There may have been a time, a long time ago, when all librarians had to worry about was “technical competency.” If they had good skills, knew their sources, work would come their way because, well, they were the librarian, the keeper of knowledge and the passkey to the sources of wisdom.
Those days may have existed at one time, but in modern librarianship, technical skills are only one side of the coin. Now, librarians are being asked to look at what they do with the eyes of business professionals. That means additional skills are needed, skills that transcend the library and get to the heart of the modern library. Namely, what does it mean for a library or a librarian to deliver value?
The 2015 AALL Business Skills Clinic is one way for librarians to start to develop the necessary skills that will aid them in thinking not only as a librarian but as a business professional. This year’s Clinic was held in Chicago on October 16 – 17 and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend with a grant from CALL. The intent of this article is to offer for your consideration some of my key takeaways from each session.
Session 1 – Managerial Finance
Presented by Angela Hickey, Executive Director, Levenfeld Pearlstein LLC
The key element when thinking about managerial finance is that the emphasis should be on the managerial part, not the finance part. To that end financial information is an input (but not the only one) to making management decisions. As we have all experienced, the business of the law is changing with greater pressures by clients and other constituencies on costs. Attorneys need to be able to offload certain tasks, research being one of them, onto others with a lower cost basis. The ability not only to do this research and meet their needs but to DELIGHT our clients and do it in an environment of continuous innovation is one of the keys of building the business case for a robust library and research capability in a law firm, law school, or court environment.
The ability to help identify and meet needs that our clients have not thought of yet will go far in helping create value in the eyes of our clients and make them view the library as worthy of investment. Once an organization’s leadership sees the library as an investment, then it naturally follows that they should start to see a return on investment. Viewing the library in this fashion is a sea change from looking at it simply as an expense item which can be easily cut.
The final thought that Angela left us with is the fact that, if we want to change an outcome, we have to be able to influence the decision maker. Being able to use financial data as a management tool is one way to gain that influence. As librarians, we are all in sales because we must be constantly selling our services and the value that we can bring to an organization.
Session 2 – Human Resources
Presented by Tina Bengs, Attorney, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart PC
Modern labor law is a mosaic of various state and federal laws that govern workplace rights and responsibilities. The key word here is rights. Many of these laws such as The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) confer various rights on employees that cannot be taken away. A first line manager or supervisor is usually the first person to hear or see something and thus have a duty to act. The fact that a supervisor is aware of a situation that can invoke an employee’s rights can be construed as notice to the employer. The employee need not specifically tell a supervisor; the mere fact of the supervisor’s knowledge, regardless of how that knowledge is obtained, can act as notice to the employer. Adding to the complexity of human resources management is the fact that many of the employees’ rights under labor law run concurrently. Many employers get caught here because they may be under the impression that because one set of rights under one law may not be operative, there may be other rights under other laws that may require the employer’s attention. Consistency in action by the employer and completeness of documentation is key in the administration of employee rights and entitlements.
Session 3 – Marketing and Communications
Presented by Alycia Sutor, Managing Director, Akina Corporation
The key idea from this session was the fact that to do effective marketing, we as librarians need to be authentic when dealing with our clients. To be truly authentic, we need to be thinking about the following: 1) what knowledge, skills, or solutions do we want to be using or developing in the next 12 months or so?, 2) what groups have the greatest need for these skills?, and 3) how can these skills, knowledge, and expertise add value to these groups? Identifying those things that we as librarians really want be involved in leads to true authenticity. That can be very energizing. That energy can be the driving force to help us create library “superfans”, people who are so impressed with the experience of the library that they become ambassadors for our service.
To me, this was a revelation because I often felt that I had to be all things to all people but now I realize that being authentic will lead me to be able to give better library service. The more we as librarians can articulate who we are, and what value we can bring, the more our passion, initiative, and resourcefulness come through. This also will lead to true authenticity. By being authentic and taking the skills, energy, and passion we have and applying them to solve somebody else’s problem, we will elevate our value, and as was shown in previous sessions, the creation of value is key to sustaining the library as something vital in an organization.
Session 4 – Performance Measures
Presented by Robert Oaks, Chief Library and Records Officer, Latham & Watkins LLP
We live in a world where everything gets measured and compared. The important fact is that we as librarians should be taking measures that are meaningful. We can’t be spending time measuring for the sake of measuring. We need to know what is important in the organization and base what we measure on that. To understand what is important, we have to know who we are measuring for. This person is the library’s key stakeholder and the person who can determine your budget. Find out what is important to that person and create metrics based on those priorities.
In addition to providing some sort of metric, we need to provide the metric in a particular context. In other words, a story or narrative needs to accompany the metric because, if one is missing, the person reading the number will associate their own story with the metric (the importance of having a story to give meaning to a number was also stressed in the session on managerial finance). If we lose control of our story, others will come up with one, and that story may not serve the best interests of the library or the clients we are trying to serve.
In a similar vein, it is important to examine our own motivations when it comes to metrics. Are we keeping metrics from an attitude of scarcity (trying not to lose what we already have) or are we keeping metrics from a position of abundance (trying to expand what we are doing). It has been my experience that taking a position of abundance in any endeavor leads to greater creativity and opportunity to practice and develop one’s craft in new and broadening vistas as opposed to taking a position of scarcity which is usually born out of fear and suspicion. The more we can use metrics as a vehicle for professional creativity and freedom, the better we will be as a profession.
Session 5 – Negotiations
Presented by Karen Cates, Professor of Executive Education, Northwestern University
The key item from this session was that there is something that puts us as people from the United States at a disadvantage when negotiating, and that is our unwillingness to share information. This was brought out in high definition by an exercise we took part in. We were put into groups of four and given a business negotiating problem. Two members of the four represented the owners of a gas station wanting to sell for various personal reasons and the other two people represented an oil company who did not want to lose the location.
Most groups went back and forth about price and the deal itself and a number of them were not able to make a deal. If the two people representing the couple who wanted to sell gave some information as to why they wanted to sell, the negotiation could have achieved what Professor Cates calls “profit outside of the deal,” or things of value that are not intrinsically tied to what is being negotiated over. Profit outside of the deal is a great way to close the gap between what is your bottom line and what is the bottom line of the party opposite. It is also important to remember that in negotiating, every time you make some sort of concession, not only are you giving up a position, but you are sending a message as well. The more concessions you make, the more messages you will be sending and most of them won’t be to your advantage.
Before entering into a negotiation, you need have thought about the following: 1) what is your bottom line?, 2) what are you hoping for?, and 3) the sources of power that both sides in the negotiation have. You may not have perfect (or any) information as to number three, but it is important to consider it as you enter into negotiations. It is key to remember that, by virtue of the fact you are at the negotiating table, you have some sort of power (otherwise you would not be there). To that end, you should not enter with the attitude of “we HOPE they want what we have.” If you do, you will be at a disadvantage from the onset.
Many people will try to use manipulation as a negotiating strategy, but that only works in a one-time deal when your chances of meeting the opposite party are low. If you want any sort of relationship with the opposite party, manipulation is not a good tactic because you will show yourself to be somebody who does not bargain in good faith, and you might not even get to the table for a subsequent deal.
Session 6 – Strategic Planning
Presented by Steve Wingert, Principal, Nesso Strategies
Strategic planning for a library isn’t about doing something. It’s about doing something to makes us better and enables us to provide better service both now and in the future. Strategic plans are a means by which leaders, followers, and culture are aligned in an effort to produce greater value. This planning is not meant to be a stab in the dark in hopes of finding something that works. Doing that only saps organizational resources and capacity. When doing strategic planning, it is important to understand both the internal and external context in which an organization operates. From this understanding, it is possible to get in front of potential threats and weaknesses and take action so that they do not adversely impact the organization. It must be remembered that organizations live in an environment that is becoming more and more dynamic and change occurs and, consequently, must be responded to in a more rapid fashion. A sound strategic plan can help in effectively responding to those changes.
 I work as a reference librarian at Latham & Watkins and Bob Oaks and I have had a professional relationship for over four years.