Seven (serious) networking tips from The Machiavellian Librarian

Advice to broaden your library’s influence (and your own) – and an upcoming discussion at ALA conference

André J. NaultElsevier's new Learning Trends Series provides free digital volumes to support learning and development across the sciences. The first volume, Marketing the Academic Library, compiles relevant chapters from library information science books published by Chandos Publishing.

The Machiavellian LibrarianThis excerpt is from The Machiavellian Librarian: Winning Allies, Combating Budget Cuts, and influencing Stakeholders, by Melissa K. Aho and Erika Bennett. The chapter "Weasels and honey badgers: networking for librarians" is written by André J. Nault.

Success as a librarian depends largely on the work relationships one forms, both with colleagues and the people being served. This chapter reveals why networking and self-promotion is more critical than ever in today's e-learning environment, how to create and execute a networking and marketing plan, and finally, how to evaluate the success of your networking.

The Author

André J. Nault is Head of the Veterinary Medical Library and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Minnesota. He started his library career at UM in 2005 with a background in wildlife research and veterinary practice management. His research interests include leadership, politics in academia, and enneagrams, and he uses the honey badger as a role model.

Libraries don't often command much respect, do they? Modern libraries have created an information infrastructure so transparent that users don't really understand all the work done by library staff. The result is that they often don't value us the way they should. In the future, the idea of libraries as physical space might be vague or nonexistent. The way to avoid this is by better educating all our stakeholders, especially our deans, provosts, and presidents, about the role of modern librarians, our vision for the future, and how the management of information brings value to the academy.

The ability to network is critical in a social work environment, whether that's an academic library, a governmental library, a corporate library, or any other kind. This is because we are reliant on others to give us the opportunities and resources to do our jobs effectively. Librarians, however, are notoriously poor at networking and marketing themselves (Strand, 2012). Historically, those attracted to the field of librarianship did so because of their love of reading. However, to be a good librarian today requires not just great people skills, but exemplary networking, self-promotion, and marketing skills as well. If administrators are unclear about what we offer and what we do, why would we expect them to keep us around or protect us from the ax during financially difficult times?

[pullquote align="alignright"]Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change — Stephen Hawkins[/pullquote]

Part of the problem can sometimes exist in the organizational structure of libraries. In academia for example, the university librarian might report to a provost or someone similar, but other library staff typically do not have any reporting lines to school deans or others outside the libraries. Additionally, the major stakeholders in our work are rarely solicited with any regular frequency as part of our performance evaluations. By creating these reporting lines and protocols in annual performance evaluations, administrators would be more informed of the value librarians provide.

New roles provide new networking opportunities

As the work of librarians has changed due to increases online delivery of information, so have the number of face-to-face interactions with our users declined. As a result, successful networking will often entail stepping outside our usual library circles to be more visible to those who matter.

Raising your visibility and developing a reputation as a strategic ally happens from one-to-one meetings, but you can have a broader impact by demonstrating your willingness to perform non-traditional work (for a librarian) or being receptive to taking on emerging roles. This can bring librarians outside their natural comfort zone, and therein lies the challenge. Libraries and the work we do have changed rapidly with a changing information landscape, so are we willing to adapt to those changes as well—and if so, quickly enough to remain relevant? It is human nature to gravitate to those similar to ourselves. So how can we become part of the lifeblood of the schools or organizations we support, and in essence, be viewed as faculty or colleagues? The answer is to become involved with all the work that will make them see you as faculty or coworkers.

Here are some examples of things I have done:

Seven networking tips for the Machiavellian librarian

1. Weasel into all the departmental meetings you can.

Niccolò Machiavelli was a politician, philosopher and writer who lived in Florence during the Renaissance. He is known for his treatise The Prince, in which he described the tactics used by unscrupulous leaders to get ahead, leading to the term "Machiavellian." This is his portrait by Santi di Tito. (Source: Wikipedia)I'm always ready to articulate that "the more I know about the work going on in the department/schools, the better I can support you;" ditto for the curriculum review group. I sit by people I don't already know at all these meetings and introduce myself. When an issue is raised in these meetings where I think the libraries can assist them, I vocalize the idea.

2. Try to co-author posters, presentations and papers with faculty.

I've had success by inviting them to contribute to some of my research to offer the "faculty perspective," and schools encourage such outside collaborations. New tenure-track faculty might be especially receptive to co-authorships. Whenever possible, I publish articles in the journals read by faculty, not by the library community. I suggested a journal issue dedicated to veterinary information to the editor of the only journal dedicated to veterinary education, and now sit on their editorial board.

3. Instead of attending library association conferences, start attending those of our stakeholders.

I was the first librarian to attend the annual conference of the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges. Try to give talks or present posters at those conferences.

4. Look for local professional groups who could be strategic allies.

I joined the Continuing Education Committee for my state's veterinary medical association to integrate myself further into my outreach community.

5. Consider taking part in the social events of your stakeholders.

I attend such events orchestrated by the school I support as a liaison — welcoming returning students, commencement activities, happy hours, and research celebrations — any event where I can increase my visibility and have an opportunity to network. Sometimes I'm serving ice cream, supporting fund-raising for student events, or even buying Girl Scout cookies. I also park my vehicle in the same parking lot as faculty just to exchange morning and afternoon salutations.

6. Set up networking events for new faculty.

The University of Minnesota has a fund designed to pay for lunches with new faculty when library liaisons wish to network. Consider setting up something similar at your institution!

7. Pursue an adjunct appointment within the school you support the most.

Consider starting by asking for a copy of the school's guidelines for adjunct appointments so you can understand what the requirements are. Typically, these involve a minimum number of teaching or working hours. This single achievement significantly changed how I was viewed by faculty. The advantage librarians have is that they are already being salaried by the institution, and thus the appointment typically does not involve an increased cost for the school.

At ALA: 'Insights from the Machiavellian Librarian'

Elsevier will host a discussion with the contributing authors of The Machiavellian Librarian at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Las Vegas.

  • When: Sunday, June 29, at 2 pm PDT (5 pm EDT; 10 pm BST)
  • Where: Elsevier booth #0717, Exhibit Hall, Las Vegas Convention Center
  • Registration: Space is limited and pre-registered attendees will be given priority for seating. Please fill in the brief form to reserve your spot.
  • To participate on social media: Use the hashtag #alaac14

Megan Hodge, a Teaching and Learning Librarian at Virginia Commonwealth University, is author of the chapter "Prince or plebe? Success at all levels of the library hierarchy":

When one is a middle manager — someone who is not entirely on the front lines, but supervising without the authority to make changes at a system or institutional level — especially as a new professional with lots of enthusiasm and ideas, one can feel frustrated and stuck in a state of stasis. By learning how to leverage the power one does have effectively, as Niccolò Machiavelli did, one can lead from the middle to inspire subordinates, excel as an employee, and create change at the system/institutional level.

Laura Francabandera, Senior e-Learning Technology Coordinator for Credo Reference, is the author of the chapter "Mixed monarchies: expanding the library's sphere of influence to help student-athletes":

This chapter focuses on expanding library services outside of the library borders. It specifically focuses on reaching student-athletes at their point of need. This chapter reviews the current NCAA academic rules for collegiate athletic eligibility: the degree completion rate and the newer Academic Progress Rate. This chapter then discusses the specialized instructional needs of student-athletes, shows examples of what librarians are already doing to form a strategic partnership with their campus athletic academic center, and recommends a course of action through which the library can reach student-athletes.

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