If I were to create a word cloud that displayed what I heard most often during the SLA 2018 Annual Conference in mid-June, the word featured most prominently would be “leadership.” SLA president Roberto Sarmiento used it many times while introducing award winners and keynote speakers. It is, in fact, one of SLA’s official core values, and the organization has a Leadership and Management Division (which is the group that invited me to present on marketing).
“Librarian” would probably be the second-most-common word in the cloud, but not because this was a gathering of them. The buzz was about the opening keynote speaker, Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. Hayden was, at one point, CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system in Baltimore, where SLA took place, and she still resides in the city. And as the first female Librarian of Congress and the first one of color—along with being a Ph.D., a fearless leader, and a proponent of making the Library of Congress’ collections more accessible to the masses—she has been wildly popular in the industry. The excitement surrounding her appearance was almost as great as the glee of having Hillary Clinton speak at ALA last summer. Hayden is, by all accounts, a library rock star.
The phrase I saw in print most often was “Bmore,” the conference theme that played on Baltimore’s nickname. The positive theme encouraged attendees to not only learn at the event, but to constantly consider how they could use the lessons to improve themselves and their workplaces after the fact.
I arrived at the Baltimore Convention Center just in time for the opening session, where Sarmiento invited attendees to “feel at home,” SLA executive director Amy Lestition Burke appeared in a beehive-hairdo wig as a nod to the city’s “hon” culture, and David Golan from Lucidea (which sponsored Hayden’s appearance) talked briefly about empowering librarians to be leaders.
Sarmiento said, “Leaders don’t play it safe, and you shouldn’t either,” before recognizing winners of SLA’s Rising Star Awards and then bestowing the association’s highest honor, the John Cotton Dana Award, on Karen Kreizman Reczek of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In thanking SLA for her award, Reczek, who’s been a member for nearly 30 years, said SLA offers her “an unrivaled international network of colleagues I rely on all the time.”
Library Rock Star in the House
When it was nearly time for Hayden to speak, I could feel the excitement in the air. I thought maybe it was just me, since she sat at my table near the stage for a few minutes while she was “on deck” and awaiting her cue, but the standing ovation she got when she walked on stage proved otherwise.
The nation’s humble head librarian took the podium and thanked everyone. Then she admitted, “I’m an accidental librarian. I never said that before.” She told the story of how she got into the field (persistence was a major factor). Part of her popularity stems from the simple fact that she’s a degreed librarian; most in her position have not been. As she talked about the privilege, she quipped, “It is daunting seeing your name carved in marble.”
Hayden spoke a bit about the organization’s main charge: working for members of Congress and preserving their history. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) does the actual work of answering questions and providing the information that helps congressional representatives make their decisions. Hayden revealed that, internally, staffers refer to that CRS team as “special forces.”
“Congress has a real appreciation for information professionals because of the way they’ve been served by those special forces,” Hayden informed, adding that she points out to representatives that public libraries do the same for citizens all the time. She hopes that will help during budget hearings. She tied that back to the SLA audience, saying, “The common thread is service—whatever your public is.” Hayden believes that to strengthen the profession, it’s time to “connect all information professionals.”
Building Relationships, Even If You’re Shy
Later on Monday, June 11, I attended a session called Cementing Value: Building Relationships, in which four panelists shared their experiences in forming useful relationships with non-library members of their organizations (potential clients). In the interest of space, I’ll simply report some of their best tips:
- Send LinkedIn invitations as an easy way to get to know each other.
- Always thank IT folks for specific help they give you. Not many bother to, so they remember the few who do.
- Join corporate social groups, such as lunch-hour exercise classes, bowling teams, van pools, or charitable causes.
- If you reach out to busy people and they don’t reciprocate, be gentle and patient. They’re likely to reach back when they have a concrete need for your help.
- Pay attention to potential clients’ interests and needs. Speak up or send them info when you come across something you think they’d enjoy.
- Follow people on Twitter or Instagram. Look for non-work-related things you have in common. People don’t want to talk about work all the time, so find something you both like (running, cooking, etc.) and make a friendly connection over it.
I thought it somewhat unfortunate that professionals needed an educational session on this topic. But that need was proven not only by the full room, but also by an audience member asking, “How can you do this if you’re shy?” The speakers offered advice: Use email instead of talking face-to-face. Simply ask people questions about themselves; they’ll do most of the talking. Understand your introversion, and learn to challenge yourself. And “Keep doing it; it gets easier.”
Proving Your Value Numerically
I kicked off my Tuesday the way every info pro should: I went to hear super-consultant Mary Ellen Bates talk about ROI. She credited her retired colleague Anne Caputo with calling ROI “the holy grail of librarianship.” Given that every seat was taken and people still came in to sit on the floor and stand along the walls, it’s hard to disagree.
For an ROI session, Bates featured very little math, which the audience (myself included) seemed thankful for. She concentrated more on finding things to measure and ways to measure them. Bates advised us to ask ourselves why we are doing a project (not how) and to look at its impact (not function). It’s all about outcomes. Look at clients’ goals, determine the information they’ll need to meet those goals, and look for outcomes you’ll be able to measure. “Challenge yourself to find something to count that indicates outcome,” she urged. (If the number turns out not to be favorable, you don’t have to share it.)
The math Bates did get into was simple. First, you must figure out what your time is worth. She shared this standard formula:
Annual salary x 1.32 = fully loaded salary (benefits, overhead, etc.)
52 weeks - vacation = weeks worked x 40 hours/week = hours worked/year
Full salary ÷ total work hours = full hourly rate
You can calculate your own hourly rate and approximate that of your clients. Bates reported that Outsell, Inc. found that 1 hour of an info pro’s time saves his or her corporate client 9 or 10 hours. Knowing a client’s hourly value enables you to figure out how much money you save your organization by supporting clients’ research. For example: Say you’re supporting an engineer’s research, and his full hourly rate is $75. Your hour of work saved him 10 hours, so your support saved $750. If you research for that engineer once a week for 40 weeks, your value would be $30,000 per year—just for one client. (Find Bates’ slides at http://maryellenbates.org.)
Analyses for Effective Marketing
During the afternoon session Marketing As If Your Special Library Depends on It, Alisha Miles made many great points. A brief survey of attendees came to the same conclusion that I often hear: Most info centers and libraries have a strategic plan, but few have a marketing plan. To compile a marketing plan, she recommended conducting various analyses:
SWOT: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats
5C: company, customers, competitors, collaborators, climate
PEST: political, economic, social, technological
She went over the Four P’s of the marketing mix (product, price, place, promotion). As for communications, she advised, “Make sure to have an elevator speech ready, because chance encounters can happen any time.” This session was packed with a highly engaged crowd, suggesting awareness that jobs and info centers really do depend on marketing.
Foundations of True Marketing
In the final session slot of the conference, just before the Closing General Session, yours truly presented Learn Library Marketing Basics in an Hour! Given the timing, I was pleasantly surprised to have a very full room of engaged listeners. They began by taking a short quiz, matching oft-confused words with their definitions to understand the differences among public relations, promotion, marketing, and other terms.
I spent most of the hour explaining why the steps in the Cycle of True Marketing (bit.ly/CycleTrueMarketing) are vital and illustrating them with examples. I drove home the necessity of researching a target audience to learn how its members communicate before creating a marketing plan, writing messaging, or doing any actual promotion. One main takeaway was, “Never guess when you can ask.”
There were many other tangents and tactics I’d liked to have shared, but alas, an hour goes really quickly. Attendees were eager to take sample copies of MLS before going on their way, and I hope all of the info I provided will help them “Bmore” back at the office.