modest souls here at Searcher magazine don't like to
brag (didn't your mothers ever teach you it's not polite
to snicker?) but, in case you haven't noticed, you've
been getting your issues earlier in the month than in the past.
In fact, in some cases, we have managed to ship out issues so
much faster that some folks get them before the cover month
has even commenced. In honor of that accomplishment, let me
speak to you now as if the holiday season issue, the November/December
Searcher you hold in your hand, arrived on Halloween,
October 31st. In other words, before we start giving thanks
or getting gifts or saluting the season to be jolly, let's try
a little "Trick or Treat."
professionals are usually very benign personalities. Like any
service professionals, they make their living accommodating
the needs of others. Handling people and making them feel better
for the experience becomes a habit and an asset. A particular
combination of circumstances has traditionally made a nonthreatening,
supportive attitude critical to serving clients effectively.
For one thing, the information professional is a generalist
by training and the client may well be a specialist, or at least
need the expertise of a specialist. The generalist info pro
walks a delicate line in securing client confidence, while,
at the same time, not promising more than the pro can deliver.
As if this didn't make the job tough enough, the conduct of
the reference interview the start of every client-to-info-pro
encounter must push through the innate resistance of
every human being to admitting ignorance.
their mission, skilled info pros usually try to create a sense
of trust in the client for the commitment of the professional
to do their best, even more than producing a sense of inevitable
success. Above all, information professionals want clients to
come back and so they work hard to create a pleasant and obliging
image. And then there's the issue of learning to play well with
others, i.e., working effectively with colleagues and supervisors.
Here, too, one seeks a comfortable and pleasant status quo.
are times when "nice" won't work, when "pleasant" leads to failure,
when "benign" is malign. When those occasions arise, the information
professional must recognize them, reach way down into the depths
of their psyche, and, if necessary, turn into a mother (or son
of a mother) that could win "Best of Show" at the Westminster
Kennel Club's annual contest. Of course, when the judges and
the moment of judgment have passed, we all revert to our natural
canine lovableness; we become loyal, obedient, devoted, cuddly,
and we turn around three times before lying down.
seem to arise more these days than in the past. This may stem
partly from the changing role of the searcher. No longer does
the individual searcher spend their day doing searches for client
after client. While intermediated searching still occurs, more
and more professional searchers have become leaders and monitors
and "bookers" for communities of end-user searchers. The clients
do their own searching, but the info pros license proprietary
content, work out the interface technicalities with IT departments,
teach clients how to search effectively and critically, and
even monitor searcher success on behalf of the institution.
All these tasks can require a rougher, tougher approach than
the nurturing TLC of intermediated searching.
a license offers a case in point. Effective negotiators recognize
the essential combat underlying any negotiation. All too often,
I have found librarians going into negotiations having already
conceded a range of desirable terms in their own minds. Why?
Because they "knew" the vendor wouldn't concede these terms,
so they didn't want to look bad by bringing them up. It would
be unprofessional. The vendor would think they didn't know the
score. Wait a minute! Wait a minute! What's wrong with outlandish
requests? It can throw the opposition off stride, make them
fight against terms you never really expected to get, and therefore
lure them into a feeling of victory that may have them end up
giving you more than you could expect. Frankly, if your opposite
in a negotiation looks totally comfortable and just loves you
to death, those are pretty good signs that you're lousing up
the negotiation. Comfort should be the reward of a successful
outcome, not a precondition. My point is not that every negotiation
strategy should involve making the vendor sweat, but no strategy
planning should avoid that option just to "make nice." Unless
you plan to quit your current employer under an ethical cloud
and take a job with the vendor, you have no vested interest
in avoiding some unpleasantness.
When you deal
with the techies, the decision to go tough may arise again.
If you have a pet techie or a wonderful relationship with the
computer geeks in your institution, then keep them sweet. Shower
them with info that helps them do their jobs better. Make them
look good to their bosses. But if departmental relations are
not of the best and the only techie that will talk to you at
all apparently has purchased a hot-air balloon to insure that
he can always talk down when he speaks with you, then the time
may have come to take a harder line. Set up a surveillance to
identify when techies start buying content. Almost inevitably
techies will pay more attention to the quality of the software
than the quality of the content like deciding to drink
anything as long as it comes in a pretty glass. In fact, without
a broad awareness of client needs, much less the quality of
sources, the techies probably lack the background knowledge
to address quality issues. You make your move. Next thing they
know, the techies have to clear all content decisions through
you. And now, once again, you become nice, but from a position
of strength not so much nice as gracious.
As leader of
the end-user searcher community, you may even have to play hard
ball in dealing with clients. Monitoring client searching will
give you a feeling for what they're doing without you. Putting
feedback options throughout the interfaces will encourage end-user
searchers to pass searches off to you when they are unhappy
with their own results. Here you walk a delicate line. While
you do not want to acquire the image of "company fink" nor to
violate the librarian's ethic of client confidentiality, a duty
to your employer may require you to make sure that the searches
done by employees have enough reliability to support the decisions
made based on their results. Rather than playing "tattletale,"
you may go to problem searchers you have identified and work
out some training or offer to do searches for them. The problem
searchers may recognize the iron hand in the velvet glove, but,
if you can reach a successful outcome that protects both you
and your clients, then everyone's happy; if not, so then...a
glove comes off.
Oh, my heavens!
Here comes Santa Claus riding a turkey! Time for us to put aside
the ghoul costumes...but don't forget where you put yours. You
may need it.