics, paying attention to indexes and bibliographies for more specific key terms. If you’re struggling, consider reaching out to me to set an appointment: david.greene [at] mcgill.ca

How can emerging technology trends help with accessibility and interest in academic material?

It’s become something of a truism that information has never been more accessible, that we have the world’s knowledge constantly at our fingertips. While that’s true in a sense (and amazing!), what’s the good of all that information if it’s locked behind paywalls for most people? The most important trends for increasing the accessibility of academic information are not so much in technology, but in what we call scholarly communication, the “plumbing” of the academic publishing industry by which scholarship is disseminated (via scholarly journals, books, etc.). Major efforts are being made by governments and grant funding agencies around the world to incentivize researchers and publishers to make their work openly accessible to the public, which is something librarians love to see.

That said, there are some pretty sticky issues which the open access movement has yet to solve around who should bear the financial brunt of academic publishing, a costly endeavour that only gets more costly year-on-year. While blockchain is getting a bad rap as a meaningless tech buzzword these days, I do wonder if it might possibly play a role in restructuring incentives around academic publishing in a useful way. It’s more of an inkling I have than a concrete trend, but it’s something I have my eye on.

And there you have it – a comprehensive introduction to your very own Liaison Librarians at McGill! As previously mentioned, each department has a designated librarian to help you with all your inquiries, and the list can be found here. Happy researching!

 

 

 

 

 

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