Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

An Open Letter to New (and Seasoned) Library Directors or How to Interview for Success

Dear New Library Director,

Congratulations on your new position.  No doubt you’ve worked hard to get where you are.  Your career so far has been in public or technical services or, possibly, working as a solo librarian or information specialist.  In fact, this may be your first job right out of school.  Whatever your path, you are probably wondering, “What next?” or “What strategy could I use in learning how to do my new job?”  If I may, I would love to share some tips with you about using interviews for this purpose.

Marketing 101 – Learning about your client’s needs

Get to know your firm’s, company’s, or community’s needs by getting to know your patrons, clients, customers or whatever they are called in your environment.  For the purposes of this letter, we’ll call them clients.  By this, I don’t mean introducing yourself and talking about your goals for the library.  Instead, take time each day to spend 10-15 or more minutes with individuals asking them:

  • What they do
  • How they use information
  • What information is most important to them
  • What  their pain points are in finding and using information
  • What their goals are for you and your department would be

Sure, you could do a survey but nothing works better than a one-on-one discussion.  Don’t be afraid that they will see your visit as an annoyance or interruption.  The one thing I’ve learned in having these types of meetings is that people love to talk about themselves, their work, and especially, what they think could be done better.

If you can do it, try to talk to everyone.  It may take more time than you want to spend, but it will be well worth it.  My suggestion is to start with department heads with a scheduled meeting and then move on to walking down halls, (any hall) with notepad and pen in hand, knocking on doors. Introduce yourself and ask the individual who answers if they have a few minutes to talk.  Do this for an hour or two each day and eventually you will have walked each hall and talked to all.  You may not get to meet with everyone (especially in an academic or public setting) but do what you can.

Management 101 – Learning about your staff

Get to know your staff if you have one.  Depending on the size of the firm, you don’t need to learn their job (in smaller organizations, you may be their backup and need to know the job).  What I mean by getting to know them is to do the same type of interview as you’ve done with your clients.  You will really be looking to learn:

  • What they do
  • What their routine is
  • How they use information
  • What frustrates them
  • What their ideas are for improvement

Whether they are librarians, technicians or clerks, your staff has experience in the organization you’ve now joined or the library where you were promoted.  You can learn so much from them.  If you got the job as director through promotion,  it is important to know that you and your former co-workers have very different perspectives.  You did when you were colleagues and you certainly do now.  Don’t think you know what they are thinking.

Procurement 101 – Learning about your vendors

Get to know your vendor representatives.  First, don’t make this an adversarial relationship – they can help you if you let them.  Meeting with these folks won’t be difficult.  They will want to meet with you as soon as you have time.  When you do meet, treat it like the interviews you’ve done with your clients and staff.  Your goal will be to get to know them but also to learn what they know and how they can help you.  They may see it as a sales opportunity but don’t let them take you there.  You will want to learn:

  • What their background is
  • What their goals are in working with the firm (the answer should be more than just sales)
  • How they provide training if needed
  • What they know about the firm
  • Who they have interacted with at the firm
  • What your contract is or what they are currently providing to the firm (you may already know this but it is good to hear it from their perspective)
  • What they need from you

If you have this conversation you will come away with their answers but you will also know:

  • What they know about the business your are in
  • How they view your organization
  • How they will support it, and you, when needed

You will have plenty of time to tell them what your expectations are once you know them, so don’t share them in the initial meeting.  If pushed, tell them you are in a learning mode at present and will get back to them.  You may even want to ask them to assist in your learning, if you feel comfortable doing so.

Networking 101 (this is where the seasoned directors may want to listen up)

When I first started out as a director, I was on my own.  No one else at the firm could help me in my work from a library director’s perspective.  What I found was that I really needed that perspective to help in making decisions.  To get it, I started to network with library directors in the community.  Everyone I contacted helped me in one way or another.  If you do this, you may want to ask:

  • How they got to know their firm needs and what they do to keep up that knowledge
  • What you should expect as a new director
  • What are their most pressing issues are or what frustrates them

Starting out with these types of questions will open the discussion for so much more.  You may know them as friends or colleagues but you are now colleagues in managing your libraries.  Don’t be afraid that the questions you ask will be stupid.  No one will treat them that way.  What I’ve found in these relationships is that everyone is very willing to share what they know and to help each other, however they can.

An Aside

To the seasoned directors reading this.  I learned one thing from my experience as a new director.  Even though I knew my counterparts in other organizations, it was still difficult to reach out to them.  I would think this is even more difficult for a new director coming from another location or industry.   I decided to do something about it.

Once a bit more seasoned myself, I started reaching out to new directors in my community with an offer to help them in any way I could.  We had lunch or met in our offices.  We talked about whatever they needed to talk about and, at times, topics where I needed input.  We became friends.  I still meet occasionally with a couple of law firm library directors I am lucky enough to call my friends.  We have lunch and talk about our work.

Please consider reaching out to the new library directors in your community if you aren’t doing so now.  It will enrich you in so many ways.

Communication 101

By now, you’ve probably caught on to the main theme of this letter.  It’s all about communication.  Communication with your clients, staff, vendors, and other library directors.  One group I did not mention is the other directors in your organization.  They can help you in many ways as well.   You may not have taken a communication course as part of getting your degree, but you will find, it is now the most important skill you will need as a director.

If communicating with others is not your strong suit, please know that it isn’t mine either.  With the exception of communicating with library staff, I’ve had to make myself go down those halls, make those meetings, and network whenever I could.  I set goals for myself in how many discussions I would have in one day.  The more communicating I did, the easier it felt.  I’m still a bit nervous when meeting new people but find that every interaction enriches me in one way or another.

Closing

If you are a new director, just know that you will do a great job if you keep communication with others a top priority.  Good luck and call me if you need me.  No emails please, just phone calls.  It’s easier to communicate that way.

Warmest regards,

Nina

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