How Not to Reach Out


I’ve spent the last 3 days at the annual Computers in Libraries Conference, which was excellent! I’ve heard a number of thoughtful and thought-provoking presentations and picked up some great tips and ideas.

However, it’s a couple ideas I heard that I don’t agree with that are the subject of this posting. (I’ve heard them before, so I think they’re fairly widespread among librarians, and need some serious discussion.)

At a session this afternoon, there was some discussion of tactics for reaching out to faculty (the context was higher education) who are not using the services of the librarian. One suggestion was to send periodic email inquiries, or drop by someone’s office, to ask if there’s anything you can help with. Another was to send unsolicited information items, saying that you know the person is working in a particular field, and believe they might be interested.

The first approach is empty, and perhaps a bit lazy. It’s a shortcut for the work of relationship-building. The job of the faculty/researcher isn’t to figure out how to use the librarian, and the answer is likely to be “no, thanks.” Rather, it’s the librarian’s job to figure out how to be useful. This approach violates the marketing principle that the service provider needs to understand the customer, and not start by pushing what you think they need.

The second is all the above, plus potentially annoying. It may come across as spam.

Wouldn’t it be better to have a 15-minute conversation with the person, learn a little bit about their interests, and ask for permission to feed them updates from time to time? That way, you get the beginning of a relationship.

Even better is to become so valuable to other faculty/researchers that you get word of mouth working for you, and the non-users seek you out.

What do you think? What outreach tactics have worked for you?


3 Responses to “How Not to Reach Out”

  1. Kitty Delaney Says:

    Hi David, Interesting comment and probably true. Building personal relationships with your client group is the most effective method of marketing. Having them recommend your services by word of mouth is even more effective. My first months as a Faculty Librarian was spent meeting senior academics face to face and being asked to present at various meetings. This raised the library profile and increased my client base. Even now – we rarely send blanket emails out as the response rate is very low. Relationship building, understanding their needs, their research has been the key to being successful in my experience.

  2. philip mullen (@philmull) Says:

    I cannot speak for a University Librarian, but from my experience (in a law firm) you are correct. You cannot go to any client with nothing; you have to come with a solution or a plan. Open ended conversations often end in tears for everybody. Phil M.

  3. Maria Nunes Says:

    Right! We need talk to people face to face, and our aproach must to show to researchers, teachers, etc. that best than to work to them is that we work with them!
    Thanks for sharing all the information of embedded librarianship. It’s very interesting and usefull for this time of economic crises!
    (I’m from Portugal)
    Best regards
    Maria Joao Nunes

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