Archive for February, 2008

Embedded Librarians Seize the Initiative

February 16, 2008

While re-reading W. David Penniman’s wonderful article “Strategic Positioning of information Services in a Competitive Environment” (Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science, April/May 1997, p. 11), I came across a description of the ideal Information Analysis Center, quoted by Penniman, that was originally published in 1959: “The ideal information analysis center would allow users to: /–Get the information they desire …”

While this is a noble and well intentioned sentiment, it (and others like it that I’ve read) set my teeth on edge. Why? Because it implies passivity and the fulfillment of wants, rather than needs. So often we librarians fall into these twin traps. We wait to be asked, and then we deal with the expressed desire, not the underlying need.

Being proactive, and dealing with needs, require a lot more work and a lot more skill. They require, perhaps, working side by side with our customers (or should I say, colleagues) and understanding the goals and objectives they are trying to achieve. Yet that’s what I think we need to do today, and what we’ll need to do to be successful tomorrow.

I think the embedded librarian is well positioned for this role. I think of the embedded librarian as one who can identify the need, the source, and the value of information — often before the customer/colleague thinks of it — and deliver what’s needed. To do this, the librarian has to be familiar with the work and understand the domain and the goals. Doing this, the librarian becomes an invaluable member of the team.

So, let’s not fall into the trap of providing “the information they desire”. Let’s show them what they need, and deliver it.

Relationship Marketing and Embedded Librarians

February 2, 2008

I’m teaching a course in “Marketing Libraries and Information Services” this term. Last week, we spent a little time discussing the concept of “relationship marketing”, and it struck me that relationship marketing is very near the core of embedded librarianship.

In defining, positioning, and promoting a product or service, the traditional approach is to focus on making this sale, completing this service transaction successfully. Our traditional approach to library reference service is to focus on the reference interview, and on defining and satisfying the user’s present information need.

In relationship marketing, the marketer moves beyond a single sale or a single service transaction. The focus is on building a relationship that endures over time and over many transactions. In the for-profit world, there’s a recognition that relationships are very profitable. When you buy a car nowadays, you’ll find the dealer trying lots of ways to get you to bring your car back for servicing — over time, those service visits will be lots more profitable than the single sales transaction. In the nonprofit world, the motivation is quality of service. For us librarians, if we have a relationship with our customer built on communication, mutual understanding, and trust, two things will happen (maybe more!): we’ll get requests we never would have gotten with an arm’s length, transactional orientation; and we’ll be in a position to provide a much better, customized, response.

So, is it too much to say that the embedded librarian is the ultimate library “relationship marketer”?


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