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.


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,


Web 2.0 & Marketing: Develop a Strategy from Start to Finish

web20logosWeb 2.0 excited me from the first time I read about it.  I could see how the various technologies that make up Web 2.0 could be used within an organization to enhance sharing, improve some processes, and more.  Called Intranet 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0, it made sense to me.  What has stalled me a bit in acceptance is how some organizations are using these technologies to market to external web users in an attempt to grab some market share.  In many cases, organizations decide to use blogs, wikis, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. without a strategy or marketing plan. 

Similar to an intranet or web site project, the use of Web 2.0 should be planned carefully to be used strategically.  Hhhmmm… that sounds like a strategic plan is in order or in the very least – a plan.  Here are some suggestions for steps that need to be taken to make your plan strategic:

Do’s Don’ts
Get a cross functional team together and begin defining the goals and/or objectives (We will call them goals) in using Web 2.0.  Ask simple questions like who and why?  Who tells you the market you are trying to reach and the why tells you what problem you are trying to solve. Define goals without tapping the insight of others. 
Reach out to others in the organization to ask them for their thoughts on goals, etc.  This not only improves the goals that are set, but also starts to build buy-in and support for what will be done to meet those goals. Set goals in isolation from others in the organization.  If marketing department sets goals without asking the individuals who have the closest and most direct contact to clients, the result may be very limited.
Interview clients to determine if they are using or are aware of Web 2.0.  Is their hiring practice to purchase services or products based on information from the Internet? Assume if you build it, they will come.
Learn about all the Web 2.0 technologies that you are considering using before starting your project. Use the technologies without having some knowledge about how each works
Consider how each technology supports your defined goals/objectives.  Continue developing answers to questions like what, when, and how. What describes your initiative, when begins the development of a timeline, and how describes the initiative that support each goal. Use Web 2.0 because everyone else is or because someone person in the organization thinks diving into development without considering goals is a good idea.
Develop a project plan for each initiative. Dive in without a plan.
Start with one project (e.g., creating topical blogs) that you have determined to meet the organization’s needs.  When it is complete, move along to the next.  Tackle all the projects at once.  This strategy creates confusion, pulls resources in too many directions, and does not allow those resources to do their best on each initiative.
Use change management techniques to assist those in the organization who will need to change how they think or what they do.  Even if the change creates a better mousetrap, people will need to say goodbye to what they know and how they do things before accepting anything new.  Change management should be used from the point that the goals are developed all the way through to acceptance by the organization. Assume everyone will accept what’s new.
Celebrate your success with all involved. Think ‘another day, another dollar’.
Continuously evaluate if the goals are being reached and, if not, what needs to be changed. Sign off on each initiative and think it is done.

There are plenty of articles and blog posts that describe W 2.0 in one form or another.  Some focus on process while others focus on the specifics on how to use each technology.  The following have some good tips for using W2b 2.0 in marketing.

Seven Strategies for Marketing in a Web 2.0 World by Darlene Fichter, Marketing Library Services, March/April 2007.

The Secrets of Marketing in a Web 2.0 World by Salvitore Parise, et al, Wall Street Journal Business, December 15, 2008.  The focus is on consumers instead of business to business but it is still worth a read.

For a book on the subject, check out Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide: Business thinking and strategies behind successful Web 2.0 implementations,  O’Reilly Media, April 2008.

Finally, Jaye Lapachet and Camille Reynolds have posted their Internet Librarian presentation with a focus on law libraries on Slideshare.  The embedded slides follow:

SLA Conference : Creating a Brand Identity

I am attending the SLA conference in Seattle right now. This morning I’m attending a Continuing Education program, “Creating a Brand Identity to Market Information Services”, presented by Liz Blankson-Hemans, Director of Information Professional Development at Thomson Reuters. This program is one out of a series of seminars called Quantum2 Leadership Development initially developed and delivered by Dialog before they became Thomson Dialog and now “the scientific business of Thomson Reuters.” If the seminars were not still called Quantum2, I probably wouldn’t know that they still existed. It’s a brand that survived multiple acquisitions.
Speaking of branding, and Liz is, here are some of the points she is covering:

  • A brand is how customers think and feel about what the business, product and service does.
  • A brand needs to be memorable, noticeable, unique and purposeful.
  • It needs to differentiate you, your product, or company.
  • It needs to tell your customer who your are and what you do.
  • Managing a brand is an ongoing thing

She shared guidelines for developing a brand identity

  • Assess Current brand image by researching and measuring its effectiveness
  • Determine brand position by idenfitying your product(s), target market(s), competition, and company values.
  • Identify brand elements whether they are tangible or intangible. What are their characteristics?
  • Communicate brand through a communication strategy and touch points.

To be successful in brand management you need to examine your brand(s) from your customer’s perspective and manage them as a portfolio. This means understanding your brand’s role, what influence it has on the market and what relationships are their between your brands. Do you have a house of brands (several brands under a parent brand) or a branded house (their is one brand but many flavors of that brand.)

The second half of the program focused on marketing with a focus on the 3Ps of Marketing with a nod towards a 4th ‘P’ – People:

  • Packaging
  • Promoting
  • Persuading

Those 3Ps provide direction in determining your products, services, benefits, target markets, customer motivations, customer satisfaction, etc. They focus on what the message

Here’s my attempt at describing a bit of what Liz is talking about, by looking at my own experience.

Nina Platt Consulting, Inc (NPCI) went through a marketing strategy process at the end of last year. Laurie Southerton of Southerton Consulting assisted us in identitying our target market, competition, and the services we wanted to offer. We came away with a number of things that are helping us manage our brand and how we communicate with our markets.

Focus on services – we defined our services. I love learning and will take on new roles in order to experience as much as I can. That may give me my kicks but it isn’t a good business strategy. As a business person, I need my clients and prospects to think of specific expertise and services when they think Nina Platt Consulting. Also, when a client who is a librarian hears that Nina Platt Consulting provides a service, they should be able to easliy understand what that service is. For example: As a brand NPCI Training means training that will assist librarians as they develop the law library of the future, its resources, services, staff, processes, and technology. Training that includes business, library/knowledge management, and technology skills development. Additionally, the delivery of services is a strategic one. For training, it means that the programs we present will assist librarians to work strategically as they implement what they learn.

Focus on target markets – we defined our markets. We provide services to law firms and the vendors (information & software) that sell to them. Within our markets, we have specifice populations we serve. In law firms we serve librarians, CIOs, CKOs, executive directors, management committees, etc. When working with vendors we work with product managers, marketing, etc. To get a better understanding of each of the populations we developed personas or stories that described our clients challenges and how NPCI can help them with those challenges.

Focus on message – we determined what messages we wanted to send and how we would deliver them. There are a lot of ways to communicate with clients and prospects. Trying to use all forms can dilute the message and may not accomplish what you want done. The message should initiate action on the part of your target market. It may be to become aware of your services, get to know more about what you can do for them, use your services, and then continue to use your services in the future. A broadcast email may make a number of prospects aware of a service you offer, but a phone call can be used to learn about your prospect’s needs and specifically address those needs.

Another great Quantum2 program. Thanks Liz!

1 Comment

Using Storytelling as a Marketing Tool and more

I always enjoy reading the articles that get written for summer associates at this time of year.  You can always count on finding at least one or two on  The most recent article, Hello, Summer Associates, and Welcome to Chapter 1 by Ari Kaplan, provides excellent advice to summers regarding how to market themselves to their firms.  The article discusses storytelling as a marketing tool.   The Ten Turths about Branded Storytelling by Alain Thys on the Marketing and Strategy Inovation Blog talks more directly about marketing and storytelling.

As individuals who market their services, resources, and more, librarians could benefit from the same advice.  We most often market our libraries by letting attorneys and staff know about the benefits they could derive from using our services.  Using storytelling, we can talk about what our users experience or better yet, they could tell the story.  What makes some stories so good and others fall flat?  Seth Godin has the answer in his blog post Ode: How to tell a great story.

I saw the power of storytelling at my last firm.  The IT staff was introducing a time tracking toolbar that stayed running on the computers once launched.  As timekeepers moved from project to project, they could click on an icon and change the client and matter that they were working on.  This allowed them to capture time more accurately, which in turn, would keep them from guessing how much time they spent when they did their time entry later.

One of the group heads was so taken by the technology that he offered to accompany the IT staff member to each practice group meeting in the firm and tell his story.  As he was well respected by other lawyers, they paid attention to him when he talked about how the application changed him from a lawyer who was always late in recording time to one, that not only entered his time in on time, but also increased his billable time overall signifantly.  His willingness to tell his story made a big difference in the acceptance and use of the toolbar.

Besides it’s use for marketing, storytelling is also very useful as a knowledge sharing technique.  Librarians Sandy Bradley, Barbara Lupei, and Mary Ray of the Weapons Division at NAVAIR created a storytelling initiative within their organization as described in their article, The Power of Storytelling.   Some law firms are also testing this type of initiative (even if they aren’t aware that they are storytelling) through practice meetings, mentoring, etc.  One firm recently started meetings where the partner in charge of a successful matter would be the speaker as he shared what was done, what they learned to benefit their knowledge of the law and their own best practices.  Once a month, a new partner tells his or her story.

Finally, stories help build culture within an organization.  The stories that are told about leadership actions within an organization will support and maintain whatever culture exists whether it is good or bad.   John Kotter describes how this can work in his Forbes April 12, 2006 article The Power of Stories.  I can’t help but think of the firms that allow partners, who are abusive to staff, to continue their less than suitable behaviour.  By not doing something about those partners actions, the firm is supporting a culture where staff may not feel they are valued.  If you want to make changes to your culture, start taking action that make up the inspiration for a story.

Additional resources regarding storytelling include:

Annette Simmons, The Story Factor, 2006.  An exerpt from the book is available at the International Storytelling Center.

Jay Conger The Impact of Strategic Storytelling, Les50ns (50 Lessons).  This is a video that runs 4.39 minutes.

Marie Wallace, Guide on the Side: Storytelling, Wake up Sleeping Beauty, LLRX, March 1, 2002.

Mary Abraham, Storytelling and Law Firm KM, Above and Beyond KM, May 2, 2008.

Storytelling: Passport to the 21st Century Website created by Stephen Denning, author of Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations, Butterworth-Heinamann, 2000.

Getting to Know Your Client’s Needs : Using Surveys as a Marketing Tool

Nina Platt Consulting often works on projects that include customer research using web-based, telephone, and in-person surveys.  Asking your clients what they need is groundwork for deciding on services/products offered.  Your services or products will not be successful if you developed them in a vacuum without the knowledge that customer research provides.

As this is a topic central to what I do, I was pleased to be asked to present a webinar for Thomson West Librarian Relations during National Library Week in April. My topic was using surveys for customer/client research.   The audience was primarily librarians from private law libraries, so I used the topic of cost recovery as my example as I created a survey. 

To view a recording of the session go to the Thomson West Law Librarian Resource Center and click on Getting to Know Your Client’s Needs : Using Surveys as a Marketing Tool under What’s New.  If you are interested in the slides without the audio, click on the Slideshare view below.

Finally, to view the survey I created for demo purposes, go to  You will need to answer questions to get through the survey.  To see the results of the survey, go to

PLL/SIS Toolkit – An Important Element for Implementing a Private Law Library Strategy

j0382971.jpgThe American Association of Law Libraries (“AALL”) and the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section (“PLL”) have long been a good resource for a private law librarian who is looking for support in communicating needs to management and to their firm.  The PLL Toolkit, which was published years ago, was used by many librarians to inform decision makers about the library and its staff.  Available only in a print format, the Toolkit was greatly missed as it went out of print.

The PLL Resource Guide Series, Law Librarians : Making Information Work was directed at law firm administrators and managers who may be deciding to hire their first librarian or need information about space planning, the changing role of law librarians, and other topics. 

I used these publications to assist my administrator and firm leaders in their understanding of the value of the firm library.  The most successful use was in convincing the partner in charge of a branch office of the need to hire the first branch librarian at the firm.  The series continues to be available for sale almost 10 years after the initial publication.  While in need of some updating, it is still useful.

Fast forward to the present and we will find that PLL has once again published the PLL Toolkit, this time on the group’s web site.   Created by a team of private firm librarians, under the leadership of LaJean Humphries, Library Manager at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, PC, the kit includes information on:

Most of the topics are accompanied by subject bibliographies outlining additional resources. 

I have to admit that I didn’t realize the wealth of information this toolkit represented until recently.   If you haven’t spent time reviewing the great information the Toolkit provides, I would recommend that you do so now.  You will be glad you did.