Some of the most significant impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the information profession have been the consequences of remote working and limited access to physical collections. In early 2020, libraries and information centers had to make radical changes to their operations when buildings closed and offices became virtual. Not only did library managers suddenly have to address the challenge of providing remote access to digital resources, but they also lost face-to-face connections with their users. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) libraries are particularly vulnerable to “out of sight, out of mind,” as much of their content is in digital form, so their patrons are less likely to be coming into a physical library in the first place.

As information professionals address the challenges of living in an ongoing environment of uncertainty—and invisibility—a useful strategy is to take an entrepreneurial approach and see themselves as intrapreneurs within their organization. Info pros with an intrapreneurial mindset view their role as, in essence, running a small enterprise within a larger organization—always responding to competitive pressures, identifying users’ new information needs, and finding new ways to best meet those needs. Just as other professions and industries have had to develop new remote services, intrapreneurial info pros are finding new ways to support their organization and maintain their visibility while maintaining a virtual presence within the enterprise.

What Makes an Information Intrapreneur?

One definition of an entrepreneur is a person with the capacity and willingness to develop and manage a business venture and manage risks in order to make a profit. An information intrapreneur could be defined the same way, with the exception of the need to make a profit independent of the larger organization. This info intrapreneur develops and manages an information center and manages risks with the goal of addressing the most important information needs of the larger organization. Following is a look at each of those aspects of info intrapreneurship:

Developing an intrapreneurial information center

Building an agile library or information center assumes that the services and resources the users value now may not be the same as they needed a year ago or what they will need next year. An intrapreneurial library is organized around the key priorities of its stakeholders and prioritizes leveraging library resources for the highest value to its user base. Intrapreneurial library managers are always looking for new ways to partner and collaborate with their various user groups and seeking new opportunities to align their services with the most strategic initiatives of their organization. Often this means balancing conflicting interests and priorities while also eliminating services and resources that are no longer essential.

Managing an intrapreneurial staff

Cultivating a staff of info intrapreneurs calls for an attitude of agility and the willingness to regularly challenge assumptions. Intrapreneurial library managers identify the areas in which the library needs new skill sets to not only manage their information resources but derive new value from those resources—semantic enrichment, building APIs, project management, or text and data mining, for example. And they look for ways their staff can build their professional skills through “micro-degrees” and certificates from learning platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, edX, Coursera, or Library Carpentry. Intrapreneurial staff are encouraged to think proactively, take the initiative to make changes that better align the library with the organization’s strategic goals, and ask themselves “what would really improve this service?” They are proactively monitoring internal discussions, both in-person and on virtual channels, to identify new information needs and better understand the flow of information within the enterprise.

Managing risks as an intrapreneur

Above all, intrapreneurial library managers know how to live slightly outside their comfort zone. Within the context and constraints of their organization, they have learned how to assess risks, take reasonable chances, and become more comfortable with learning from failures as well as successes. They embody the entrepreneurial adage to “act fast, fail fast, and learn fast.” In practice, this often means identifying an opportunity or an unmet need, addressing it in the timeliest manner possible, monitoring the results continuously. If the results are not satisfactory, the intrapreneurial library manager evaluates what worked, what didn’t, and what could be done differently next time, without blame or recriminations.

Intrapreneurial library managers focus on outcomes as well as operations, regularly asking themselves what needs to be changed to effect better results. They look at their initiatives from their leader’s point of view; when they propose a new service or the acquisition of a new resource, they anticipate objections and provide the information to make it easy for leadership to approve the initiative. Similarly, intrapreneurial library managers know how to discern when a negative response is a real “no” and when it just means “I don’t know,” “not now” or “give me a reason to say yes.” By looking at the proposal from the perspective of upper management, they can advocate more effectively for the resources and support the information center requires.

Intrapreneurial librarians and info pros can thrive in today’s uncertain environment when they bring to the table the characteristics that drew them to this profession—creativity, an inquiring mind, and a passion for enabling better-informed decision.

Related Reading: Proving Your Value, Making the Case for Information Services


Author: Mary Ellen Bates

Mary Ellen Bates is the principal of Bates Information Services Inc., providing business insights to strategic decision makers and consulting services to the information industry. Mary Ellen worked for over a decade in corporate and government information centers before launching her business in 1991. She received her MLIS from the University of California Berkeley and is based near Boulder, Colorado.
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