Friday, August 6, 2010

Becoming more visible: a 3-step plan

I just finished reading Bradford Lee Eden's article entitled The New User Environment: The End of Technical Services?

You can read it here (you need a username and password):

This isn't actually a post about Eden's article, though. What really resonated with me was a quote that he used that came from a 2007 article by Sheila Intner.

She wrote:
Part of the trouble is that the rest of our colleagues don't really know what technical services librarians do. They only know that we do it behind closed door and talk about it in language that no one else understands. If it can't be seen, can't be understood, and can't be discussed, maybe it's all smoke and mirrors, lacking real substance.

I think that Intner points out a real weakness for people in Technical Services. We often end up sequestered in back rooms, removed from both library users and our colleagues. When we do get face time with our front-line colleagues, the burden is on us to show them the impact of our work. It's hard to do if, when we have the chance, we bore our colleagues to death with jargon.

For better or worse, I think it's the job of Technical Services Librarians to make their work seem relevant and important. We need to take away the smoke and mirrors and show the substance of what we do in a way that anyone can understand.

To that end, I offer you a three-point-plan:
1. Be more visible
Attend as many meetings as your schedule allows without neglecting your primary job duties. Does you library have an all-staff meeting? Go! A brown bag lunch series? Go! Use the opportunities to network with your colleagues, especially if your back-room office is at a remote part of the library where no one ever sees you.

Being more visible means that people know your name when you call or email them with a question. It also helps you seem more well-rounded, especially if you attend meetings on topics that don't seem to immediately connect with your work in Technical Services.

2. Create an 'elevator speech' about what you do
Say you sit down next to a Reference Librarian at one of those meetings and you have a few minutes before the meeting starts. If you've taken the time to craft a short explanation of what you do and how you can help that person, the time before that meeting will be more productive than any all-staff email or presentation you might give.

When you're coming up with your elevator speech, lose the jargon. Don't assume that the person you're talking to knows--or cares about--the acronyms that are second nature to you. Your elevator speech should be easy to understand and should focus on how you can make a difference in the life of the person you're talking to.

3. Find an front-line ally who is willing to help you raise your visibility with front-line staff.
In my experience, making a difference in the life of a front-life staff person is the easiest way to forge the kind of alliances that I'm talking about. If you can work a miracle for someone, they'll likely sing your praises to their colleagues.

I think that if you are willing to be visible and to forge relationships with front-line staff, the smoke and mirrors will dissipate and your true value to your organization will shine through.

Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome.

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