Vol. 10 No. 7 July/August 2002
Building a Brand: Got Librarian? 
by Cynthia L. Shamel
MLS Principal Shamel Information Services
Table of Contents Previous Issues Subscribe Now! ITI Home
While stranded in the Nashville airport some months ago, I had the opportunity to examine a selection of books in the airport newsstands. I picked up one book entitled Harvard Business Review on Knowledge Management. The book belongs to a series "designed to bring today's managers and professionals the fundamental information they need to stay competitive in a fast-moving world." The table of contents reflects a collection of essays, focusing on the value and methods of knowledge management. None of the essayists were information professionals. The index made no mention of information professionals or librarians. I have since read the book, and the text makes no mention either. So, what does this tell us?

The Situation
This tells me that information professionals are not on the radar screen of Harvard Business Review as it relates to knowledge management. Therefore, HBR, one of the widest read and most prestigious management publications, will not put information professionals on the radar screen of their readers. Presumably those who read HBR publications could be in a position to hire an information professional.

Why do we not make ourselves known to these people? How can the Harvard Business Review write a book on knowledge management and not include the role of librarians? Who among us can reach the authors and publishers of such business books so that they carry our message to managers and decision-makers? These "managers and professionals" are not reading Information Outlook or Searcher. (Sorry, bq.) We need to do a better job of getting someone listening to our tune besides the choir.

The Business Literature

To verify these assertions, I took a closer look at the business literature and the academic programs that train business managers. I searched business periodicals such as Forbes, Inc., Business Week, and Fortune over the last 5 years for references to libraries and librarians. Of the 172 hits I looked at, only three or four indicated the value of librarians or library services. Most used library in unrelated ways such as "the 'preposterousness' of putting a restaurant next to the downtown library" or a pharmaceutical company's "drug library." Going back to 1993, a Forbes article entitled "Good-Bye Dewey Decimals" even predicted that "in lieu of librarians we will have programmers and database experts."

Why does the business literature not address the value of business librarians? According to Anne Mintz, librarian at Forbes, the role of an organization's librarian does not represent a story. Business magazines might publish stories on companies doing business in the information industry, but not on the information professional. Mintz notes that seat belts save lives, librarians add value, but asks, "Where's the story?," where's the "man bites dog"? If we had numbers or could quantify the value and give examples, then we might have a story. (This looks like another good reason to run those return on investment numbers.) Whatever the reason, the result is that those in a position to employ librarians are not reading much in their professional literature about a librarian's value; in fact, the literature may even discuss decreases in our value.

The MBA Programs

What about the business administrators' educational programs? Surely business students learn how to collaborate with information professionals for more effective business management? A search of indicates otherwise. Collegesource offers complete cover-to-cover, full-text searching of 20,199 college catalogs. Looking for any indication that a business degree might include an understanding of information management, I searched on synonyms for "information management" matched with synonyms for "business administration." I found only one somewhat relevant reference. The Leventhal School of Accounting offers ACCT 552 "Knowledge Management (3 credits): Managing knowledge using knowledge-based systems and contemporary knowledge management approaches [intranets] in order to enhance and facilitate decision making and manage accounting data and information in organizations." Information management or knowledge management in business schools means understanding technology, software, databases, and computers not librarians and libraries.

The Pharmaceutical Company

So, the business literature does not communicate the value of librarians and information management skills. The business schools do not teach the value of librarians and information managers along with the role of technology. It's a wonder any business today employs any librarians at all. Why DO some businesses have libraries while others do not? I don't think we can answer that question very authoritatively. According to a 1991 survey of managers at 154 companies, James Matarazzo reported in "Valuing Corporate Libraries, A Survey of Senior Managers" that there is little consensus about which library services bring the most value. So, even if the people in a company value information services, they can't say exactly why or how much. That, in a nutshell, may explain why many businesses do not have library services. The managers do not understand the value a librarian brings.

I have a sample to support this assertion. I interviewed the president of a pharmaceutical company which employs over 700 people. It has two drugs on the market, many more in the pipeline, and not one librarian. When I asked about his perception of librarians, the president explained that librarians are most useful to the scientists in research and development for alert services and literature searches. The marketing people do market research, identifying and purchasing market research reports as needed while occasionally sponsoring primary research. Yahoo! news alerts and Google searching provide much of the additional information needs. "I can enter a search and get back pages and pages of information." When asked why the company hadn't hired a librarian, he imagined that initially it was a fiscal concern. The company couldn't justify the head count. Since then, the employees have developed a culture of self-sufficiency, learning to locate the information they need on their own. People are empowered by computers so that they can find what they need quickly and easily. This president does not see a librarian in his company's near future. End of interview.

Perhaps as information professionals we bow and shake our heads at this company president's naïve understanding of information management, but this is reality. The library literature and the librarian's electronic discussion lists document this perception over and over.

The Image

The next question, then, relates to the images of librarians and information professionals. The perception of who we are and what we do is often based upon what public service library workers look like, what they say, and what they do. That is often all that nonlibrarians have to go on. Period. Library work is service work. Information professionals offer service. In Information and Library Manager 5(3) 1985, Esteve-Coll states, "The library is not an abstraction. It has an identity, an identity created by the staff contact with the users." The main product we offer is service, and the way we deliver that service determines how we are judged.

Jan Carlzon, CEO of Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), knew that even more than transportation, his airline delivered service. He also knew that the quality of service and the public's impression of the company depended upon the front-line SAS employees. In Moments of Truth, 1987, Carlzon said, "Last year, each of our 10 million customers came in contact with approximately five of our employees, and this contact lasted an average of 15 seconds each time. Thus, the company is 'created' in the minds of our customers 50 million times a year, 15 seconds at a time."

The same is true for library customers. Customers see library staff shelving books, checking books in and out, reading the paper, and occasionally chatting with a library customer. Customers hear library staff enforcing the rules: "You must sign up to use the Internet," "Please keep your voices down," or, "This is due back in 2 weeks or you will have to pay a fine." This tells people what "librarians" do. These impressions go back to the users' earliest experience in a library, perhaps to elementary school.

With these impressions in place, it can hardly surprise us that the general public does not see the value that an information professional could bring to sophisticated information management challenges. Margaret Slater sums it up in "Careers and the Occupational Image" found in The Marketing of Library and Information Services 2. According to a survey she conducted of 484 professional workers in industry and commerce, the negative image of actual librarians includes passivity, incompetence, bureaucratic tendencies, unworldliness, and insufficient education or subject knowledge for the job. On the credit side, real-life librarians were thought to possess service motivation, a sense of duty, and a desire to help other people.

So, our potential customers and employers find next to nothing in their own literature about who we are and what we do. The schools that train business managers and professionals have little to say about the role of a librarian or information professional in achieving corporate success. Those customers aware of librarians and library services find us motivated and well-intentioned, but incompetent and passive. Before getting into a discussion of what can and should be done to address this situation, we should take a look at current efforts.

Marketing as We Know It
Collectively, information professionals do not have a marketing plan. Segments of the information community do market, but without a comprehensive, industrywide plan. Library associations, suppliers, library schools, and individual librarians contribute to a mix of marketing efforts.


The two largest U.S. professional associations are the American Library Association (ALA) and the Special Libraries Association (SLA), including all their divisions. The messages from these associations are mixed. ALA's marketing efforts focus on the library itself. In 2001, ALA began the Campaign for American Libraries with the trademarked logo @your library. First in ALA's list of seven goals: "Increase awareness and support for libraries by increasing the visibility of libraries in a positive context and by communicating clearly and strongly why libraries are both unique and valuable." This is a very sophisticated program that includes branding and tools for individual library systems to participate in delivering prescribed messages in a consistent way. ALA has allotted $316,000 in 2001-2002, plus at least $100,000 a year thereafter for 5 years for the Campaign for America's Libraries.

SLA's message focuses much more on the value of the librarian, and SLA offers its members resources to support the delivery of that message. The Association mission statement, dated June 2000, is to "advance the leadership role of our members in putting knowledge to work for the benefit of decision-makers in corporations, government, the professions, and society; as well as to shape the destiny of our information and knowledge-based society." SLA educates its members on how to market their own services and includes plenty of resources on its Web site. The Association publishes an annual salary survey and offers video conferences along with its annual conference for continuing education. It also publishes Information Outlook, which contains instructive articles.

To clarify the value of a librarian, SLA created a description of competencies for special librarians. According to John Latham, SLA Librarian, the Association also uses its public relations function "to promote the profession wherever possible and to rebut misinformation." Some members have criticized SLA for putting too much emphasis on training the librarian to market library services, while not doing more to address the broader lack of understanding about what librarians do. As observation of ALA's Campaign for Libraries shows, this kind of effort is quite costly.

Vendors and Suppliers

Suppliers to the library community also offer librarians some of the tools needed to promote the value of library services. Information Today, Inc. offers a number of publications targeting the information industry. These publications include Searcher, Computers in Libraries, and a newsletter titled Marketing Library Services (MLS). MLS editor Kathy Dempsey brings together theory, ideas for action, and book reviews to assist librarians in marketing. [Editor's Note: See Kathy's article, "Visibility: Decloaking 'the Invisible Librarian,'" beginning on page 76 of this issue.]

LexisNexis offers a section on its Web site called LexisNexis InfoPro for Information Professionals []. The site includes a monthly column, weekly research tip, and newsletters. The Dialog Corporation offers training through its Quantum program. According to the Dialog Web site "Quantum gives you the power to lead change. You already know how powerful you are and how valuable the information you champion is. Quantum provides the training, tools, and support you need to make sure everyone else in your organization knows it, too." Factiva has assembled its InfoPro Alliance Portal with resources designed to provide information professionals with the practical tools, examples, and templates needed to develop the skills outlined in SLA's "Competencies for Special Librarians of the 21st Century." Resources stress identifying corporate information needs, creating a strategic plan, marketing the information center, training tools, and discussion of knowledge management from the information professional perspective. Factiva has taken an interesting, unifying tack by developing resources based upon SLA's Competencies document.

The Library Schools

If librarians are ultimately responsible for marketing librarians and library services, then the schools that prepare future librarians must offer the necessary training. Right? Well, not really. Carol Tenopir of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, School of Information Sciences, stated that library schools tend to emphasize the skills and knowledge that a librarian needs to do the job. "Schools do not focus on how to market to a constituency." [Editor's Note: See Carol's article, "Educating Tomorrow's Information Professionals Today," beginning on page 12 of this issue.]

About 10 years ago Blaise Cronin, dean of Indiana University's School of Library and Information Science, edited Marketing of Library and Information Services 2. I called to ask about how the IU curriculum handles marketing training. Dr. Cronin explained that there are no courses in the IU library program labeled marketing. He was unable to speak for each individual class and instructor, but believes that marketing is embedded in the curriculum as part of other courses. Cronin pointed out that professional attitudes in library schools and in the broader library community have changed since his book came out in 1992. The concept of marketing is more widely discussed and accepted professionally. This acceptance just has not found its way into most library schools' formal curricula. Regarding any effort to infuse the business schools with appreciation for the skills of an information manager, Cronin maintains that there is no substitute for the performance of individual librarians in the workplace.

The Librarians

Accepting the assertion that information management is a service-based business, then marketing by front-line personnel is consistent with service marketing theory. As librarians gain more and more experience with marketing, they have lessons to share with their colleagues. Through the library literature, electronic discussion lists, conferences, workshops, and seminars, librarians offer each other guidance, suggestions, case studies, and helpful tips on how to communicate value. The topics and approaches are as varied as the librarians themselves. To compile and characterize these offerings would be a project unto itself, however, they primarily seem to address what other people think about librarians, what librarians should think about themselves, and tactics to communicate value. Sample article titles on what librarians and others think: "We Aren't a Stereotype" (Library Journal, 2000); "Shattering Our Stereotype: Librarian's New Image" (Library Journal 1995); "The Librarian and the Crone Myth and Reality?" (School Library Journal 1991); "Careers and Occupational Image" (Journal of Information Science 1987).

When Business Week published a picture of a librarian with a bun, glasses on a chain, and sensible shoes in March 2002, the librarian discussion lists buzzed in outrage. "How can they perpetuate that stereotype?" As librarians struggle to shed their stereotypes, suggestions run from how to dress (more businesslike, more casual, more like your boss, more like your boss's boss); to how to act (more friendly, less rigid, more confident, less aloof); to what to do (seize the day, get out of your comfort zone, be part of the team, make money, save money).

Then come all the helpful tips on how to do these things. Look for role models and emulate them. Eugenie Prime and Lucy Lettis are wonderful examples of corporate librarians who have captured the attention of their corporate decision makers. Keep statistics and document the value of library services. Hand out bookmarks, make yourself indispensable to upper management, anticipate needs and fill them, offer added value, have an open house during National Library Week. The strategies and tactics librarians espouse in the library literature seem to have no end.

The Results

Is it working? Can we measure the impact of the marketing efforts coming from library associations, academic institutions, the information industry, and from within the library community? I don't think we really know how effective this work has been. I do know that there are still presidents of pharmaceutical companies out there who think that they do not need to hire a librarian. It is time to focus on the profession and the professional. A library without a librarian is nothing more than a document storage facility. With or without walls, librarians are masters of information retrieval, management, and delivery. Nobody does it better, and that's the message that current customers, prospective customers, and all humanity should hear.

The Marketing Plan
So what does marketing theory suggest? And how can the diverse community of information professionals effectively implement a coordinated marketing effort? We need a marketing plan.

The Marketing Plan: Mission Analysis

Basically, developing a marketing plan requires attention to mission analysis, market analysis, resources analysis, promotion, and evaluation. Mission analysis requires answers to questions such as these: "What business are we in?" "Who are the customers?" "Which needs are we trying to satisfy?" "Which segments do we want to focus on?" "Who are the main competitors?," "What advantages do we offer the target market?" "What are the objectives?" Each individual librarian or institution will come up with different answers to these questions. For the purposes of this discussion, consider the broader community of librarians or information managers.

Mission Analysis: The Business

Librarians are in the business of information management. Librarians serve as the intermediary between those who produce information and those who need or use it. Librarians evaluate, identify, acquire, organize, package, summarize, filter, and deliver information. Librarians manage information and deliver it in anticipation of a need or in response to a request. The product that librarians offer is ultimately service. How we offer or market that service can vary. It can even be packaged to represent a tangible product. Ultimately, however, we possess a unique skill set that prepares us to offer a unique service.

Mission Analysis: Competitors

Competitors are those who anticipate customer demands and satisfy them before the librarians do. Anyone the customer perceives can meet these needs, whether the customer is correct or not, is a competitor. The most formidable competitor is actually the customer or prospective customer.

For guidance, look at your own daily life, outside of the information management field. Think of all the services you like to use. In making a decision to purchase a service, one of your options is often to simply do it yourself. Do you hire a realtor or sell your house direct? Do you take an item to the dry cleaners or hand wash it? Do you hire an accountant to do your taxes or fill out the forms yourself? As Harry Beckwith says in Selling the Invisible, the "prospect faces three options: using your service, doing it themselves, or not doing it at all."

The main goal of our marketing effort is to convince the potential customer not only to "do it," but to enlist a librarian to participate.

Mission Analysis: Advantages of a Librarian

Librarians bring a number of advantages to the target market. As Barbara Quint has said, the librarian, in some respects, is a unique generalist within an organization or a community. In most environments, the librarian's perspective affords the opportunity to reach every segment of the community and to have a general understanding of the needs of the whole. The librarian offers information management skills based upon specialized training and experience that neither the competitors nor the individuals in the organization possess. These perspectives and skills give the librarian opportunities to serve the customers with efficiency and effectiveness, saving time and resources.

Mission Analysis: The Mission

The information manager's mission should be to serve as the primary conduit for transmission of information from wherever it exists to wherever it is needed. (Special thanks to marketing expert and spouse Blair Shamel for this wording.) The goal of an industry wide marketing plan should be to position librarians so that customers and prospective customers and employers see them as information managers and as the first choice for delivery of information services in order to increase employment opportunities and salaries.

Market Analysis

Market analysis is the next step in developing a marketing plan. What does the marketplace look like? What products do customers buy now and what products do they need? What are the trends in the information industry? Is the market segmented? If so, what are the segments?

Market Analysis: Market Research

There is still a lot to know about the marketplace for information services. Librarians are catching on to the concept of market research and analysis. More and more librarians strive to understand the needs of their particular market segments in order to better meet those needs. Remember that we will need separate market research efforts to understand the needs of prospective customers. Survey tools include focus groups, mail surveys, telephone surveys, and personal interviews. Librarians can, and probably should, use all these tools at one point or another. Beckwith, in Selling the Invisible, strongly recommends telephone surveys conducted by a third party. He says, "A basic principle in life applies to surveying clients: Even your best friends won't tell you, but they will talk behind your back." Listen. Try to understand not only what the market needs, but what it wants. Think of ways to satisfy the customer, rather than reasons why you cannot.

Market Analysis: Trends and Perceptions

For the information management industry as a whole, there is some indication that the growth area lies in special libraries. The Occupational Outlook Handbook notes, "Opportunities will be best for librarians outside traditional settings. Nontraditional library settings include information brokers, private corporations, and consulting firms." A November/December1997 article by Donna Dolan in ONLINE concurs, noting, "Most new jobs are at corporate libraries and information centers." Blaise Cronin also observed that public library use continues to grow, most likely as a result of Internet access.

Current customers perceive librarians as willing to help. They value the librarian's research skills and ability to filter and organize content for intranets and in other online environments. On the other hand, librarians have the image of being slow to change, bureaucratic, and somewhat controlling. The literature, the conference presentations, the electronic discussion lists, and personal experience all indicate that, in general, people do not know what librarians do and are capable of doing. Among customers and prospects, the general understanding of library services is hazy at best.

Market Analysis: Market Segmentation

For the purposes of this marketing plan, which seeks to position librarians so that customers and prospective customers and employers see them as information managers and as the first choice for delivery of information services, the market has two segments. First are the customers who currently receive professional information management services from a librarian, and second are those who don't.

Resource Analysis

Resource analysis represents the next step in developing a marketing plan. What do information managers have to offer the marketplace? What resources are available to implement this plan? Librarians possess core competencies in the collection, organization, and dissemination of information. The Competencies of Special Librarians for the 21st Century from SLA provides an outline for all librarians.

Besides a unique perspective on the organization and a unique set of skills, librarians offer a mix of products and services not otherwise available. The Internet, information technology, market research firms, and desktop computers all offer information of some sort. None of these offer the complete package a librarian brings. The product mix librarians offer includes professionally filtered, verified, summarized, and formatted information delivered in a timely, cost effective way to fulfill an anticipated or identified need.

Resources to implement the plan will have to come from the sources already doing marketing. A measure of refocusing and reallocation of resources will be required. This can be done easily enough once participants commit to the marketing plan.


Before outlining the strategies and tactics needed to deliver the marketing message, we must understand the barriers which might keep the customer from "buying in."

Barriers: The Stereotype

At a very early age, members of the public have the stereotypical image of the librarian ingrained in their consciousness. The image could be developed as early as preschool, depending upon the tone set by some unknown librarian in the children's room of the public library. The elementary school child in some states may not even see a librarian at school, so the impressions gained there might come from a volunteer or aide. No matter where it comes from a volunteer, a teacher's aide, or a certified school librarian there are plenty of opportunities in this environment to serve as a model for the bureaucratic, rule-enforcing, fine-imposing librarian.

In public and academic libraries, most customers do not see the demanding, information management responsibilities that occupy most librarians. They see the public service area and all the library personnel who work there. The behavior of each library staffer reflects upon the organization as a whole, including the librarian. There is no clear outward and visible sign of who's who, such as the doctor's white coat and stethoscope, or the foreman's white hardhat, as opposed to the laborers' yellow. So for some customers and potential customers, the stereotype lives on. (Please, please, please understand that the author knows well that hundreds of librarians do not fit this stereotype, but research and experience indicate that some do.)

Barriers: The Competition

Another barrier is the competition. Librarians should realize that their biggest competitor is the customer or the prospect. Children are taught from a very early age to "use the library," but the message to "use the librarian" is not delivered as strongly. Public and academic library customers often do not ask for help either. They may be embarrassed or not realize that the librarian is willing and able to help.

The information industry wants customers to believe that with the right tools, they actually CAN go it alone. Vendors and service providers offer no end of information solutions such as news feeds, user-friendly databases, and one-stop shopping for all the answers. What the vendor doesn't tell the customer relates to all the alternatives beyond the one the vendor is selling. A good information manager would know the full range of information alternatives and would carefully select the one which would best meet the customers' needs.

Barriers: Mixed Messages

Yet another barrier lies within the library community's own sphere of influence. As a profession, librarians lack a coordinated approach to marketing. Library associations, for instance, have differing goals with differing approaches to serving their constituency. Too often, librarians preach to the choir, sharing advice, strategies, and experiences only with one another. Library schools systematically fail to offer appropriate training to those who will ultimately be responsible for communicating who their graduates are and what they do.

Mission Analysis, Market Analysis, Resource Analysis: Summary

So, the goal of the industrywide marketing plan is to position librarians as the primary conduit for the transmission of information from wherever it exists to wherever it is needed. For example, consider lawyers and accountants. In general, people understand that for authoritative guidance about the law, they should contact a lawyer. For a professional audit or accounts management, they should contact an accountant. When people need authoritative information, they should think to call upon a librarian

This marketing plan differs from current efforts in that it addresses the profession more than the individual professional. Think along the lines of the "Got milk?"campaign, only this is "Got librarian?"In order to broaden and elevate the opportunities of the individual information professional, the information management profession needs its own unifying branding and identity.

Promotion: Strategies and Tactics

Given the situation as outlined here, what possible strategies and tactics can the library community implement that would address these issues in the third millennium? What strategies and tactics will address the situation of the long-standing stereotypical image? Some have said it is too ingrained, and we should just accept it and move on. Actually, the stereotype could serve as a symbol. Allstate has the good hands, Prudential has the rock, and librarians have the bun and the glasses down the nose. Beckwith in Selling the Invisible makes a case for acknowledging and building upon the popular perception. Imagine this: The business manager is lost in a sea of papers calling for answers. Enter, the librarian with the hair and the glasses to save the day. At least the viewer will understand who the hero is.

Barrier: The Stereotypical Image

Strategy: Teach librarians and library staff to project a professional image.

Sample tactics:

  • Sell library schools on the need to include meaningful marketing training in the core curriculum. The curriculum should teach every student how to develop a marketing plan.

  • Demonstrate the "I'm here to help you" role to children throughout their school years.

  • Include degree credentials in signature, signature file attachments, and on name badges.

  • Learn to speak authoritatively, avoiding qualifiers such as, "It seems to me...." and "I could be wrong, but...."

  • Network with other professionals in your organization

  • Adopt the generic title of information manager, with an unambiguous job title such as research analyst or director of information services

  • Realize that most customers believe that people who work in libraries are librarians, so train and empower all library workers to understand the importance of putting the customers needs first.
Barrier: The Customer Thinks He Can (Or Should Be Able to) Do It Himself

Strategy: Communicate the skills and value an information professional can offer.

Sample tactics:

  • Create or identify "a story" and write for publications the customers read, such as Fortune and Business Week.Be able to quantify and illustrate the value.

  • Develop relationships with thought leaders in business and in the customer's industry. Assist thought leaders in writing and speaking on behalf of the information professional (valuable thought leaders include Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Jack Welch, Tim Berners-Lee, Michael Porter).
Strategy: Team with vendors and suppliers to reach organizations which have no librarian.

Sample tactics:

  • Provide vendors with contact information for the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP). Customers can obtain professional information services without increasing headcount. AIIP already has referral services arranged through liaison with major vendors such as Dialog and Factiva.

  • Library associations develop and offer training materials to Dialog, LexisNexis, and other industry sales representatives to help them recommend librarians to customers who do not have one.

  • Develop workshops and presentations to offer at the potential customer's conferences and meetings.

  • Team with the American Management Association to develop information management workshops and seminars targeted to customers and prospects.

  • Develop advertising with vendor support to go into trade and professional publications of prospects.

Barrier: Library Associations Operate in Isolation from One Another, Each Employing Its Own Marketing Campaign

Strategy: Find ways for associations to communicate the common message the primary conduit for moving information from where it exists to where it is needed is the information professional.

Sample tactics:

  • Association boards adopt the message as policy.

  • Executive directors work the message into their speeches and presentations.

  • Association representatives proactively deliver the message in media interactions.
These examples illustrate the kinds of strategies and tactics that the library community as a whole can employ to market the professional services librarians offer. There is room for all of the standard promotional efforts familiar to librarians, including the bookmarks and the National Library Week Open House. The next step in the marketing plan is Evaluation. This should begin with the implementation of the first tactic, to prepare for adjustments needed for future efforts.

The Marketing Mission
Librarians have a unique and important role in the scheme of human endeavor. Take every opportunity and every means available to communicate that role. Employ the techniques of service marketing, exploit the stereotypes, and coordinate efforts. This can be done.
I Love It!!

My turn! My turn!

A darkened office late at night. Poor Soul, tie awry, hair mussed, staring hopelessly in a blind panic at a computer screen. Suddenly reality loses its control. Midget figures start roaring out of his computer from a Web search engine results sheet, tens, hundreds, thousands! They start marching around him, over him, taking over the office, drinking his coffee. Pandemonium!

Suddenly the door swings open. In strides InfoPRO, bun in place, looking down over her half-glasses at the Poor Soul, a smile of omniscient pity on her face. Then she turns and, eyebrow arching, flashes a glance at the frozen midget figures. Immediately the mass of them flee back into the computer. The remainder, down to a couple dozen now, stand docilely in two nice, straight lines. She marches up and down the line, then carefully reaches out and plucks one from the back and hands it to the Poor Soul. True love. Angelic choir. Ambient light all round.

The Librarian has saved the day again.

Well, that would work for the TV ads, but what about the single fixed image required by print ads? Hmm. Same backdrop. Same Poor Soul. InfoPRO has hand on his shoulder and reaches over to hit an icon marked Librarian's Choice. Light starts to pour from the machine and Poor Soul's face shows the dawn of discovery.

Motto: "Want to Know? Ask a Pro InfoPRO, that is!"

OK, Searcher readers. Your turn now. (Send ideas to and/or

The Name Problem

Job titles for information titles include librarian, information specialist, business information coordinator, cataloger, computer services manager, information officer, information coordinator, information consultant, knowledge manager, research analyst, technological information librarian, and Webmistress. No wonder we have an image problem.

Unfortunately, the simple and functional title of librarian serves the profession as a whole rather poorly in the third millennium. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, a librarian is "a person who is a specialist in library work." Does that describe what you do? People who understand and give advice on the law are called lawyers. People who understand and give advice on accounting are accountants. Can people who understand and give advice on information be informationers or informants? Probably not, but information manager is very descriptive of the information professional's skill set and works nicely as the broader term with librarian as a narrower term. Information manager has the benefit of the hierarchical term "manager," which puts this individual a rung up the organizational ladder. It can be used generically and need not replace descriptive job titles such as director of news research.

On the other side of the equation, librarians have patrons, customers, associates, and clients. If information managers work with "patrons," the term could strike a "patronizing" tone, as though they are being supported, championed, or protected as a cause, possibly in a condescending manner. A customer buys goods or services and an associate is a partner, ally, or friend. Ah, but a client is "the party for which professional services are rendered." Lawyers have clients, accountants have clients, and information mangers have clients. So, professional information managers work for and with clients.

Competencies of Special Librarians of the 21st Century

Professional Competencies

The Special Librarian...

1.1. has expert knowledge of the content of information resources, including the ability to critically evaluate and filter them.

Practical examples: Evaluates print, CD-ROM, and online versions of databases. Knows "the best" textbooks, journals, and electronic resources in specific areas such as biology, marketing, and accounting. Evaluates and selects key information resources, print and electronic, for a small research center. Sets up a desktop news wire service for a petrochemical company. Controls the oversupply of information by selecting what is relevant and usable for the customer. Uses strategic thinking to perform information selection and analysis that meets specific organizational goals.

1.2. has specialized subject knowledge appropriate to the business of the organization or client.

Practical examples: In addition to their master's degree in library and information studies, many special librarians have subject degrees at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Librarians frequently take additional courses in finance, management, or other subjects related to their host organization. The librarian monitors and scans the organization's area of business by reading core journals and other key sources. This enables the development of in-depth, subject specialty information services, including current awareness.

1.3. develops and manages convenient, accessible and cost-effective information services that are aligned with the strategic directions of the organization.

Practical examples: Develops a strategic plan linked to the business goals of the organization. Sets up effective management, supervision, and budget processes. Builds an effective information services staff team. Conducts intermediary searches for complex, difficult, or multifile searches. Obtains documents in print or electronic form. Builds a core in-house library collection. Analyzes and synthesizes information as required. Develops specialized thesauri and lists of indexing terms for databases.

1.4 provides excellent instruction and support for library and information service users.

Practical examples: Teaches Internet courses for employees. Develops specialized end-user searching courses on information resources related to current business goals. Keeps up-to-date with the latest training and instructional techniques. Provides troubleshooting service for employees who are accessing information services from the desktop. Provides online reference and assistance.

1.5. assesses information needs and designs and markets value-added information services and products to meet identified needs.

Practical examples: Conducts regular needs assessments using research tools such as questionnaires, focus groups, and key informant interviews. Reports the results to management and demonstrates the relationship between needs and the services provided. Identifies and meets information needs by becoming a member of project teams. Contributes unique or unusual needs assessment findings to the professional literature.

1.6. uses appropriate information technology to acquire, organize, and disseminate information.

Practical examples: Creates an online catalog of the library collection. Links catalog searching to a document delivery service. Works with the information management team to select appropriate software and hardware for desktop access to the library catalog and other databases. Provides a support service for electronic information service users. Keeps up-to-date with new electronic information products and modes of information delivery.

1.7. uses appropriate business and management approaches to communicate the importance of information services to senior management.

Practical examples: Develops a business plan for the library. Calculates a return on investment for the library and its services. Develops a marketing plan for the library. Conducts a benchmarking study. Reports to management on continuous quality improvement efforts. Demonstrates how library and information services add value to the organization. Acts as a resource for the organization on quality management, including ISO 9000 certification.

1.8. develops specialized information products for use inside or outside the organization or by individual clients.

Practical examples: Creates databases of in-house documents such as reports, technical manuals, or resource materials used for special projects. Creates searchable full-text document files. Makes available online technical manuals. Creates a home page on the World Wide Web for the organization. Links the home page to other sites of interest on the Internet. Participates in knowledge management activities that create, capture, exchange, use, and communicate the organization's intellectual capital.

1.9. evaluates the outcomes of information use and conducts research related to the solution of information management problems.

Practical examples: Gathers data related to needs assessment, program planning, and evaluation. Develops measures of frequency of use of services, customer satisfaction, and impact of information on organizational decision-making. Actively seeks opportunities for improvement and strives to be the best-in-class on key services such as current awareness, reference, and resource sharing. Participates in research projects.

1.10. continually improves information services in response to changing needs.

Practical examples: Monitors industry trends and disseminates information to key people in the organization or to individual clients. Refocuses information services on new business needs. Uses just-in-time document delivery to retain maximum flexibility. Monitors purchases of information products by departments to ensure that they are cost-effective and aligned with current business needs.

1.11. is an effective member of the senior management team and a consultant to the organization on information issues.

Practical examples: Participates in strategic planning in the organization. Participates in benchmarking and reengineering teams. Informs management on copyright issues and monitors compliance with copyright law. Negotiates contracts with database vendors. Obtains patent information. Develops information policies for the organization.

Personal Competencies

The Special Librarian...

2.1. is committed to service excellence.

Practical examples: Seeks out performance feedback and uses it for continuous improvement. Conducts regular user surveys. Asks library users if they found the information to be relevant and of value. Celebrates own success and that of others. Takes pride in a job well done. Shares new knowledge with others at conferences and in the professional literature. Uses the research knowledge base of special librarianship as a resource for improving services.

2.2. seeks out challenges and sees new opportunities both inside and outside the library.

Practical examples: Takes on new roles in the organization that require an information leader. Uses library-based knowledge and skills to solve a variety of information problems in a wide range of settings. Expands the library collection beyond traditional media such as books and journals. Creates the library without walls.

2.3. sees the big picture.

Practical examples: Recognizes that information-seeking and use are part of the creative process for individuals and organizations. Sees the library and its information services as part of the bigger process of making informed decisions. Gives the highest priority to urgent demands for information that are critical to the organization's competitive advantage. Monitors major business trends and world events. Anticipates trends and pro-actively realigns library and information services to take advantage of them.

2.4. looks for partnerships and alliances.

Practical examples: Seeks alliances with management information systems (MIS) professionals to optimize complementary knowledge and skills.

Provides leadership on the information management team. Forms partnerships with other libraries or information services inside or outside the organization to optimize resource sharing. Seeks alliances with database vendors and other information providers to improve products and services Seeks alliances with researchers in faculties of library and information studies to conduct relevant and practical studies.

2.5. creates an environment of mutual respect and trust.

Practical examples: Treats others with respect and expects to be treated with respect in return. Knows own strengths and the complementary strengths of others. Delivers on time and on target and expects others to do the same. Creates a problem-solving environment in which everyone's contribution is valued and acknowledged. Helps others to optimize their contribution.

2.6. has effective communications skills.

Practical examples: Listens first and then coaches staff and others to develop their own solutions. Supports and participates in mentorship programs and succession planning. Runs meetings effectively. Presents ideas clearly and enthusiastically. Writes clear and understandable text. Uses plain language. Requests feedback on communications skills and uses it for self-improvement.

2.7. works well with others in a team.

Practical examples: Learns about the wisdom of teams and seeks out opportunities for team participation. Takes on responsibility in teams both inside and outside the library. Mentors other team members. Asks for mentoring from others when it is needed. Constantly looks for ways to enhance personal performance and that of others through formal and informal learning opportunities.

2.8. provides leadership.

Practical examples: Learns about and cultivates the qualities of a good leader and knows when to exercise leadership. Can share leadership with others and allow others to take the leadership role. Exercises leadership within the library and as a member of other teams or units within the organization. Seeks opportunities for leadership in the profession. Acknowledges the contribution of all members of the team.

2.9. plans, prioritizes, and focuses on what is critical.

Practical examples: Recognizes that, in order to use resources most effectively, ongoing careful planning is required. Develops an approach to planning and time management that incorporates a balance of personal and professional goals. Reviews goals on a regular basis, prioritizes them, and makes sure that an appropriate proportion of daily activities are related to the most critical personal and professional goals. Mentors others to do the same.

2.10. is committed to lifelong learning and personal career planning.

Practical examples: Committed to a career that involves ongoing learning and knowledge development. Takes personal responsibility for long-term career planning and seeks opportunities for learning and enrichment. Advocates for a work environment that encourages and supports ongoing knowledge development and that values the contribution of people. Maintains a strong sense of self-worth based on the achievement of a balanced set of evolving personal and professional goals.

2.11. has personal business skills and creates new opportunities.

Practical examples: Recognizes that, in the changing world of work, entrepreneurship and the ability to function as a professional in a small business are essential skills. Seeks out opportunities to develop these skills. Willing to take employment in a variety of forms, including full-time, contract, and project work. Uses the entrepreneurial spirit in the organizational environment to revitalize products and services.

2.12. recognizes the value of professional networking and solidarity.

Practical examples: Active in SLA and other professional associations. Uses these opportunities to share knowledge and skills, to benchmark against other information service providers, and to form partnerships and alliances. Recognizes the need for a forum where information professionals can communicate with each other and speak with one voice on important information policy issues, such as copyright and the global information infrastructure.

2.13. is flexible and positive in a time of continuing change.

Practical examples: Willing to take on different responsibilities at different points in time and to respond to changing needs. Maintains a positive attitude and helps others to do the same. Never says it cannot be done. Looks for solutions. Helps others to develop their ideas by providing the right information. Always on the lookout for new ideas. Sees and uses technology as an enabler of new information ideas, products, and services.  Special Libraries Association

Learn the Customer's Language

To communicate the message we need a common vocabulary. If those within the profession use words consistently, usage could stretch beyond the profession, and that would help. Let's use "knowledge management" as an example of "uncommon" vocabulary. The HBR book on knowledge management refers to "making personal knowledge available to others." HBR also uses "knowledge management" as an index term in its online publications directory. The thesaurus of terms is proprietary, however, so the context for using that term is hidden.

Hugh McKellar of KMWorld passed along Melissie Clemmons Ruminzen's definition from the Complete Idiot's Guide to Knowledge Management as "the systematic processes by which knowledge needed for an organization to succeed is created, captured, shared and leveraged." Finally, we have Chun Wei Choo's explanation from Information Management for the Intelligent Organization. "In knowledge management, the overall objective is to design the organization's strategy, structure, processes, and systems so that the organization can use what it knows to create value for its customers and community."

The business community seems to consider knowledge management as a human resources effort to share tacit knowledge among co-workers. Librarians tend to take the broader view, as described by Choo. If we use the term knowledge management to describe what we do, potential clients may get a different picture than the one we intended. Knowledge management illustrates just one incidence of how a single term can have multiple meanings. When describing the role of information managers, it helps to use terms as our market uses them.

Cynthia L. Shamel's e-mail address is

Table of Contents Previous Issues Subscribe Now! ITI Home
© 2001