Daily Archives: March 24, 2009

Academic Librarians Are Not Salespeople – But They Should Be

Have you seen the latest set of “Provocative Statements“ from the 2009 Taiga Forum yet? The statements were released a few weeks ago, and I think there’s been little discussion about them thus far. By contrast the first set of provocative statements generated in 2006 created a great deal of discussion. So far I think only this blogger has discussed the statements, and the lack of attention strikes me as odd. Perhaps this year’s crop of statements are just a bit less controversial than the ones produced in 2006. For example, one of the most provocative of the 2006 batch stated:

there will be no more librarians as we know them. Staff may have MBAs or be computer/data scientists. All library staff will need the technical skills equivalent to today’s systems and web services personnel. The ever increasing technology curve will precipitate a high turnover among traditional librarians; the average age of library staff will have dropped to 28.

Compare that to one of the 2009 provocative statements:

libraries will provide no in-person services. All services (reference, circulation, instruction, etc.) will be unmediated and supported by technology.

Keep in mind that all those statements are prefaced with “within the next 5 years”. Even looking back to 2006 it’s highly unlikely any academic librarians believed we’d all be gone by 2011. But the value of Taiga’s provocative statements isn’t their predictive value. Rather it’s in their ability to get librarians thinking about and discussing how it is possible we can even be making such suggestions, and what it is we need to do to shape our own preferred future rather than submit to the outcomes the statements suggest. I can recall several regional conferences that based some sort of activity or discussion on the 2006 statements. I doubt that will repeat for the 2009 statements. I’m not sure why. The 2009 statements are worthy of discussion, but perhaps in our current state of financial crisis academic librarians are simply fixated with budgetary issues.

So what does any of this have to do with this post’s title? Well I participated in this year’s forum (now that I”m an AUL I’m a member of the tribe), and with colleagues I helped to shape the statements. Somewhere during the discussions one of the participants said something along the lines of “Academic librarians are not good salespeople.” I can’t quite recall how that came up but it struck a chord with me because I’ve thought the same exact thing for quite a few years. Frontline librarians need to do more than just respond when the end users are looking for information. They’ve got to be out in the field spreading the word, and making the sales pitch for why the library’s resources are vitally important to the teaching and learning process.

Here’s an example. I was at a meeting last week of our Distance Learning Advisory Group. Our leader asked me to say a few words about how the Library supports online learners – and where we need to improve. As I finished one faculty member blurted out “I had no idea I could do at that with your resources.” How many times does that happen? Too many. We’re also doing LibQual+ and there are far too many comments with suggestions for what the library should be offering – that we’ve already been offering for two or more years. They don’t know it. There’s a disconnect. On the other hand we’ve got 35,000 students, over 1,000 faculty and 12 reference librarians. That’s a whole lot of sales calls for everyone. So we’ve got to figure out how to be a truly effective salesforce. Maybe this new book will give me some ideas for better marketing and promotion methods.

To tell the truth the best library salesperson I ever worked with wasn’t a librarian. At a prior job the instructional technologist who helped our faculty learn the courseware system and other learning tools was far more effective than any librarian at getting our faculty to integrate the library into their courses. He’d be telling them about all the technology tools, and then he’d slip in “Well you are going to integrate the library databases in here, right?” And from there he just did a good sales pitch and then the librarians took over and closed the deal (it’s as simple as ABC – Always Be Closing!). Maybe the next set of Taiga provocative statements will include “Within the next 5 years all librarians will work strictly on commission earning revenue everytime one of their clients searches a database, acquires an article through interlibrary loan, or requests an instruction session.” With the way our economy is going, who knows.

I hope you’ll take a look at the 2009 statements and share your thoughts. As an added bonus you can see some of the slides used for the 5-minute lightning round presentations made at the forum (each statement was presented by a forum attendee). I presented for statement #5 and the slides are there.