The Conversation Project
The Conversation Project is an effort by University of Miami librarians to engage proactively with teaching and research faculty through one-on-one, in-person conversations in order to better understand their needs and the ways that libraries can adapt our services, resources, and spaces in response. The Project complements other library assessment efforts, such as online surveys, that the University of Miami Libraries deploys to gather faculty feedback.
In 2015 – 2016, Dr. Martin Tsang – an anthropologist and Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Postdoctoral Fellow – led the initiative. Using a simple set of four questions as prompts, liaison (or subject) librarians engaged in conversation with faculty members in the disciplines they support. The questions include:
- What are the challenges you are facing as a researcher and teacher?
- How is your field changing?
- What are emerging areas of emphasis for your department?
- What are your hopes for library support?
Eleven librarians volunteered to participate and conducted forty-five interviews with faculty in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Collaborating with the librarians, Dr. Tsang offered tips on effective interviewing strategies based on his experience doing anthropological field research. He also gathered and analyzed data from the conversations that has informed our strategic plan and aspirations to develop a Faculty Research Commons.
Dr. Tsang has presented about the project here at the University of Miami and at the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) meeting at the American Library Association (ALA) 2017 Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois. Presentations and materials are available at the “Reimagining the Library Liaison” section of ARL’s website:
- “Talking So Faculty Will Listen, Listening So Faculty Talk: Engagement Strategies for Library Liaisons” (see slides 18-34 for Dr. Tsang’s presentation)
- Faculty Conversation Project Tips (Association of Research Libraries)
The Conversation Project has been cited in library publications including:
- Rita Vine, “Realigning liaison with university priorities: Observations from ARL Liaison Institutes 2015 – 2018,” College and Research Libraries News, Vol. 79, No. 8 (2018)
Other research libraries, such as University of California-Riverside Library, have begun to develop similar projects and reference our project as inspiration.
The “Conversation Project” helped lay the groundwork for our U-LINK partnership with the Office of Research that emerged in 2018. In this partnership, librarians have served as team members on interdisciplinary research teams working on societal problems.