Sales techniques in libraries

sales-expert-skiltMy boss drew my attention to this articles in “In the library with a led pipe”(1) today: Liaisons as sales force: using sales techniques to engage academic library users.

The article is about how liaison librarians can use sales techniques to promote library services. The term “sales” often brings forward negative associations about pushy, aggressive people who just try to get you to spend money on things you don`t need. Still, if you try to rid yourself of these negative images, you can see that “selling is about helping people find solutions to their problems and challenges” (under heading “But liaisons don`t learn sales skills”).

The article lists four major elements of selling that can be used for liaison librarians:

  1. Selling is a positive and necessary part of a liaison librarian`s job: Meaning that we cannot just sit in our offices and think that the users will come to us. We need to promote our services to help our patrons. To sell something is to find out what they need and try to fill that need.
  2. Effective selling requires goal-focused interactions. This means that we have to have a goal for the conversation. Not something highly idealistic or “big”, but something pragmatic and simple, like “I want this patron to know we have access to a reference manager”.
  3. Enthusiasm for the library`s resources and services. I think this should probably have been number one on this list. We have to believe (!) in our services and their usefulness to our patrons. If you want a faculty member to book an information skills session, you have to believe that it will be useful to the students. I think this point cannot be emphasised enough.
  4. Ability to investigate the needs of the customer: meaning, we have to figure out what they really need. I think we could all probably be better at this. It`s not about what we think they should know, but what they themselves think they need.

The authors examine how to use a specific sales method, called SPIN Selling®, to promote library services. Well worth a read, too.

I`ll end here with a quote from the conclusion:

“By approaching every interaction with the mindset that it is a potential “selling” opportunity and dedicating time for effective preparation, liaison librarians can develop a skill-set that adds significant value to their user community by matching existing services, spaces, and collections with users in ways that enhance their success.” (Under heading “conclusions”)

Reference:

Solis, J. and King, N. (2017). Liaisons as sales force: using sales techniques to engage academic library users” [online] URL: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2017/liaisons/ (18.01.17)

(1) Note: “In the library with a led pipe” is a blog that I used to follow, but stopped because I was frustrated by all the great content there that I never had time to read:) Now, this peer-reviewed blog has become an open access, open peer-reviewed journal. I highly recommend having a look at it.

Idealist vs pragmatist?

TutoringI recently came across the book “College libraries and the student culture”, edited by Duke and Asher. Chapter two of this book asks the question: how do librarians look at students? Do we have a pragmatist or an idealist perspective?

The pragmatist view is described as looking at higher education first and formost as a road to a profession (to train workers for the society) and to enrich the society. The idealist (or “liberal-progressive”) view is  described as someone “who support […] that the university is about self-actualization and the creation and dissemination of ideas” (Thill 2012, p. 15). Thill (ibid.) argues that many librarians take easier to the idealist view of things, and therefore have trouble adopting to the increasing mass of students with the pragmatic view. According to a survey, 25 percent of students give “making a good salery after graduation” as their main reason for entering college. Another 58 percent state “career plans” or “desire to move ahead with their lives” as main reasons for getting a college education. Only 6 percent say that they entered college because they like to “learn for learning`s sake” (p. 16). These numbers do not surprise me at all. After all, how can we suppose that many students should have idealist reasons for entering college? It costs a lot of money and they have never done it before (and therefore cannot have an idea on how it can change them).

Thill (2012) writes about how we view the students effects the way we treat them. If we see the students as having the pragmatist view, the role of the librarian is one of a service-provider to a customer. If they have an idealist perspective, our role is an educator and guide. Some faculty with a pragmatic perspective found that librarians find it hard to just give the students what they need (“consierge-type information delivery” as one librarian dubbed it):

“All to often librarians give people more information than they actually need to be able to answer the questions that they have. And that`s frustrating because sometings people are simply looking for a small set of numbers or a specific source and librarians tend to offer much more than what they`re being asked” (p.25) said one faculty member. While others who were interviewed in the study said that a librarian apply these “time-saving” ideas (hand them the information “on a silver platter”(p.26)) actually undermine both the pragmatists and the idealists. So – I guess it`s a case of “damned if you do and damned if you don`t” here.

I think I am both a pragmatist and an idealist. I fully understand students who are tied to the college reward system (grades, degrees..). It is perfectly natural that they should have this view. I was one myself. That doesn`t mean that I think that all we should do is provide the students with the skills they would need in a profession here and now. If that was all we might as well just send them out into the profession with a mentor straight after high school. There are so many things that I have learned through my studies that have nothing to do with my profession, but that has had an impact on my work- and social life. Much of what I learned is probably tacit knowledge, but I know that I went through a maturing period – and something happened to the way that I see my own little role in the society, my profession and society itself. Call it a cultivation of the mind, or a formation of the self (I am always searching for a good English translation of the Norwegian word “danning”. Still haven`t found it..) – anyway, it was learning for learning`s sake, too.

The way I see it, sometimes I have to be a “concierge information delivery”-person; someone who just points to the right source, but most of the time I can be someone who asks the right questions to students. Student: “Is this a peer-reviewed article?” Me: “Here are the principles we talked about in class. Try to use the principles and explain to me why you think it is/is not peer-reviewed.What do you think?” The only way that I can serve both the teachers (who give assigments) and the students (who can often look for the “instant gratification” way out) is to balance my two views.

Bibliography:

Thrill, M. (2012) Pragmatism and Idealism in the Academic Library: An Analysis of Faculty and Librarian Expectations and Values In: Duke, L. M. and A. D. Asher (2012) College Libraries and Student Culture: What we now know. Chicago: American Library Association.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

Girl with appleI am looking into a few journal articles that I was recommended to read on faculty-library collaboration; a subject that has interested me greatly. I have recently written an article about it (in review process now), and when reading these articles I keep coming up against some of the same questions that these authors have asked: Why, when faculty clearly sees the importance of information skills (some studies shows that up to 97 percent of teachers view information skills as very important), are these skills so poorly integrated?

Some authors suggest that faculty find that students should learn information skills by “osmosis” (McGuiness 2006), something that they acquire naturally while being students, instead of skills that needs to be taught. This thought never even occurred to me before reading about it. Interestingly, as Bury (2011) noted, the percentage of faculty who believe that these skills are developed naturally, drops significantly the closer the faculty are to the students (ex. professors vs lecturers). So – I`ve always thought that the reason why information skills are not integrated into the subject contexts/syllabi/course descriptions is that teacher don`t know enough about it or that  they fail to see that it is something that students struggle with, but maybe it is simply a matter of different opinions on how these skills are acquired? I think I need to let this sink in a little..

To be fair, I am in daily contact with dedicated faculty staff that really want to see their students pick up on this and to help the students understand how to find their way through the academic writing jungle. I can respect that we have different opinions on how to do it – but I would really like to be let in on the discussion more.

As DaCosta (2010) wrote: “As with the previous research it was anticipated that  faculty would show a positive response to whether students should be information literate. It is a bit like global warming and energy efficiency: The majority of people feel that we should all do more to “save the planet” but not so many are willing to give up their cars to do so!” (p. 207).

I certainly hope that faculty is not offended by my little epiphany here, but I just had to write up my thoughts here before it all fades away.

 

Literature

Bury, S. (2011) Faculty attitudes, perceptions and experiences of information literacy: a study across multiple disciplines at York University, Canada. I: Journal of Information Literacy, 5(1), s. 45-64.

DaCosta, J. W. (2010) Is there an information literacy skills gap to be bridged? An examination of faculty perceptions and activities relating to information literacy in the United States and England. I: College & Research Libraries, 71(3), s. 203-222.

McGuinness, C. (2006) What faculty think–exploring the barriers to information literacy development in undergraduate education. I: The journal of academic librarianship, 32(6), s. 573-582.

Spring semester thoughts

Well, the undergraduate students at all three faculties have now handed in their theses and the library is almost completely deserted today. Many are cramming for their exams, but I think some are also taking a well-deserved break (Constitution day tomorrow and with Whit coming up this weekend we can enjoy a longer weekend). I am usually very, vey relieved when the bachelor`s theses have been handed in because the weeks leading up to the deadline tend to be crazy busy. Freaked out students everywhere. But this year it was different – still lots of students (and some were very stressed), but most of them were patiently waiting in line to be helped and many only needed a little help to get it right. We (=the library staff) have talked about it several times this spring: When will the tsunami hit this spring? It always comes.. but this year it really didn`t. I think there are several reasons: a.) we arranged group tutor sessions where we had up to seven groups at once in the computer lab (=great success: the students loved it and it saved us a lot of time) b.) some of the students that have been resource-intensive earlier years have had better support in their first and second years and some of their issues on writing might have been solved earlier c.) faculty staff have attended more seminars and we have been working closer together – and I think therefore that some of the students` problems have been solved with their academic supervisor instead of in the library

— and there are probably other reasons as well…

Now, the theses have not been marked yet, so I have no idea on whether it has been a good thing that the tsunami never hit this year or not, but I really do hope that the students are getting more self-reliant and better at academic writing.

I have been fortunate enough to have been a part of the goup of academic supervisors for the nursing students this year. I have been to all of their meetings and have been invited to say something about the progress (seen from the library`s point of view) and have been able to discuss ideas and give my opinions as well as hearing those of the supervisors. It has been really useful to me (and I hope that my input has been valuable to the supervisors as well, of course). I feel like I can get things done and in a much better way when I am integrated in their fellowship, and I hope that I`ll be able to continue this working relationship with them.

In a couple of months this years bachelor`s theses should be registered in our institutional archive (only dissertations marked A, B or C and where the authors have sign a publication agreement can be published..). Lots of interesting subjects, so go on – have a look🙂

Happy Constitution Day/ Whit weekend!