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The Librarian as a Trusted Advisor: New Skills and Mindsets for the 21st Century

Paul KAidy Barrows

Paul Kaidy Barrows

Paul Kaidy Barrows, Research Librarian at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said that although the title of this session as listed in the conference program used the term “consultant”, librarians are more like trusted advisors who develop strong professional and personal relationships with clients. They are transactors, problem solvers, consultants, and then trusted advisors. The consultant level is when someone keeps coming back to get an answer which results in deeper levels of interactions. A trusted advisor is on a peer level with the the requester.

Trusted Advisors

Whether you are new to the field or established in your career, radical adaptability is essential and requires a perpetual curiosity, asking questions, forming relationships, being a team member, the ability to speak up and influence decisions, and being a change leader. In this post-Google era, librarians need to understand the customer, not just the question, and build relationships, not merely complete transactions. So it is necessary to move from transaction-based services to those that are advisory, and from the information professional as a supporter or helper to a partner, consultant and trusted advisor.  The library staff must also be transformed and retrained, which may be difficult decisions.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Support the mission of the library and cast your transformation as an opportunity to further the success of your parent organization, not merely a means of self-preservation.
  • Commit to the future of the organization, your customers’ goals and motivations, the future of libraries and librarianship, and your own professional development (make sure you are “top talent”)
  • Make strategic decisions about who goes where. The goal is not necessarily to move everyone up.
  • Foster relationships.Foster Relationships
  • Know the difference between panic and curiosity.
  • Leave home: get out of your chair to meet customers where they are.
  • Meet and market to build universal awareness and good will.
  • Reach new employees, have some resources for all. Do presentations to key clients (executives).
  • Make sure employees know there is a library in the building!
  • A good question is not “how are you?” but “what are you working on?”.

Lessons learned

Lessons Learned


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