Recently I had cause to think about what it means to be charming – and I realized that everyone I know who fits that description possesses the same quality: they are all interested in others. Charm isn’t about being interesting, it’s about being interested. People like to be asked about themselves, about what is important to them, about what issues they are facing, and about what they are working on. Taking an interest in people isn’t just relevant for cocktail parties – it’s extremely relevant in the workplace, especially for librarians. They are tasked with preparing their end users to deliver results, share knowledge, develop professionally and achieve success. Doing so requires an understanding of user requirements, preferences, knowledge gaps and research related pain points – well beyond the reference interview.
Asking questions makes people feel vulnerable. And research has shown that people feel much more comfortable asking for help when they know a little about the person from whom they are seeking it. When I was working with a global nonprofit in the environmental sector, I was introduced to a great “visual matching platform” from IntroNetworks, which allows people within an organization to self-describe their expertise and interests, so that other employees can quickly and easily find them and get help (through a cool graphical interface). This goes well beyond the company directory, which might include basic information about practice areas, education, etc. – in large part because people have self-declared a willingness to pitch in, with the result that the comfort level of those in need of information or assistance increases dramatically.
Solo librarians (generally) work in smaller organizations with an employee population that allows direct contact with almost everyone. Proactively taking an interest in projects, challenges, and individual preferences around information consumption (and showing a willingness to pitch in) keeps up the personal connection that will bring end users to the library’s door. An attachment to the daily work of end users allows solo librarians to customize products and services that showcase the library even when there isn’t an intranet or a marketing/communications department that offers an obvious venue for library promotion. And a nice side benefit of multiple personal connections is that they result in advocacy, which might just lead to additional resources –perhaps even meaning that the solo librarian may be solo no more.
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