Overcoming the Challenges of Solo Librarianship

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What’s in a Name? The Library vs. Knowledge Management Center

Smaller R&D companies are learning what their larger counterparts have known for years—the importance of hiring a ‘gatekeeper’ to manage library subscriptions, digital assets, and copyright compliance.  In a smaller company, this gatekeeper is often the sole library employee and may be referred to as an information professional, a librarian, or even a digital assets manager.  Regardless of the title, the challenges of working as a team of one remain the same.

First are the issues of time management and budgetary considerations.  How do you manage to accomplish all that needs to be done when you are a one-person shop?

Next, how do you market the library?  If this is a new function, does the company know that you’re on board and what services you offer?

And lastly, how do you take care of yourself and avoid professional isolation?  It’s much too easy to allow yourself to become so enmeshed in your work that you forget to eat lunch or stand up during the day.  Is there someone you can turn to during the workday when you need an additional point of view or a fresh set of eyes?

Jill Shuman, MS, ELS who has managed both large and small special libraries, offers the following tips for managing your time and your budget, marketing your services, and making sure you don’t burn out in the process!

Time Management

  • Accept that you cannot do it all yourself.
  • Break down larger tasks into smaller, doable ones and prioritize their completion.
  • Don’t schedule every available minute; leave yourself time to breathe.
  • Schedule meetings in 45-minute blocks; if you go over by a few minutes, you haven’t lost another full hour.
  • Use electronic calendaring and ‘to-do’ apps to keep yourself organized.
  • If you live in a community where there is a university program in library and information science, consider bringing in an intern to help you evaluate new tools or set up a database.
  • Delegate some of the ‘everyday’ tasks to an existing administrative assistant, who might find it enjoyable to do something different for a few hours a week.
  • Some small companies have contracts in place with staffing services, so speak with the recruiter or HR team as to how best retain the help you need. [Copyright Clearance Center’s Managed Knowledge Services could be an avenue to explore.]

Marketing

  • Seek opportunities to present library services and resources to users, with Lunch ‘N Learn formats or arranging ‘vendor days.’
  • Explore new channels for communicating with users, such as social networks (Yammer, What’sApp, or blog posts.)
  • Offer colleagues the opportunity to suggest new tools, databases, or subscriptions.
  • Promote the library with a weekly story on your organization’s intranet that features a fun fact or library resource.
  • Actively cultivate a team of library supporters among other colleagues within the company.  They can be charged with promoting your services to their teams, which will likely have a trickle-down effect.

Battling the Isolation

One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to stay connected both to your library peers and to others who can offer you specialized expertise, such as negotiating contracts or balancing your budget.

  • Attend professional meetings and on-line activities.
  • Sign up to be a professional mentor or mentee, depending on your experience and needs.
  • Keep an active LinkedIn profile; routinely seek out new connections, new groups, and post articles of interest.
  • Build a community of peers to whom you can reach out when questions arise.
  • Engage in activities and committees offered by your employer—this will give you the opportunity to informally interact with colleagues from different departments who can then help you with your day-to-day activities.

 

While the solo librarian does have special challenges, there are also unique advantages.  By virtue of your education and experience, you are already an expert in several aspects of running a library.  If you are intellectually curious, embrace technology, enjoy learning new tasks and working alongside non-library colleagues, you will likely have no trouble managing your time, marketing your services, and staying engaged as a team of one.

 

Keep Learning:

Jill Shuman

Author: Jill Shuman

Jill Shuman is a former Director of Product Engagement at Copyright Clearance Center and currently a CCC Consultant. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Tufts University School of Medicine, where she has taught courses in grant writing, searching biomedical literature and expository writing. Prior to her role at CCC, Jill headed up the corporate library and Knowledge Management Centers at Shire, and also served as a healthcare research analyst and an award-winning science journalist. She is active in SLA, HBA, and the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). In 2016, Jill was the recipient of AMWA’s lifetime achievement award for her success in teaching more than 40 classes, workshops, and seminars. When not at work, she can be found reading (on an e-reader to make the print bigger), looking for her glasses, or writing children’s mysteries that feature sick children as super sleuths.

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