Four Steps I Took That Transformed My Solo Corporate Library: Upon My Arrival, Management Handed Me the Keys to the New Information Research Center along with a Tacit Mandate to Work Some Magic

By Nielsen, Tom | Computers in Libraries, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Four Steps I Took That Transformed My Solo Corporate Library: Upon My Arrival, Management Handed Me the Keys to the New Information Research Center along with a Tacit Mandate to Work Some Magic


Nielsen, Tom, Computers in Libraries


Five years ago I was hired to organize and manage the Information Research Center (IRC) at Hazen and Sawyer, PC, an environmental engineering consulting firm in New York City. Prior to this. I had gained 3 years of experience in academic and government libraries, but had little understanding of how to manage a special library. In fact, my notions of good library practice were just forming, and here I was taking on the challenge of reversing several years of neglect to bring this company's library back to life.

Believe me, I put those notions to work pretty quickly, and although not everything went as planned, I got results. I managed to increase reference services and significantly expand staff members' access to information. Looking back, I realize that those notions were practical ideas that had made up my professional experience thus far, but together they became a valuable formula with which I was able to transform an isolated library into a thriving Web-accessible information center.

These are the steps that I used to transform my library, and that I'll describe in this article:

* Establish patterns of communication and service to users

* Get ahead of the curve

* Exceed expectations

* Deliver on promises

As information research supervisor, I am responsible for managing the IRC, maintaining the corporate archives, and providing information services to more than 500 employees in 14 offices from Detroit to Boca Raton, Fla. The IRC collection numbers 10,000 volumes and includes reference materials, standards, maps, government documents, and manufacturer catalogs that all support our work designing private and municipal water and wastewater treatment plants. Although I consider myself a solo librarian, I am grateful to have the help of a fill-time research assistant who helped make this transformation possible. Here's how it happened.

Establish Patterns of Communication and Service

The corporate library I took over 5 years ago had no professional manager, a DOS based library catalog, and almost nonexistent reference service. Consequently, library patrons didn't expect much. But management did. Upon my arrival they retired the name "library" and handed me the keys to the new "Information Research Center," along with a tacit mandate to work some magic. I quickly realized that I needed a tool with which I could reach IRC patrons and begin the process of earning their trust. At my last job, I had observed how patrons responded favorably to a monthly e-mail newsletter. And since I have a bachelor's degree in English, writing didn't intimidate me, so I decided to try a newsletter of my own.

The first issue of the IRC News was physically distributed to staff in the New York City office only, and it induced some grumbling about billable hours spent reading two pages about the IRC. However, the notion of communicating useful information wasn't challenged. Since then I've made the newsletter available on our intranet, expanded distribution to all offices, and shortened it to four or live concise paragraphs about changes in the IRC or Web searching tips. Each issue causes a spike in usage statistics, a sign that staff members feel comfortable asking for help because they sense that we are concerned about their needs.

Where patron trust really counts however, is in reference service. Patrons of the old "library" weren't used to getting straight answers to their questions, if they even bothered to ask. So for the new IRC I tried to be very responsive, training my assistant and myself to acknowledge patron questions, whether they came to us in person, by phone, or by e mail. And for in-depth research questions our default answer is to let the patrons know that we'll get back to them. With this obligation we make ourselves responsible for providing either answers to their questions or at least a referral to more information that they can investigate for themselves. …

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