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.

Being a teaching librarian – a few thoughts on organisation of teaching activities

Student asking questionThe spring term is coming to an end, and I am trying to tie up some loose ends and to reflect a little on what I have done this year.

One of the things I have been doing today is to look at a project that will happen this autumn. The university college in Sogn and Fjordane is going to be working on a very interesting project concerning the effect of the information literacy courses they give. I am very interested in this – it was the main subject for my master`s thesis a few years ago now. I am probably going to give a presentation at a seminar in Sogn and Fjordane in connection with this project, and I had a chat with one of the librarians in charge this morning. We have never met, but we had an interesting little chat on what the purpose of the project is, and on how we can learn from each other. I talked to her about organisation of teaching activities. She seemed very surprised when I said that we (at GUC) have one librarian in charge of teaching at all faculties. In Sogn and Fjordane (and probably many other places) they have liaison librarians who teach at their own department or faculty. Here, I am responsible for teaching on all faculties (but I do have great collegues who help me out a lot, specially with EndNote courses and follow-ups there). It may seem a little strange that I teach on all faculties, but actually this has worked well so far. It`s easier for me to have control over our teaching activities, and to make sure that our teaching models work for all faculties.

Of course, I do not have a deeper understanding of all subjects being taught at all faculties, and this has been the argument most often used against the kind of model that we have, and it is a fair point. Still, even if I only had teaching responsibilities on one faculty I couldn`t possibly have been an expert on all the subjects. If that is what we wanted and/or needed most, we would probably have to be replaced by subject specialists.

The way I see it there are more pros than cons in favour of “our model”. Pros include: having control and making it easier to tailor “cross-faculty” courses (we have a number of those), seeing the need for new teaching models and methods is easier when you see the whole board. Cons include: not being a subject specialist it is harder to tailor courses in e.g. structured literature searching because the academic disciplines have different demands.

I am thinking a lot about library-faculty collaboration these days, and one of the things that I am really happy about is that I have been able to be a part of the tutor groups for the bachelor`s theses in the nursing department, and that I have been able to team-teach with an excellent professor there this year. It has made it much easier for me to see the needs of the department. This fall I will do something of the same in another faculty. The experiences that I take with me from the nursing department may not be directly transferrable to the other faculty, but I think that I will be able to use much of what I have learned. I am not a subject specialist, but I don`t need to be, because I am team-teaching with the professor, and she is the subject specialist. Together, I hope that we`ll be able to give the students our perspectives and to share our experiences.

I don`t think there is a perfect model, and I certainly think that we have to “knead the dough” much more, but I really think that we`re onto something here. I am really looking forward to this autumn, and I can`t wait to hear more from other librarians who have different models. I hope they have lots of thoughts and experiences on the subject.

Liaison librarians?

Every once in a while we (the librarians at GUC) discuss if we should start a program of liaison librarians here. So far, we have always come to the conclusion that it just isn`t the right time or that it will be to much of a strain on the library staff to venture it.

Maybe now the time has come?

Many colleges and universities have liaison librarians, particularly in larger institutions, and their liaison programs and experiences vary greatly. Some have programs where the librarian is physically located at the faculty they serve and they are almost completely integrated both academically and socially at that faculty. Then there are those who simply act as a front line service to the staff at each faculty, answering questions on everything from acquisitions to information literacy course inquiries.

What kind of program we choose (if we choose to implement this kind of program at all) will effect all the librarians here and how we manage our workload. We are quite specialised at this point. There are some things we all know how to do, but mostly, there is one person who deals with a particular issue. The upside of this is that each librarian has real ownership to their tasks and a good overview of what is going on in his or her field of expertise. The downside is that we are not as well integrated in the academic processes at faculty level as we should wish, and of course we are in danger of relying to much on the people holding the positions, so whenever someone is ill or away we cannot always help the patrons as well as we should wish.

So, we want better contact with the faculty and to be better integrated in the courses and study programs there, but we want to keep a high level of specialization, too. We don`t want the librarians to be spread to thin (everyone doing everything) because we wouldn`t be able to keep our level of quality that way. So.. what to do? What program should we choose?

It will probably be something of a compromise here. Maybe we`ll start a liaison program and divide the faculties between us and then handle things like suggesting literature and helping staff with databases an so on. Whatever program we choose, I think I`ll be an interesting project.