Way back in August 2012, I wrote a letter to CILIP Update in response to what I felt was a very one-sided article they’d published about outsourcing in corporate libraries. They published my letter, and invited me to write my own piece in response.
I’m republishing my article here now, as enough time has passed that I’m not robbing CILIP of any magazine subscriptions! Since writing this I’ve also started an occasional column for CILIP Update, on the topic of demonstrating your value as a librarian/information professional. I will also be republishing these columns here, once CILIP’s one-month embargo period has passed for each.
Librarians in all sectors know that demonstrating the value you provide is vital. This is especially true for librarians in the corporate sector. As part of a larger firm, our role and value isn’t always obvious to those holding the purse strings. Some may not see the point of hiring librarians at all when, obviously, everything the staff might need to research will be available on the internet!
The prevalence of this view has become sadly apparent since the credit crunch, as many corporations have downsized, outsourced, or even axed their library staff altogether. Those of us that are left have had to find creative techniques for demonstrating our value. Techniques like…
Have a strong brand
The first battle in demonstrating value is making sure people know you’re there. Have consistent messages, logos and document templates that you use for everything the library sends to anyone in the firm. If someone has used a piece of research that’s helped them win some new business, or contributed to a big case, they should know exactly who to credit for it. Information is one of those things that too many people assume “just happens”. Make sure your customers don’t make this assumption.
Make yourself indispensible
When most of your marketing is word of mouth, the best kind of advertising is to be really, really good at your job. You should know everything that is important to the firm, so you will know what’s likely to be of interest to your customers before they’ve asked you for it. This will likely mean getting out of your comfort zone: you’ll need to find a way into conversations with the key decision-makers in your firm. If you’ve never done this before, some might wonder why a librarian is interested – isn’t your role just to wait for people to ask you things and then send it to them? – but persevere! It can help if you find someone high up who is impressed by your work and is willing to act as a champion for your service.
Embedding within teams
Librarians are easy to axe if we’re seen as a function that sits on the periphery. We’re much harder to get rid of if the work we do is entangled with all the business of the firm. At Addleshaw Goddard we have eight team members each assigned to key market areas and legal practice groups, which allows us to provide in-depth research and insight tailored to the strategic priorities of each area. If you’re a solo librarian then obviously this will be harder, but it’s still worth seeing if anything you do overlaps with any other department. If it can, why not spend time with them to see how you could add value to their team?
Embedding also involves leaving the library! If you still have a hard copy collection then you may need someone to sit with it (see the excellent Dumpling in a Hanky blog for a recent post discussing this), but you certainly don’t need all the librarians there all the time. Try hot-desking to see more of the business and make your presence known.
Outsource and automate routine work
To demonstrate your value, first you need to make sure that all your work is valuable. Routine administrative jobs are the obvious candidate for outsourcing, so make sure they’re not the bulk of your job! See what you can “outsource” yourself: would a subscription agent take over the journal processing and circulation? Could anyone else in the firm do looseleaf filing?
Automating routine work frees up time for more skilled and valuable tasks. At AG, we were spending significant amounts of time sending out daily current awareness alerts. To reduce the manual work involved, we now use a combination of subscription sources and external services to have these alerts sent directly to requesters, without manual intervention from the team beyond initial setups. We are also looking at software to allow us to use custom RSS feeds to deliver more detailed, bespoke current awareness within the firm and to send to external clients.
A core strand of Addleshaw Goddard’s strategy is “delivering differently”. In the legal market this means offering something beyond the typical law firm fare to make ourselves stand out, but it is also something that everyone in the firm is expected to embody. In Research Services, we have taken this to mean ensuring that everything we do contributes to the firm’s strategy and growth, by challenging old ways of working and revising outdated practices, and demonstrating the value that we bring to the firm with every piece of work we send out.