Hello from the nation’s capital! DC/SLA is excited to be contributing all of this week’s FutureReady365 posts (thanks to our future-thinking Communications Secretary, Chris Vestal). We are a diverse community of 800+ information professionals, with members from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, as well as 30 other U.S. states and 12 countries. You’ll see this diversity reflected in the range of future ready ideas presented in posts throughout the week. We hope our posts will spark some thought and conversation and, of course, your comments. Most of all, we want to help keep the spark of the FutureReady blog alive – a spark that’s become a fire, gathering us around it to brainstorm our way into the future. — Mary Talley, DC/SLA President (2011)
by Chris Vestal, Washington, DC Chapter, Government Information and Leadership & Management Divisions
I grew up with the Indiana Jones franchise. It was my favorite trilogy as a kid (Temple of Doom was the best), so naturally when the fourth installment came out a few years ago I had to see it. I went expecting whip cracking, snake fearing, action adventure. As an unexpected bonus I got career advice that’s really impacted how I approach being Future Ready. There’s a scene where Indy and his son are peeling through a library on a motorcycle and Indy sees a group of students and tells them if they want to be successful they’ve “got to get out of the library.”
We all know how important it is to network among librarians but what a lot of people forget is that it’s just as important to reach outside library land and network with nonlibrarians. Sure it is part of a library director’s job to network with other departments in the organization, but it’s also the job of everyone who works in the library to represent it to every other person in the organization. Those of us in the front lines are in the perfect environment to reach out and build relationships with people outside the library and be its public face. It doesn’t take much—any time you encounter someone in the hall, the lunch room, even walking in the building is another opportunity to build relationships.
Networking like this can be critical to the success of the library and even the overall organization. If people get to know you and what you’re capable of they’re a lot more likely to seek out your services. They’re also more likely to provide positive feedback or anecdotal stories that can be used to illustrate the value of your services. Sometimes they’re the best people to communicate the library’s ROI to key decision makers since they’re more likely to speak the decision makers’ language and aren’t seen as inherently biased towards the library.
A former coworker of mine had an experience like this. When he was new in the library he made a point to network outside of the library. He developed a strong professional relationship with an internal client when she was new to the organization. Over time they moved past being acquaintances and became friends. Eventually they were both promoted in the organization. His friend became a supervisor to 20 other people and because of her experiences with the library and my coworker she now requires her staff to use the library’s research services before turning in their final work for her to review.
Even in the short time I’ve been active in the profession I’ve had a similar experience. I’m a contractor in an organization with a large library composed of several satellite libraries. When I was first promoted to a supervisor I was transferred to a new satellite library where I didn’t know my new staff or any of our internal clients. When we receive a research request from a client we typically contact them either via email, IM, or phone to do a reference interview. But I actually like to leave the library and meet clients face to face in their office, that way I could put faces with names and get to know them. I try to engage them in small talk too; that way I’m more than just a faceless person to them. I did this one day with a client who’d used the library before but only about 3-4 times a year. He sent in very favorable feedback about the research I’d done for him and right away tripled the number of research requests he sent in. Each time I worked on something for him I made a point to meet him in person and do some small talk. Now he’s one of our regular customers. Whenever any of us do research requests for him he always provides helpful feedback about our value, frequently as a narrative that we can turn around and use to justify and market our existence to key stakeholders. Taking the time to get to know him and to let him get to know me is at least partially responsible for the change.
But I benefited in another way too. One day after we were done talking about his research request we somehow got on the subject of working out and he mentioned that he’d been doing several different martial arts systems for years in addition to traditional gym work outs. He mentioned it so casually I didn’t think anything about it at the time. Then a few months later I noticed signs up in the area advertising self-defense classes teaching a system I’d never heard of. I remembered our conversation about martial arts and called my client and asked him if he knew anything about the system of self-defense the flier talked about. My client laughed and told me he did because it was his flier; he’d just started a self-defense training company.
Taking a class like that had always appealed to me but I’d always been too nervous about embarrassing myself to try it. But since I knew and trusted the instructor I went ahead and made the leap and now his class is one of my favorite ways of staying active. I’ve noticed I’m not quite as clumsy and much more confident than before. I was sharing my experience with another DC/SLA member one day and she mentioned a group class like that sounded fun. So I talked to DC/SLA’s programming planner and she thought that would make a good program too—now DC/SLA is sponsoring an introduction to self-defense class with my instructor.
If I’d just interviewed my client over the phone I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to get to know him and I would never have known he knew about martial arts. I wouldn’t have thought to ask him about the fliers and I’d really be missing out. So while I’m sure the writers meant Indy’s line to just be a funny one liner making a habit of getting “out of the library” can lead you to all kinds of adventures.
Chris Vestal is a Supervisory Patent Researcher with ASRC Management Services on its contract at the US Patent and Trademark Office. Chris is also DC/SLA’s 2011 Communication Secretary.