My friend Nina Exner (Research Data Librarian, VCU) has remained a valued BLINC member even after moving up to Richmond (CABAL country!). She uses an expression to summarize the nature of many professional talks and publications, including blog posts: “What we done good”. Certainly not a unique sentiment, including in the library world. But I always hear this phrase in Nina’s voice.

When we write or talk about our classes and research workshops, we are often in the “What we done good” mode. For example, most of the chapters in the excellent “Teaching Business Information Literacy” book take the form of lesson plans. Lesson plans are usually presented as a platonic ideal. No imperfections or real-world problems get mentioned. This is certainly true of my chapter, although it does at least suggest some possible divergent paths based on what happens in the class.

Today I would like to share a teaching story from Monday that was far from ideal. 

Toy train derailment. 
From Geoff Henson, https://www.flickr.com/photos/croydonclicker/ , CC license


Time: 10am
Location: library’s larger computer classroom

I led a 50-minute workshop for an international retailing class. For the main active learning, the students used Euromonitor Passport reports to suggest changes a U.S. retailer would have to make to enter a new country market. (It was similar to parts 2 and 3 of this class.) This workshop went well with no surprises. Pretty mellow, actually. 

This classroom. Note the instructors station in the middle background, and how close it is to the wall.
This classroom and its two big screens. Note the instructor’s station in the center background.

Prologue 2

Time: 2pm
Location: everywhere in the library

The power blipped. PCs restarted.

Main event

Time: 3:30pm
Location: back in the same classroom

The class is “Geography of Livable Cities”, taught by a friend of mine in the Geography Department. (She was in Los Angeles for a meeting this week; her graduate assistant represented her in class.) The professor asked for a data workshop to help these undergraduate and masters students identify and then download or map geo-coded data related to livability. 

My colleague Samantha Harlow, our Geography Librarian, and I team-taught the workshop. Two students connected via Zoom, while 18 attended in person. So a hybrid class. Our instructor workstation has a microphone but no camera. We shared the screen in Zoom throughout the class for those two online students.

Sam began class by asking each student to introduce themself and name their favorite city and why. A fun ice breaker.

Sam next had the students use a Google Jamboard to brainstorm a list of variables related to urban livability. The students came up with a great list. Sam then asked the students to cluster the variables by topic.

Jamboard -- student brainstorming on livability variables
Jamboard — student brainstorming on livability variables

Yes, our lesson plan largely followed the lesson plan in my book chapter, although entrepreneurship was not the focus. The data needs are very similar.

After asking the students to identify which of their data variables came from the Census, I led a short discussion of the origins and value of the decennial Census and American Community Survey. For the rest of the class, we explored getting data from data.census.gov, PolicyMap, and SimplyAnalytics. We also discussed the data in those products that doesn’t come from the Census.

The workshop went smoothly with lots of discussion of what I showed on my big screens, of personal explorations of those data tools, and speculations about making decisions concerning livability data.

At least, that was the platonic ideal. What really happened?


Remember that 2pm power blip?

Apparently the hardware that sends the instructor’s video to the two big screens had a fatal crash.

What really happened

Time: 3:30pm
Location: same classroom

From the start, we had no big screens.

Sam and immediately contacted campus IT.  Sam led the introductions as described above.

IT staff came quickly to try to fix the problem. Eventually they had to remove the failed hardware and install a replacement. To do this, the technicians had to work in front of and under the workstation. I could no longer access the keyboard, not even the mouse, since the cords are too short to move the keyboard out of the workstation’s keyboard-shelf.

So no screens and eventually, no instructor workstation access either.

Try leading a data workshop using SimplyAnalytics and PolicyMap like that! Yikes. Plus we still had the two students in Zoom. At one point during the tech repair work, the microphone stopped working. So all the two Zoom students had was my unchanging shared screen.

So how did we try to teach in this situation? 

Before I lost access to my keyboard, our department head Jenny Dale suggested to Sam via a chat message that everyone in the classroom get on Zoom. Then all 20 students could see my screen. Great idea! Sam instructed the class in how to get on our Zoom link (there were two in Canvas to choose from, another hassle). That helped a lot.

Well, until I lost access to the workstation.

So what did I do instead?

I was able to encourage the students to keep exploring the mapping tools and share verbally with the class when they discovered a useful trick. I roamed the room while doing this. Moving around frequently to different clusters of student computers, I was able to point out important aspects of data mapping, such as choosing the level of geography to map (example, block groups) and changing the choropleth classification method (ex. “local quantiles”) in order to tell different stories with the data.

That kind of interaction seemed to go well. It did help that the students seemed interested and motivated in the workshop from the start.

So, lessons learned? Hmm.

  • Don’t be afraid to laugh about the situation. These geography students understood and were sympathetic.
  • Even if we have a great lesson plan, sometimes we have to be flexible in our teaching styles and maybe our learning goals too. Yes, that can be stressful. Or maybe liberating. Might depends on the teacher and how that feel that day.
  • It does help to know the content well. Such knowledge could come from lots of prep work for the workshop, or just from experience from years of providing research instruction. But none of us are born with data skills so we shouldn’t feel guilty if we struggle sometimes.
  • Finally, keep a positive attitude about the research strategies and sources. Students will feed off of your positivity. Remember that much assessment of teaching by students is based on the teacher’s manner and friendliness. Students learn more with a smile.


The IT folks were very apologetic, by the way, but we replied that it wasn’t their fault and we appreciated their efforts. They fixed everything later that evening.

Alyson Vaaler (LinkedIn, email) is an Assistant Professor (through September, see below) and Business Librarian at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. She works with the management department in the business school, which encompasses entrepreneurial programs and centers on campus. Prior to Texas A&M, Alyson worked as a Circulation Supervisor at Eastern Illinois University.

She earned a B.A. in music history and literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Alyson also holds a M.M. in music history and literature, as well as a M.L.I.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Alyson’s previous blog post here was “Review of USASBE 2018: Librarians at the Largest Entrepreneurship Education Conference.”

Introduction: losing tenure at Texas A&M

First, I want to thank everyone who has reached out over the past year in response to the events happening at Texas A&M University libraries. I offered to write a blog post to give some context to the situation, as well as my own musings on the topic. A thank you to Steve as well for entertaining this idea on his blog.

During the past year, many of you may have heard about librarians at Texas A&M University losing tenure. This occurred as part of a university wide restructuring that started in October 2021 with the release of a report by MGT, a higher education consulting firm. The initial report suggested that current librarians should teach and have faculty status in a newly established Department of Library Science.  At the time, this seemed a laughable error on the part of MGT, clearly, they weren’t familiar with the differences between faculty that work in a school of library science and faculty librarians who work in a library.

Unfortunately, this report threw us into the spotlight and put librarians on a final list of recommendations that the university president released in December 2021, ironically titled “The Path Forward” .This report of recommendations included the following for the libraries:

“The University Libraries will be administratively modified to become a service unit to efficiently and effectively provide top quality service to the campus community. The leader of this administrative unit will be the University Librarian, which will replace the current Dean of Libraries, and will report directly to the Provost. As a service unit, the University Libraries will no longer serve as a tenure home for faculty. Tenured and tenure-track faculty currently in University Libraries will be accommodated in a new departmental home with a full-time appointment in the University Libraries service unit.”

The timing of this report just before Christmas made it hard to figure out exactly what was going on. My initial thought was “They took tenure away”, but the terms of the recommendation were fuzzy and it was unclear if this was going to happen or if they could even legally do such a thing. Also, what did they mean “accommodated in a new departmental home but with a full-time appointment”? What does that even mean?

The questions continued over the next several months. A working group was formed (WG14) to implement the president’s recommendation concerning the libraries. Every week, a library wide forum was held with library members on WG14 to give updates about the process. These forums can only be summarized as being demoralizing, confusing, and just downright depressing.

In the end, two choices were given to faculty librarians:

1). Retain tenure but find a new academic department with the understanding that you are permanently leaving your position in the library. You could work on library projects in a transitory role, but your main duties would shift to a new academic department, teaching included. The library would eventually fill your position in the library. This was quite different from the initial recommendation.

2.) Sign away tenure and become a staff librarian, with titles that loosely correlated to faculty titles (Assistant Librarian, Associate Librarian, etc.) 

All decisions had to be made by May 15th.

Impossible decisions for library faculty

I can only describe this process as collective trauma. It seems the library was just breaking out of everything that happened with COVID-19 and then these reports dropped. Even though the recommendation pertained to faculty, everyone in the library felt the effects of this process. Current staff were worried about their job security and environment. Faculty librarians were wrestling with an impossible decision: give up something that they had worked years to achieve (tenure) or pivot their career completely and start in a new direction in academia. Also, if one did go into a new academic department, how would they be evaluated? Would they be able to attain tenure if they hadn’t already? What kinds of teaching or research would they be expected to do?

The process of going into an academic department for a library faculty member was messy and unpredictable. You were expected to make your own connections and be able to negotiate your terms. Librarians could choose to have the library Associate Dean of Faculty Services in attendance at any department meetings, but I heard varying positive and negative stories about how these departmental meetings went. Departments had different ideas about how to handle this unique situation and what the expectations of librarians would be. There was no large-scale guidance about how department heads were supposed to handle the process and it led to some librarians having good experiences and some librarians having bad experiences. The lack of process or any overarching guidelines led to inequity in how librarians were connecting with departments. It came down to your connections and how fast you could work them.  The subject librarians had an advantage in that they were naturally aligned with departments, but there were many (myself included) who did not end up going into other departments for various reasons. For a decision that could potentially change your career, the process was incredibly rushed.

What do I value the most?

This whole experience forced me to ask some hard introspective questions about my career and librarianship in general. I asked myself “Why do I value being faculty and how important/not important is having tenure to me and my career?”.

This was big. When I started at Texas A&M, I was told the library had some of the hardest requirements to attaining tenure in the field of librarianship. Basically, if you got tenure as a librarian at Texas A&M, it was widely respected, and you could go on to work anywhere.

In the fall, amidst all the discussions about changes with faculty librarians, I prepared my tenure dossier and completed my candidate presentation to the library. This all went over well, so I was very close to getting tenure. It would have taken effect next month (September 2022).

It was hard to think about giving up something that I didn’t even get a chance to revel in. What if I gave up faculty status and my job wasn’t perceived to be as valuable to the job market (should I ever want to leave the institution)?

I decided what I was being asked to give up was not worth it to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I value my faculty status. I enjoy the perceived status that it gives me, schedule flexibility that it affords, and ability to do research as a part of my job. I also would have enjoyed the 9-month contract for ease of collaborating on grants and summers home with my kids. However, I realized that the main function of my job, being a librarian, does not depend on my faculty status. I wasn’t just deciding if I wanted to be faculty or not, I was deciding if I wanted to be a librarian or not.

Being a librarian is the only career I’ve ever worked in. Part of me was terrified to even consider another career, even one that is closely related. There was a brief period where I thought I could transfer some elements of librarianship into a new departmental role, but it was clear that assimilating into a new academic department would bring new expectations and job responsibilities that would make this impossible, at least on the scale I was considering.

I realized that faculty, programs, and students didn’t care if I was faculty or not — they cared that I could help them with their research projects and help them use library resources. Hard stop. My job-worth is based more on what I can help people with and less on what title I am given or what status I have on campus. If keeping faculty status meant giving up the only career I had ever been in, I wasn’t ready to make that jump.

Given this soapbox, however, I do have to say that faculty status and/or tenure for librarians is incredibly important. It ensures for librarians that they have academic freedom (both in their work and research), intellectual property protections, representation on campus bodies (i.e., faculty senate), and the ability to serve as PIs and Co-PIs on research projects with other faculty members. I hadn’t thought about most of this prior to this reorganization. I think faculty status puts librarians in a better place to advocate for themselves and the profession. I also think it moves the profession forward because you have people who are hungry to come up with new, innovative ideas and talk about them to enhance their dossier.

I also think NOT being faculty makes people vulnerable. Staff are a lot easier to cut and reorganize than faculty. There’s a certain protection in having faculty status. My colleagues have done a fantastic job and a lot of work advocating on our part to ensure we retain academic freedom in our jobs, are able to be a part of grant proposals, and maintain representation on faculty senate. This is no small feat and involved writing memos to modify standard administrative procedures (SAPS) and policies at the university level. Much of this work is ongoing and being routed through the proper channels. I fully recognize that faculty and/or tenure status isn’t a given in our profession, which makes it that much more fragile.

I am having to do a major mental shift personally in letting go of my faculty status. I also think I’m going to struggle with my new staff identity moving forward and feeling like I’m “not enough”.

Where do we go from here?

The situation is strained, there’s no other way to put it. There has been a flood of retirements and people leaving for other job opportunities. We have lost a lot of talent and a lot of institutional knowledge. It is sad to see it happen and to see so many colleagues leave at once. It’s disorientating and makes me feel lost. I truly don’t know what the library will look like going forward.

I know that I am here for the long haul though and there are several people who are tied here due to family, kids, or other life commitments. Let’s face it, it isn’t easy to pick up, move and start over. But in a way, that exactly what we’re doing. We must completely change our processes for hiring, promotion, evaluation, bylaws, etc. All these things were done through a faculty lens, and we must change them to fit into established university staff processes.

There’s also the issue of having so many open positions at one time. In total, 22 faculty librarians are leaving to go into other academic departments. However, we also had a hiring freeze while all of this was playing out. So combined with the positions that went unfilled, the newly vacant positions, as well as recent retirements and people leaving for other opportunities, there are many vacancies that need to be filled and “orphan” duties that need to be done in the meantime.

I’m worried. Worried that people won’t want to work here after everything that has happened. Worried about how our jobs will be perceived. Worried about how my job will be assessed and evaluated and if I need to do things differently or what new job duties I might get saddled with. 

If this all sounds bleak, it is. But I’m also hopeful. I think at this point I don’t have another option than to try and stay positive (Also, full disclosure, money came through on this reorganization. All librarians received an extra month pay added to our salaries because we went from an 11-month contracts to a 12-month contract. The library also honored the promotional raise I would have been given if I had been granted tenure. For the time being, the library is also maintaining $3,000 of travel funds per librarian, which is a good thing. It certainly doesn’t make up for the last year, but it helps.)

One of the things that I am excited about is changing our procedures and some of our shared governance organization within the library. Previously, we had a mess of committees, working groups, and task forces that sprouted up all over the place and were difficult to wrangle. I am part of a task force that is looking critically at committee work and how things can be streamlined and made more efficient. When would you ever get a chance to do something like this in an organization?

I’m also excited about a new hiring process. Our previous faculty hiring process (like many other academic departments on campus) was cumbersome and took a long time from start to finish. Hiring staff means that we can hire more efficiently and focus more on smarter recruitment and inclusiveness in our searches. This was a much-needed overhaul, and I am hopeful it results in quality candidates for our organization. I also see some leadership opportunities opening within the organization and our Dean (soon to be University Librarian) has made a commitment to transparency for the library and its employees. There’s a big push to take care of the people in the library right now and I value this people-first mentality that wasn’t always apparent in the past.

Overall, this is not something that I ever planned on encountering when I worked here. I thought that Texas A&M University was so big and had so much money that the job was secure. I never imagined this happening here. But we are not the first ones this has happened to and probably won’t be the last. The way that it happened was particularly messy, but there is a trend to phase out faculty librarians at universities.

Obviously, I would have preferred if we all could have been “grandfathered” into this new structure by allowing us to live out our faculty lives while starting the new staff structure with new hires, but I realize there are inherent difficulties in that set up as well. We are also not the only place on campus feeling discouraged by this administration. Recently, the faculty senate passed a resolution (really a warning) stating that shared governance is not functioning the way that is should at the university and that faculty are open to taking additional measures if the relationship with administration doesn’t change.

Do you have any related experiences?

It’s emotionally hard to get wrapped up in these things after everything that has happened, but I also think it’s important to know what is going on around campus. I’m really interested in having a larger scale conversation with others about these topics. I think these things happen under the radar and aren’t talked about enough, for fear of retribution.

I would love to know:

  • Have you ever been involved in a campus wide reorganization or library wide reorganization. What happened? How did it make you feel? How did you move forward?
  • Why are faculty/staff so often at odds with administration? What is it about these silos that invite disagreement or miscommunication?
  • Is faculty status important to you or was it something that factored into your job search? Specifically, I find with business faculty that they absolutely do not care if I’m faculty or not. There are many instructors over at the business school who come from industry, so they are not caught up in academia titles or statuses. Is that universal?

Interested to hear some thoughts on this!

Thanks for giving me some space to chat. I don’t think this is the end and I truly hope we’ve reached the bottom. Hopefully the next year will give us some time to process and plan for what’s to come.  

Two weekends ago, the Special Library Association finally got to meet in person in Charlotte, North Carolina for its annual conference. It was my first in-person SLA, and I hadn’t hung out in downtown Charlotte for many years. So a double-treat. As with all conferences since the pandemic shut-down, attendance was lighter than normal. One outcome was easier safe-distancing in the convention center. 

SLA 2022 ballroom during a keynote
SLA 2022 ballroom during a keynote

I continue to find SLA very welcoming and friendly. Betty Garrison from Elon University told me the same thing after we did our program. SLA is also really good for networking. It’s fun meeting lots of information professionals who don’t work in academic or public libraries, and many people from beyond the United States.

SLA 2022 branding
SLA 2022 branding

The last program I attended on the final full day ended up being the one I took the most notes about.  Here is a short summary.

“So you want to be a STEM librarian without a STEM background?”

Abstract: “Starting out in STEM as an information professional can be daunting, especially if you don’t have a background in STEM. How do you answer a question from an engineer when you don’t even understand the question itself? How do you become a trusted resource to STEM professionals? Come learn tips and tricks on tackling a new subject area, delivering quality information and value, and battling imposter syndrome from a group of panelists across STEM disciplines who navigate STEM librarianship with their info pro skills for institutional success.”

Business liaisons, do these questions resonate with you regarding your own experience? 

I bet it does. We have so many discussions like this from our own perspective. (But there is a question that business liaisons often ask that was NOT discussed by the STEM librarians in this panel. I’ll write about that at the end of the post.)

Therefore I was really looking forward to these STEM perspectives. The panel had big attendance. STEM librarians seem to be very active in SLA and enjoy a strong community. 

The panelists included:

Sara R. Tompson, MS
DVI Aviation

Jamie Hullinger, MLIS
Corporate Research Librarian
Zimmer Biomet

Darra Ballance, MLIS
Assistant Professor
Robert B. Greenblatt, MD Library
Augusta University

The moderator was:

Kelly Bunting, MLIS, MA
Senior Research & Content Management Librarian
Analog Devices Inc

Here is my summary of the recommendations from the panel:

#1 thing: We all have universal librarian skills that your organization always needs. A great foundation for working in STEM.

#2: Engage with your customers, and don’t be shy about asking for help with the concepts and terminology.

#3: Show off your customer service mentality. That skill is highly desired by clients. Jamie emphasized this. She began her career as a youth services librarian before becoming the solo librarian for her large, global medical device manufacturer. (Any kind of librarian career move is possible!)

Other recommendations:

  • Attend lectures provided by your scientists and engineers.
  • Make friends with scientists and engineers. Go out to lunch with them and ask about their research.
  • Read the trade journals.
  • Review STEM books for Library Journal.
  • Attend SLA conferences and seek out continuing education (CE).
  • Take courses in copyright law.
  • Attend STEM conferences — and speak there! (More below on this)
  • Network with STEM librarians. 
  • Talk to STEM vendors. They can be very helpful.
  • Use an industry/technical dictionary. If you can get past the new vocabulary, you will have much less stress.

On speaking at STEM conferences, the panelists noted that there is much need and demand for scientists and engineers to learn about trends in scholarly communication. Example, “What is a DOI and why does it matter?”; “What is open access?”; “What is a predatory journal?”; “What about those impact factors?” STEM librarians have been welcomed and valued at the STEM conferences. (Also true of entrepreneurship librarians attending entrepreneurship education conferences, as I’ve blogged about many times.)

So — the question business librarians regularly ask that the STEM librarians did not bring up: should I earn a second master’s degree?

We often debate if it would be useful and worth the effort to earn an MBA degree after getting a business librarian position. (Some advocate that a masters in accounting or finance would be more useful, being more technical, although some MBA programs allow a concentration in finance or data analytics.) Why didn’t the STEM librarians talk about a second degree?

As a proud owner of a medieval studies undergraduate degree, I think a masters in science would be much harder to earn than an MBA. Yikes for the required math skills! I wish I had asked the panelists about this. 

Downtown Charlotte with the convention center in the lower right
Downtown Charlotte with the convention center in the lower right

In June 2022, Betty Garrison (Elon University) and I asked early-career librarians to tell us what they think about library professional associations. We presented our findings at SLA 2022 on July 31, but had also promised the respondents a publicly-shared summary. Here it is, with minimal editorializing.


Two years ago, we conducted a formal study on the attitudes of business librarians regarding their professional associations. Why? In our careers, Betty and I have greatly benefited from our involvement with library organizations and want them to continue to be useful for younger librarians. (More from a 2020 post.)

The Journal of Business and Finance Librarianship published our paper. There is also an open access version.

As a 2022 follow-up, we wanted to focus on early-career librarians, and wanted to learn how the pandemic might have changed their needs and attitudes toward organizations.

The SLA 2022 annual conference accepted our proposal to lead a discussion-centered program with the the title “Our professional and personal needs are changing: How should our professional organizations respond to support us — and retain us as members?: a brainstorming discussion.” That gave us a deadline for this survey, since we would began the program with a summary of our findings. The discussion was very interesting! Since many SLA leaders attended, the points were often SLA-centered. Therefore we aren’t including a discussion summary here. But here are the survey results.

Four breakout discussion groups at the program at SLA 2022
Four breakout discussion groups at the program at SLA 2022

June 2022 survey

Via SLA Connect, ALA Connect, BUSLIB, BRASS, NCLA, & the New Business Librarians Group, we invited librarians with five years of experience or less to respond to four open-ended questions. 89 such librarians responded within a few days — more responses than we expected! Many librarians offered to be interviewed on this topic. We might take them up on that this fall, we’ll see.

The questions:

  1. What are 3 things you would expect your membership in a professional association to provide?
  2. If you have been a member of an association, what are you not getting (or didn’t get) out of your membership?
  3. How have your professional needs changed since the COVID pandemic began?
  4. Do you have any other thoughts regarding professional associations?

Short summary of findings

  1. What associations should provide:

    Networking (63 out of 89 respondents);
    Professional development (46);
    Mentoring (33);
    Career leads/job hunting support (18).

  2. What are they not getting?

    Networking & mentoring;
    Welcoming, attention & 1-on-1 guidance as new members;
    Free professional development after paying membership fees.

  3. Changes since the pandemic?

    Online professional development opportunities are great;
    For networking, online is not great;
    Work from home & hybrid options are popular.

    [Actually, many of our respondents began their careers in the pandemic. We could have worded this question better.]

  4. Other thoughts:

    The high cost of membership is a big concern; also the high cost of travel;
    More focused organizations (by subject or niche) are more useful;
    Communication channels like listservs remain important.

Finally, many of the respondents asserted that their associations were very important to them, and that associations will remain vital as long as they get more affordable and more responsive to early-career librarians.

Details and quotes

1. What are three things you would expect your membership in a professional associate to provide?

Besides the top four things listed above, these four were also popular:

  • Discounts on conferences and classes
  • Conferences to attend and opportunities to speak (and publish)
  • Advocacy for librarians and libraries
  • Leadership opportunities

Since we didn’t prejudice answers by asking the respondents to choose from a list we provided, Betty and I coded the responses a bit. For example, we considered an answer like “opportunities to meet more librarians and share ideas and experiences” as a vote for “networking”.

2. If you have been a member of an association, what are you not getting (or didn’t get) out of your association?

Here are some themes (bolded) and illustrative quotes.

Mentoring and networking opportunities:

“It’s more difficult to meet other professionals in a virtual environment”

“I do not see as many opportunities to network outside of conference settings.”

“It’s hard to find out what the mentorship opportunities are, when they run, and if they are still happening. There needs to be a centralized place, especially for early-career librarians…to know what opportunities they have.”

Welcomes & guidance as a new member:

“One thing I noticed is that these associations really work best when the member takes the initiative on their own. The majority of the responsibility is on the member to reach out or sign up. I think it would be great to have some sort of initial welcome to the association type of outreach. I’ve been in a number of various library and non-library associations and have never had this experience.”

“I think what I didn’t get across the board is an informative welcome. Joining an association is overwhelming. There are so many committees and subcommittees and task forces and established relationships. It can be difficult to even know where to begin after joining an association. Getting a generic “welcome to x” email or a newsletter doesn’t really help to encourage new member engagement. It would be helpful to have periodic new member welcome meetings that go over very basic information: how the association is organized, opportunities for involvement, info about current leadership, etc.”

Does anyone care about me?

“I feel like I could basically drop out of the associations and no one would really care or know.”

“The organizations I’ve been a part of mostly felt like ad campaigns for different Conferences”

“I am a member of X and I don’t think I get much interaction with other members.”

“Honestly, I think library associations THINK they are more welcoming and better at providing networking opportunities than they actually are in practice. Listservs and message boards are a terrible way to get to know people. I have been getting the impression that before the pandemic, these orgs must have leaned heavily on in-person events like conferences and meetings… And in-person meetings are problematic, not only because of Covid, which remains a non-trivial concern, but also because they cost money, and those of us early in our career, especially in academic librarianship, where a new position often means an expensive cross-country move, are not exactly flush with cash to travel and pay hotel and conference fees. It is a terrible time to be a brand-new person in ALA, ACRL, etc., especially if you are a career-changer, like me, and not someone fresh out of school. The feeling is that no one knows you, and no one cares.”


“Membership dues are exclusionary, especially to new professionals who are likely in debt from the library science degree.”

“Sometimes there are free webinars but a lot you have to pay for, which is annoying because I already pay a membership fee.”

“[Association memberships] are cost prohibitive to many early-career professionals who are either in part-time or not yet able to find librarian positions. This isn’t helpful to their growth or ability to network within the field. It perpetuates cycles of generational wealth and opportunity which typically don’t favor BIPOC or other peoples of minorities.”

3. How have your professional needs changed since the Covid pandemic began?

Expanded summary:

  • Strong interest in online professional development; little interest in traveling
  • Skills development needed in online education, online communication and collaboration tools, etc.
  • Really like working from home
  • Challenging to get to know other members online; easier to do that in person
  • Work/life balance, mental health, and safety considerations

4. Do you have any other thoughts regarding professional associations?

“I love how NC LIVE as well as the ELD division in ASEE had a session for MLIS graduate students and early-career librarians to network as well as ask questions of seasoned librarians.”

“At one point I emailed the head of an association I was a member of, and I asked them what the point of their association was and why it would be a good idea for a grad student/early-career professional to join. Their answer was very unsatisfactory — that the once a year publication was a great way to showcase work, and although the association was quiet most of the time, the once a year conference was really fun and that’s when people took the time to chat with each other. It seemed to be like it was a group of insular people being insular together–I didn’t renew that membership.”

“I think they are valuable for developing and maintaining a sense of ‘belonging’ to a profession. I’ve had two very different careers – both ‘professions’ – and I can say that I feel much more connected to the profession of librarianship than I ever did to the other profession”

“They are awesome, but I feel lost navigating all the information.”

“I have gotten the most out of professional associations that allow members to dig into their niche. As a academic law librarian, I really appreciate all the offerings of the American Association of Law Libraries, but I also appreciate that I can find corners of ALA that resonate with my job and career path.”

“I find it extremely frustrating when professional organizations and their members refer to divisions and subdivisions by acronyms/initialisms. As a new member, I am constantly forced to stop reading and look up the meaning of each. I wish that all communications would follow the pattern of naming the organization the first time to explain the acronym/initialism.”

“I was an ALA member while I was in my MLIS graduate program and was so intimidated. I had no idea where to start and basically was an inactive member even though I paid the student membership fee. Ultimately, it felt like I was paying the dues in order to have a line on my CV. This feels unfair and inequitable.”

Cover of "Teaching Business Information Literacy" (ACRL, 2022)

Genifer Snipes is the Business & Economics Librarian at the University of Oregon.

Edward Junhao Lim is the Business & Entrepreneurship Librarian at the University of Connecticut.

About Steve Cramer


New book! Teaching Business Information Literacy (ACRL, 2022), edited by Genifer Snipes, Marlinda Karo, Lauren Reiter, and Ash E. Faulkner.

Below, Genifer discusses why she proposed this book to the ACRL Press. I think many of us will identify with her story.

Edward led the promotion and sharing of open access versions of the book chapters. He writes about why. With Edward’s permission, to improve discoverability, I am copying his list of chapters, most of which have open access links. I will add more links as I learn of them, but if I miss some, it’s my fault, not Edward’s.

I wrote a short reflection on this book too.

Genifer Snipes:

When I became a business librarian, I had two classes on business & government reference services and a year working in the business library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign under my belt. I had no teaching experience. I didn’t know any business librarians other than my mentor from UIUC, Becky Smith. I was the only business librarian in my entire state, and I was a history major. A history major with an affinity for economic and commerce history, but a history major nonetheless. In short, I was green. Really green.

I was fortunate in those early years that I had wonderful colleagues who, while they didn’t know business, did know teaching, so I learned to teach. I connected with other business librarians and learned the resources and research methods in our field. And I slowly learned to teach business information literacy. But for a long time I wasn’t sure I was doing it right. There was always a nagging question in the back of my mind – “Why doesn’t someone teach this stuff?” because for some inexplicable reason, there were no books on teaching business information literacy. 

So this idea that “somebody should fix this” kept simmering until the 2019 ACRL Conference when I saw that ACRL Press had openings for people to pitch book ideas to their editors. At that moment, the idea morphed into “I guess I need to do it myself.” 

Of course, I didn’t do it myself. I had three phenomenal co-editors, Lauren Reiter, Marlinda Karo, & Ash Faulkner to share the load. I had 40+ chapter authors who thought this book’s premise was important enough to contribute their work. I had dozens of librarians who didn’t write chapters but did amplify our call for proposals, voice their support, & make topic suggestions. And I had the support of Erin Nevius, our ACRL editor, who was a patient guide throughout the three-year publication process. 

This work wouldn’t exist without the support of the entire business librarian community and is an indication of how important teaching is to us all.

Edward Lim:

There isn’t really a book dedicated to business information literacy in the last decade or so. Sure, there’s Celia Ross’ must-have business reference book, and many, many book titles on information literacy and more, but not specifically for business instruction. Now we have one!

I certainly do not see myself as an open access advocate. I thought how wonderful it would be if anyone could read the chapters in this book. I’ve seen others compile links to open access copies of book chapters on Twitter, so I thought this might work. 

Fast forward two rounds of pleading with authors to submit a copy to their institutional repository, or Zenodo if they have no affiliation or repository: we have more than half (63%!) of all chapters available, hosted on many different repositories. 26 out of 41 chapters (excluding an introduction by the editors). Bonus: we have provided links to the accompanying materials hosted on ACRL Sandbox.

Steve Cramer:

I remember — it wasn’t too long ago — when opportunities to discuss or read about business information instruction were rare. BLINC workshops occasionally featured this topic; we also had annual meetups of academic librarians from BLINC at Salem College to discuss teaching (and professional writing). For years, those events were my main sources for ideas and support. Thankfully, business librarians now have frequent opportunities to talk about teaching. This collection of lesson plans is the latest example. 

A big thank you to Genifer and the other editors, and to the chapter writers. Also a thank you to Edward for compiling the open access links and encouraging the chapter authors to request and share their OA versions.

In the introduction, the book’s four editors note that business research can be unique, and that business student assignments and projects often have little in common with the traditional research paper, including the common objective — making recommendations to solve a problem. Therefore there are limits to the usefulness of generalist library instruction strategies, and a great need for a book like this.

This book not only covers a diversity of business research topics (even export promotion!) but also provides a diversity of teaching styles and strategies. It would be interesting to try to create an index of the chapters by teaching style. We should use this book to explore proven examples of lesson planning on many business research topics as well as to explore different teaching styles and strategies.

The writing styles for these “classroom tested activities” (from the Introduction) also vary a lot. Some are narrative with detailed paragraphs while others feature lots of bulleted lists. As an occasional blogger on this topic, I find those different choices interesting and refreshing.

The chapters:

Additional supporting materials such as slide decks, worksheets, and game boards are freely available in the ACRL Sandbox and findable with the tag “#bizinfolit.”

SECTION I. Basic Business Research

Chapter 1. Constrain Yourself: Practical Company Research
Kristina Batiste

Chapter 2. Disrupting the Business Writing Course: Critical Pedagogy to Frame Business Information Literacy Instruction
Carmen Cole

Chapter 3. Let’s Compare: Using a Recommendation Report to Teach Basic Business Research Skills [handout]
Emily Mross

Chapter 4. Let’s Duel: The Gamification of Business Information Literacy for Undergraduate Students
Amanda Wheatley

Chapter 5. Storytelling with Business Research
Reece Steinberg

Chapter 6. I Can Read the Business Section for My Paper?: Discovering Connections Between Sources
Theresa Carlson

SECTION II. Finance and Accounting

Chapter 7. Database Scavenger Hunt and Analysis for Accounting Students [materials]
Robbi De Peri

Chapter 8. Evaluating Information Quality: The Use of Research Logs in Academic and Professional Business Research
Mariana Jardim

Chapter 9. Collaborating with a Finance Executive-in-Residence to Build Finance Students’ Information Literacy Skills
Catherine Fournier Boulianne

SECTION III. Entrepreneurship

Chapter 10. A Tour of Public-Use Market Research [slide deck]
Carolyn Klotzbach-Russell

Chapter 11. Pitching Through Storytelling
Reece Steinberg

Chapter 12. Hospitality and Tourism Case Competition
Hal Kirkwood

Chapter 13. More Than a Secondary Strategy: How to Actively Incorporate Primary Research into Your Instruction Session [Ancillary materials]
Sara Heimann and Summer Krstevska

Chapter 14. Aligning Business IL with Startup Thinking: A Series of Open Workshops
Carey Toane, Holly Inglis, Sarah Shujah, and Michelle Spence

SECTION IV. Management

Chapter 15. SWOT Analysis
Meryl Brodsky

Chapter 16. Managing Your Management Information Literacy: A Focus on Interdisciplinary Research
Janet Hauck

Chapter 17. Concept Mapping: Activities for Complex Business Research or Experiential Learning Projects
Grace Liu

Chapter 18. Teaching Business Research Using Strategic Analysis Diagrams
Genifer Snipes

Chapter 19. Using Critically Appraised Topics to Teach Evidence-based Management to Graduate Business Students [materials]
Zahra Premji and Rhiannon Jones

SECTION V. Marketing

Chapter 20. Teaching Consumer Market Segmentation through Brainstorming Demographic and Psychographic Variables
Steve Cramer

Chapter 21. Critical Consumption: Empowering Students to Evaluate Sources in a One-Shot Session on Introductory Consumer Marketing Research
Abigail Morgan

Chapter 22. Dissecting Data to Make Better Decisions
Juliet Conlon

Chapter 23. Market Sizing Activity
Meryl Brodsky

Chapter 24. Teaching Secondary Market Research through Active Learning Workshops
Wendy Pothier

Chapter 25. Using Facebook and Google Digital Marketing Tools to Engage with Consumer Data
Ben Richards

Section VI. Specialty Subjects

Chapter 26. Franchise Frenzy: Business Research for Marketing a New Franchise Location [handouts]
Emily Mross

Chapter 27. Thinking Outside the “Box”: Conducting Supply Chain Procurement Research [Worksheet]
Katharine V. Macy

Chapter 28. Goin’ Global: What Is the Best Way to Export Jeans to Dubai?
Judy Opdahl

Chapter 29. Business Ethics and Intellectual Property: Barbie & Bratz [handout]
Hal Kirkwood

Chapter 30. Connecting the Real Estate Industry and Library Instruction: A Geospatial Example of Experiential Learning
Scott St Martin, Amanda Belantara, and Daniel Hickey

Section VII. Data Literacy/Data Visualization

Chapter 31. 60-Minute Data Literacy Workshop Using the Junk Charts Trifecta Checkup
Nancy Lovas

Chapter 32. Data Visualization: Visualizing Decisions [Worksheets]
Chelsea H. Barrett

Chapter 33. Using the DIG Method for Data Literacy
Dana Statton Thompson

Section VIII. Experiential Learning/Career

Chapter 34. Building a Better Business Consultant: A Framework for Instruction
Olivia Olivares

Chapter 35. FIRE Starters: Using a Train-the-Trainer Model and Team Consultations to Support a First-Year Experience Business Competition
Benjamin Peck and Wendy Pothier

Chapter 36. Next Level Career Research: Helping Students Land Their Dream Jobs [Worksheet]
Laura Leavitt Walesby 

Chapter 37. Hot Topics Trade Publications Connect Research with Career Ambitions
Lateka Grays and Mark Lenker

Section IX. Using Technology in the Classroom

Chapter 38. Scaling Up: Asynchronous Information Literacy Instruction for First-Year Business Students
Orolando Duffus

Chapter 39. Flip Your One-Shot Instruction Session with Survey Software
Natalia Tingle

Chapter 40. Teaching Company Research through a Virtual Research Workshop
Chris Cooper

Chapter 41. Metaliterate Learning Through Self-Assessment of Recorded Research Presentations
Amanda Kraft

Catching up

I hope you all looked at the recent guest post by Joel Rosa & Elizabeth Price. Fascinating insights and questions from Joel as a student on how libraries run their search processes. Kudos to Elizabeth for inviting Joel to the committee. Also for convincing her boss that having only one librarian to serve over 5,000 business students is not a student-centered situation. Death to the lean liaison model! Haha.

Thank you to all the contestants in the ELC 2022 Pitch Competition, and to all attendees,  audience-choice voters, and the planning team. The video remains available. Elektra Greer from Nederland Community Library is writing an article about the event for Entrepreneur Magazine, and there will hopefully be a case study published in JBFL next school year.

Summer flowers in North Carolina
Summer flowers in North Carolina

Meanwhile, the ELC International planning team has decided to focus on social entrepreneurship from around the world. Details and an international call for submissions will be released very soon.

My publishing frequency will continue to be light this summer as I try to get caught up on vacation time. I’m still learning how to do the staycation thing. It’s hard in part because the retro pinball arcade in my neighborhood doesn’t open until 4pm on weekdays. I did update my short list of favorite active blogs over on the right (in the browser version of This Liaison Life at least) if you want to see if any of those writers are new to you.

Today’s topic

Back on January 13, eleven business librarians met up in Zoom to talk about their experiences designing, teaching, or wanting to design and teach for-credit classes on business research. Each librarian was invited to talk about what they are doing, and we also had a general discussion. This event was a sequel to a discussion in March 2017 when seven librarians chatted about this topic.

In May, when cleaning up my virtual office, I rediscovered the notes we took during that January discussion. I think Morgan Ritchie-Baum of Wake Forest University deserves the lion’s share of credit for taking notes? Thank you, Morgan. Better-late-than-never, here is a summary of key points and interesting ideas. As with the 2017 summary, I will keep this anonymous. Thank you to the participants for being willing to share their accomplishments, successes, and frustrations.

General points

  • Our classes were 1, 1.5, 2, or 3 credits in length.
  • We are teaching in many different departments and programs: business, marketing, entrepreneurship, MBA, the library/LIB, honors, and geography. Our content has value beyond the b-school!
  • Some of us are getting paid extra to teach our class; others are not. Some librarians are expected to teach a class as part of their normal duties.
  • Several librarians spoke of their interest in teaching credit classes. Accreditation and academic politics can be barriers. Demand has been low for offering certificates and badges. Teaching a for-credit class might also help with outreach and getting more involved with the business school.
  • How does teaching a for-credit class compliment or affect (or not) our one-shot instruction and embedded work? We can provide both deep learning for a smaller group of students and shallow learning for a large number of students. Not necessarily a conflict.
  • Accreditation standards can be an issue for librarians teaching classes within the business school or other non-library departments. [Last month, I had to justify why I am teaching graduate students in Geography and the Business School.] Co-teaching with a business professor is a work-around.
  • Most of us are teaching synchronous face-to-face or synchronous online but we also discussed asynchronous strategies.
  • Some of us are into badging and credentialing and want to pursue those options more. One thought: in-house badges mean little to potential employers and so don’t contribute to hiring metrics. Instead, we need a trusted brand (ALA? SLA?) to create badges and certificates. Then employers might care more.
  • We decided that teaching librarians need to share more often.
  • Grace Liu will be publishing results on her survey of student preferences for training and skills development.

Stories from individuals

  • One librarian recently created two 1.5-credit classes. Examples topics: how to research innovative ideas and deal with ambiguity in research; researching a controversial industry and analyzing ethical aspects of one of the companies. 
  • One librarian is using “un-grading,” in which the students grade themselves. This proved very challenging for business and accounting majors. They were quite anxious about it. 
  • Another is teaching a 2-credit competitive business intelligence class, named by the b-school dean, but really a more general business research skills course. It’s for MBA students but fast-track undergraduates can take it too. The students complain it’s a lot of work for 2 credits.
  • Another created an honors class for business students. The students learned the parts of a research paper and wrote parts of their own paper. 
  • Then I summarized my class. My most recent post about it was in April 2021.
  • Another librarian teaches a 3-credit general information literacy class. For business classes, she creates Canvas Common modules.
  • Another librarian taught a 3-credit class at her previous campus and is now thinking about teaching a for-credit business information literacy class. Much effort and resources would be necessary, especially since she is the only business librarian on campus. What is the best approach or strategy? She is surveying students. Maybe embedding online learning modules that provide extra credit? As with other teaching librarians, workload would be an important issue to consider. 
  • Another teaches a half-semester, one-credit course that focuses on SWOT analysis. The biggest challenge for students: explaining their research process. Why did they make those decisions? Why did they choose that company? Most of the students are first-year or seniors. Many need to add credits for that semester or to improve their GPA for financial aid requirements.
  • Finally, another librarian teaches an award-winning workshop via online sessions in Canvas. The workshop focuses on secondary research using free business information sources. Information competencies desired by employers drive the instructional design. Students earn a certificate of completion. The librarian hopes to create a for-credit class based on the workshop.

Elizabeth Price works as the Business Librarian at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. When not working to improve JMU’s business collections and students’ business information skills, she is usually either reading a mystery novel or laughing at her rambunctious dogs. Elizabeth’s most recent post here at TLL was Down the WRDS rabbit hole.

Joel Rosa recently graduated with his master’s degree in accounting from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. He worked as a graduate assistant for JMU Libraries during the 2021-22 academic year, thanks to a partnership between the libraries and the College of Business. When not doing schoolwork, he enjoys a game of basketball or playing guitar.

Joel Rosa and Elizabeth Price
Joel Rosa and Elizabeth Price

Librarians write and talk about their experience in position searches all the time, like this interesting and recent collaborative perceptions and recommendations post over at BizLibratory. But what can we learn about our traditions from a student member of a search committee? What proved surprising, valuable, and/or disappointing from their perspective?

James Madison University Libraries recently undertook a search for a second business librarian to join me in supporting the College of Business’s 4,200 students and 160 faculty. Search committees for liaison librarians at JMU Libraries traditionally try to include representatives from the disciplinary areas they support. In addition to three librarians, our committee included a tenured Finance & Business Law professor and our graduate assistant, Joel Rosa.

We had three reasons for wanting Joel to take part. First, Joel worked as our GA while pursuing his master’s degree in accounting, which is one of the departments the successful candidate will work with. So we hoped to tap into Joel’s experiences as both an undergraduate and graduate student in using JMU Libraries for his coursework.

Second, the GA is the leader of the Peer Research Adviser team that supports the research-intensive COB 300 course. Our Peer Research Advisers hold consultations with student teams who are trying to develop a viable business plan. Typically, we have two undergraduate advisers in addition to the GA. Because of how important these student employees are to the libraries’ support of the business school, we felt it was imperative to incorporate the student perspective throughout the process.

Lastly, we felt this was an invaluable experiential learning opportunity for Joel. In addition to this search, Joel has participated in interviews for the new cohort of peer research advisers and his successor as GA. We felt that these experiences would give him a view into the other side of the hiring process, including how candidates present themselves, how we rate them, and what goes into planning the interviews. This could help him in the future as he considers applying for a promotion or a different position (as I’ve told Joel, I think he would be a fantastic business librarian if he ever decides to change careers).

Once convened, search committees for tenure-track faculty positions at JMU Libraries follow this approximate process:

  1. Training on diversity and inclusive hiring practices.
  2. Reviewing and rating candidate application materials (CVs, cover letters, applications and any supplemental documentation provided like teaching philosophies, diversity statements or lesson plans).
  3. Conducting screening interviews with the top 5-6 candidates (via telephone or Zoom).
  4. Working with the committee to recommend how many and which candidates to bring to campus for in-person interviews.
  5. Attending at least one session with each candidate during their in-person interview.
  6. Developing a list of pros and cons for each candidate who interviewed; this assessment is forwarded to the supervisor and library leadership in order for them to make a final decision on whom to hire.

Joel was able to take part in several of these steps. As the search concluded, he shared his takeaways from the experience.

Elizabeth: What surprised you about the search process?

Joel: A couple of items caught me off guard. The first item was that Zoom interview questions are outlined beforehand and are identical for each candidate. My concern was that if a search committee member has a pressing question for one particular candidate, they are not able to ask it. Not every candidate is like another. I’d like to think questions should reflect their uniqueness.

I was also surprised by the evaluation process for candidates after their in-person interviews. At that point, the search committee evaluates each candidate for the last time. However, the manner in which they are evaluated is a list of pros and cons. This process feels a bit outdated for lack of a better term. The biggest problem with this process is that this list is shared with library leadership and they choose whom to offer the position to.

A list cannot capture all of the time the search committee spends with the candidates and genuinely gets to know them. It feels counterintuitive for one person (or a small group) to make a decision based on just a list of pros and cons.

E: What aspects of this experience were tough? How might we have better prepared you for them?

J: The most challenging aspect of taking on the role is not having a full understanding of what being a good business librarian entails and what the career outlook is like. A helpful resource to understand these items would be examples of qualifications. For instance, if a qualification is knowledge of information literacy best practices, what are examples of experiences or keywords that would fulfill such qualifications. What are examples of gaps in knowledge or experience that fall short?

E: You won’t actually work with the successful candidate because you graduate in May 2022. How did you weigh the future needs of the Peer Research Adviser team in your interactions with the candidates?

J: I coordinated each candidate’s meeting with a small group of students and shared feedback with the committee afterward. For the most part, we asked general and behavioral questions. Some examples were:

  • How would you describe your leadership style?
  • Have you ever had a disagreement with a colleague? How did you resolve it?

Answers to these questions demonstrated how effective and prepared a candidate would be to work with students and staff. Having worked with the peer research advisers who will be in seniors next fall, it was evident whether a candidate would mesh well with the group. The questions above helped us reach that conclusion.

E: Should future search committees prioritize having candidates meet with a team of students. Why or why not?

J: Yes. Often, the completed work of a librarian and faculty alike are intended for students. Who better than a student to provide feedback on how successful a candidate would be with themselves or others? Faculty and staff understand what qualifications a candidate should have. Students understand how effective they may be in a classroom.

E: After graduation, you’re joining one of the Big Four accounting firms. How did the business librarian hiring process differ from your experience?

J: After going through the hiring process at my firm, I can pinpoint three themes. During interviews, the firm confirms qualifications, evaluates interpersonal skills, and determines if they can see themselves working with the candidate. There is a heavy emphasis on the last theme.

In total, I had three interviews. Each interview was a conversation with one other employee, who had differing positions in the firm’s hierarchy. They asked a couple of questions about my resume, some behavioral questions, and a few open-ended questions to get to know me. Each employee also left ample time for me to ask questions.

The accounting firm conducts its interviews in a way that it feels like you are also interviewing them. With each interviewer, I felt our conversations toward the end veering completely from the position and more so on just on the person and who they are. It had a clear emphasis on whether an employee could actually see themselves working with me.

E: Do you have suggestions for how JMU Libraries might change their interview process to improve it for the candidates?

J: As of now, the hiring process is a bit transactional. The process is situated around whether a candidate checks all the boxes. My suggestion is to rearrange the process and allow more time to understand the candidates outside of their qualifications. Allow for students to meet with candidates earlier in the process — possibly after the first screening when only a handful of candidates remain. Ask open-ended questions. Allow for impromptu questions during call interviews. Strategies such as these can help determine if a candidate is the right fit.

E: How did you perceive efforts to support diversity in the search process?

J: The university has a system to support diversity in the search process. After each stage [review of applications, invitations for screening interviews, invitations for in-person interviews], the university assesses the diversity of the pool against the profession or discipline’s demographics nationally. They do a good job of trying to elevate and diversify the workforce.

E: If you were advising a friend about an upcoming job interview, what advice would you give?

J: The biggest piece of advice I can give is to know yourself. Understand your motivations for the position. Understand your capabilities and examples of projects, activities, or issues you’ve experienced and what you learned from them. Also, know about the organization you’re going to work for! Make sure you know their mission and what they stand for. Ask questions about who they are, what they dislike, why certain things are done the way they are. Not only will asking these questions leave an impression on the interviewer, but you will also have a better understanding of who you’re going to work for. These facts help determine if the organization is the right fit for you.

No, not talking baseball, and yes, I’m exaggerating here to hopefully generate a smile or two. 

Do you remember the “Every librarian a coder” trend a while ago? Lane Wilkinson blogged about it once. I remember some ACRL conference presentations on this around that time, since ACRL is a great place to hear preaching on hot trends. Or “shiny new things” as Karen Schneider wrote [although I can’t find the source, maybe it was a listserv email — this post of hers is the closest I could find]. And at the next conference, that shiny new thing has been replaced with the next one. But Information Has Value and so conferences, publishers, and yes, bloggers need to get us excited (or worked up about something) in order to keep us registering and reading.

Anyway, instead of needing to learn how to code, pretty soon we’ll just ask our AI, “Make an app that does this for me…” 

Summertime is here
Scene from a favorite local hiking trail where I may or may not have contemplated this topic

Why pitching

I last wrote about pitching in 2019, specifically liaison pitching:

“We are teachers, research consultants, and economic development partners who frequently make first contact with students, professors, deans, entrepreneurs, and/or eco dev leaders. So we need to establish strong, favorable first impressions through delivering a concise, effective sales pitch — we are selling ourselves as liaisons.”

A bit later in that post:

“Instead of pitching our business model in the elevator, we need to pitch the value we bring to the table as a library liaison. Or, if you prefer, we need to have a prepared yet  authentic-sounding answer to this question our patrons might be thinking: “How can you help me with my research needs, or with my class, department, or center?”

Today my context for advocating for librarians as pitch experts is broader, inspired by the Entrepreneurship & Libraries Conference 2022 Pitch Competition (accepting submissions until Thursday May 5, btw) as well as some local happenings. 

ELC Pitch Workshop

One good suggestion after the successful ELC 2020 pitch comp, ably led by Orolando Duffus (U. Houston) and Nataly Blas (Loyola Marymount U.), was adding a workshop on how librarians can pitch to community partners. Angel Truesdale (UNC Charlotte) led the development of the workshop for this year’s event as one of the event co-chairs. (Kellee Forkenbrock from North Liberty Library is our other co-chair.)

Pitch coach Jennifer Hensel of ElePitch was the featured workshop speaker. She was our pitch coach for the 2020 competition, back when she worked for Action Greensboro, part of the local Chamber of Commerce. Since then, Jenn has created her own pitch consultancy business. She will also be consulting with our top five library candidates for the 2022 competition.

Other workshop speakers included Hanna Taylor (Mid-Continent Public Library) and Elektra Greer (Nederland Community Library), among the winners from the 2020 pitch. They provided their own tips on pitching and spoke with enthusiasm how impactful simply the experience of preparing for the competition was. Theresa Pipher (Corning Optical Communications) moderated that discussion, which also included Tina Barber (funder with the NY Community Foundation). The workshop was recorded.

What I learned

Ok, enough name-dropping — here are some of my own takeaways from the workshop.

Jenn’s top tips:

  • Write a script
  • Practice 
  • Watch others [doing their own pitches, and then learn from them. Content, body language, how they use their voice]

Channel your nervousness into energy, but don’t talk fast.

Writing a script helps you understand why and what you are pitching. Your main point needs to be very clear to the reviewers.

Ponder “what does THIS audience need to know?” because different audiences need to know and hear different things from you.

Tell a story that others will remember. Statistics will help tell your story, or the story of the community problem you are addressing. Your story should also include a human element. Talk about a patron you already work with in your target population.

What value and solution are you offering to your community?

What is your secret sauce? Don’t assume everyone knows how great your library is. What can you do that no one else in the community can do, or can do as well? Yes, libraries often do have competition for some services, even if indirect competition. 

Talk about a similar program that was successful — establish your track record. 

What skilled people are on your team, contributing to the success of your program?

Librarians can be a little fragile sometimes [paraphrased from Elektra] so don’t get scared off by honest and direct feedback from non-librarians as you are planning your pitch or after you do your pitch. We need to get outside our library-land bubble more often. 

Speaking with conviction and enthusiasm and a smile on your face [paraphrase from Hanna] can be as important as your message and script. Tina emphasized this later.

Know your content so that you don’t need to read your notes. Use short phrases and pictures on your slides to remind yourself of your key points. [I also heard this advice recently from one of the executive mentors in our MBA client consulting capstone course.]

If you are pitching to a local organization or funder, your project should focus on local conditions. National and global statistics don’t matter and won’t help you with that local audience.

Finally, what will be the ROI for your proposal?

Turtles sunning themselves
Turtles don’t need to pitch much though

Why every librarian a pitch expert?

Most of us don’t need to pitch to funders or community partners, but all of us need to sell a project, our libraries, and ourselves sometimes.

Here are two recent examples from my own experience, one personal and one campus-wide.

Example 1: Going up for promotion

In May 2020, I posted on how the UNCG librarians finally “got ranks” after decades of serving as faculty without any. (Hmm there was some pitching in that process too, both within the library and to the provost and her office.) Our Promotion & Tenure Committee successfully proposed to the library faculty that we put a short moratorium on candidates going up for “Professor” (i.e. Full Professor) until we revised our evaluation guidelines and procedures to cover that top rank. We got that work done and 2021-22 was the first year a librarian could apply for “Full.” (The candidate’s work was due in summer 2021, so we did our work mostly in 2020-21.) I was one of those that decided to give it a try. Going up for Full is optional, except for the dean, who is hired at that rank.

Our guidelines for Full state that the “candidate’s accomplishments in librarianship, scholarship/creative activities, and professional service will collectively contribute to their national recognition and reputation.” So I and my other colleagues going up for Full had to pitch our case that we meet those expectations.

As with entrepreneurial pitching, we needed to include data that told a story and supported our case. I pulled consultation and teaching data from LibInsight and also tallied my recent scholarship output.

But we also needed to tell human stories. One story was our teaching philosophy, but more impactful I bet were our testimonials from students, faculty, other librarians, and community partners. I had 20 years’ worth of emails, cards, and letters saved up and was glad I finally had a reason to use some of them. Coming into the closed library to scan those documents during that shut-down year was a nice change of pace from working from home. 

Finally, I began each of the three main sections (librarianship, scholarship, service) with a short bulleted list of “recent evidence of national stature.” I hoped these preambles grabbed the attention of my main pitch audiences — the review committee and the external reviewers.

Example 2: Library expansion project

The UNCG main library got funding from the state to renovate and expand. Part of the renovation will include bringing our 9-story tower up to building code: adding sprinklers and modifying the book stacks to be ADA compliant. Both of those actions will reduce our storage capacity on the 8 floors that store books. And in addition, maybe some of the floors will be used for more student success-oriented spaces than book storage.

Meanwhile, Internet Archive has offered to take any low-use microfilm, books, and govdocs we don’t retain, scan them in a high-quality, and provide us with the files for online access. This would be a boon for off-campus users as well as students with disabilities, according to our Office of Accessibility Resources & Services.

While a committee led by the campus facilities administrators was soliciting bids for a design company, Library Administration updated us library workers on these plans and ideas and possibilities. No details were shared with the rest of campus at this point because no decisions had been made and we didn’t have a design process yet. There was no webpage concerning possible impact on print collections.

Nonetheless, word of the potential reduction in book storage was leaked to some faculty in the English Department. (Maybe History, too, I don’t remember.) And boy, did a small number of faculty over there get upset. 

This has never been a blog to dish dirt or dwell on negativity. But some of the communication from those professors sure sounded like bullying, as well as disinformation concerning detailed plans that didn’t yet exist. 

Meanwhile, the initial responses from the library were reactive, responding to the individual angry profs face to face or in Zoom. Or trying to communicate back anyway — critical thinking and active listening and focusing on student success were not evident.

A few students began asking questions about book storage reductions in our chat service, which required us to coach to our student workers what to type in response.

Finally, however, the library created a page about the process, the local and national trends in print book circulation, and other details. Now we have data and context we can point angry or concerned or disinformed people to, and script content to utilize in face-to-face discussions. Library administrators spoke at last week’s faculty senate, and I assume that link was included in the minutes.

It was disappointing that we have to start thinking about pitching the renovation project, rather than simply celebrating the project and its opportunities to advance student success, but there we are. It’s certainly not a traditional pitch situation, but the best practices of pitching certainly apply.

On Monday, I taught what should be my final one-shot instruction of the spring semester. This is usually a big deal for me, a sign of summer’s imminent arrival — a very welcome sign this year after two years of pandemic liaison librarianship. 

Tulips emerge on campus
Tulips emerge on campus

Last week I made the mistake of looking up how much vacation time I had in my HR bank. Too much! Blame it on the 2020 shutdown summer. I need to focus on getting through April before starting to cash in vacation days in May. There are still students to support in this semester (for example, I have three more weeks of work with my embedded classes and my own credit-class). Plus there is the May 2022 ELC pitch competition to finish planning, and an article that needs a lot of revision.

That last one-shot was interesting to prepare for and execute, so I thought I would write it up.

The UNCG Bryan School of Business & Economics partners with Belgium’s Louvain School of Management in an exchange program. Our students visit Louvain over our spring break, and the Louvain students come to Greensboro later in March. Most of the Belgians are entrepreneurship graduate students; our students are a mix of majors, both graduate and undergraduate, but no entrepreneurship majors this time — international business is their focus. There’s a new nice story about a UNCG student who started a craft business after this experience.

Student teams include both nationalities. Each team proposes an innovation that would be implemented in both countries, often in a specific city in each country.

The teams have an academic seminar at UNCG everyday for a week, among other activities. I got the first seminar, on Monday, for a research instruction workshop in a library computer classroom for 75 minutes. I got a list of the teams’ entrepreneurial ideas ahead of time.

[See Nancy Lovas’ most recent solo post in BizLabratory for a somewhat-related instructional experience.]

Factors in my lesson planning:

  • All the Belgium students know English
  • I can’t assume any previous student experience with entrepreneurship research
  • For the UNCG students, I can’t assume much entrepreneurship education experience, let alone entrepreneurship research experience
  • Students will need data on both U.S. and Belgium industries and markets
  • As usual when working with business student teams, the students will help each other out

At the end of this post is my workshop agenda and worksheet, shared via a Google document the students could copy, as well as a 2-page paper handout (database links removed for this blog post). A UNCG student was accessing the Google Document version just now, a good sign!

The main topics included:

  1. What is your industry?
  2. Are you B2B or B2C?
  3. What is the nature of your customers? (segmentation)

The libguide is https://uncg.libguides.com/mba745 . It’s a typical design for me in that only the first page is unique to this class. All the other pages are copied from my master guide, one of my efficiency strategies as a lean liaison

I briefly introduced the first main topic. I pointed out example reports from IBIS and Statista relevant to certain teams but didn’t do any database training. Then I asked the teams to identify their industry and examine its status. Statista usually had Belgium data as well as U.S. data.

I visited each team to learn how they are doing and provided suggestions and ideas as needed. A few teams ended up altering their proposed business model upon learning that their opening idea was too broad or undefined. 

After 15-20 minutes of small group discussion and exploration, I reclaimed the floor to introduce the second main topic to all the teams, briefly showed report examples from the market databases, and then charged the teams with identifying their target or best customers. They enjoyed another round of team discussions. Euromonitor covers both countries of course, and most of the teams found useful content about their product or service sector, or on digital consumers. 

One team needed to identify the best U.S. markets for boats, and so I introduced them to SimplyAnalytics, utilizing both boat-related consumer spending data as well as the location of marinas. Some teams used SimplyAnalytics for market sizing. I told them I was sorry we didn’t have a tool like that for Belgium.

I used my discussions with each team as my informal assessment technique. All the teams were still chatting away around when I left the classroom to prepare for an imminent Zoom consultation with a professor, a good sign the teams were still thinking about their entrepreneurship ideas.

Here is the worksheet.

1 What is your industry? 

Decision-making tools:

  • NAICS site from the U.S. Census
  • IBISWorld industry reports (UNCG database)

What is the state of your industry? (size, trends, forecast/projections, etc.)

  • IBISWorld industry reports 
  • Statista for charts, graphs, tables (UNCG database)

2 Your customers: Are you B2B or B2C?

2a B2B: Business to Business:

What industry (or industries) are your customer businesses in?

  • NAICS site from the U.S. Census
  • IBISWorld industry reports 

What is the state of your buyer industries? 

  • IBISWorld again

Who are possible customers in Belgium and the U.S.?

  • Nexis Uni (both countries) (UNCG database)
  • DataAxle (U.S. only) (UNCG database)

2b B2C: Business to Consumer:

Who are your target or best customers? (What is your market segmentation?)

  • Mintel (U.S. consumer markets) (UNCG database)
  • Euromonitor (Belgium and U.S. consumer markets) (UNCG database)

How many best customers exist in your target cities/geographies?

  • SimplyAnalytics (maps and tables for U.S. demographic and psychographics) (UNCG database)
  • U.S. Census:
    • Census Narrative Profiles (current demographics)
    • Census: demographic subject links
  • Euromonitor (Belgium and U.S. consumer markets) 

How much are consumers spending? (What is the market size in dollars or Euros?)

  • SimplyAnalytics (maps and tables for U.S. demographic and psychographics, from national to local geographies) 
  • Euromonitor (Belgium and U.S. consumer markets) 
UNCG tulips anticipating the sun after a spring shower
UNCG tulips anticipating the sun after a spring shower

Have you made your decisions about attending summer conferences yet? It will be interesting to see what those conferences end up looking like. Online only, hybrid, or physical only? There aren’t any easy choices for conference planners. Of course, institutional travel budgets and local travel restrictions will be factors too.

I wrote about the hybrid Charleston Conference in November, noting the difficulty of pleasing both in-person and online attendees. One of my colleagues referred to the hybrid format as the “worst of both worlds.” It’s not unlike some of the challenges of hybrid classes. At least the librarians, publishers, and vendors physically in Charleston were able to network and socialize easily (usually outside).

SLA 2022 will be in Charlotte, N.C. at the end of the July, after not being able to meet in Charlotte in 2021 as planned (also true of SLA 2020? Can’t remember). I hope to attend. The mix of three formats for submissions (“educational sessions”) are thoughtful:

  • On-Demand (virtual presentation only): 5, 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes
  • In-person Presentation (live and pre-recorded presentation): live audience participation only in Q/A; 5, 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes; the live audience could watch the video too.
  • In-Person Interactive Session (live presentation only): roundtable seating; 45, 60 or 90 minutes; interaction must be emphasized

In other words: virtual, hybrid, or in-person. I like. Very attendee-centered. It looks like SLA has listened to members who had mixed experiences with hybrid conferences.

ALA Summer opened registration today. It will be in D.C. in late June. Attend in person or register for the “Digital Experience,” which includes “4 Main Stage sessions, 42 Education sessions, and 14 News You Can Use sessions.” I’m not sure how the live-streaming will impact the nature of the education sessions — for speakers/trainers as well as the in-person attendees. More details to come.

The Carolina Consortium annual meeting will be back in person in early summer. A majority of the members responded in a poll that they would prefer to see each other face to face. This is a small, two state, one-day event but it provides more evidence of how librarians want to gather in 2022.

VLA 2022 and TLA 2022 will be in-person, looks like. (This is a regularly scheduled off-year for NCLA.)

ELC plans for 2022

The Entrepreneurship & Libraries Conference 2020 was supposed to be in-person in the new Durham (N.C.) Public Library in the fall, but had to pivot online of course. The two ELC 2021 mini-conferences on cannabis entrepreneurship and inclusive entrepreneurship were planned as online events.

Regardless of the developments in public health, we decided that ELC events will remain online-only. Providing free programming for a Canadian/U.K./U.S. mix of public, special, and academic librarians on specialized topics has become part of our organizational DNA and we don’t want to change that.

We are keeping our expenses limited to honorariums for keynote speakers and pitch competition consultants; those costs have been kindly covered by our vendor partners EBSCO, PrivCo, SimplyAnalytics, and Mintel. And not having to worry about physical space planning reduces the workload of the planning team immensely. We do miss being able to network and socialize around food and drink but continue to see good turnouts for the lightly-moderated ELC networking hours that are included in each event. Finally, the online formats have made it easy to recruit diverse planning teams, since team members don’t have to commit to travel.

Maybe someday there will be physical ELC day-long workshop in collaboration with BLINC and CABAL or other regional partners. That could be fun – and we could finally use some of our funds for an after-workshop party at a brewery or rooftop bar (one of the plans for the physical ELC 2020 in Durham).

In 2022, there will be two ELC events:

1. A pitch competition for libraries working with (or trying to work with) local stakeholders in entrepreneurship and economic development. This will be a sequel of our 2020 pitch comp led so well by Nataly Blas and Orolando Duffus. EBSCO is providing $4,000 for prize money. Two likely changes from last time:

  • This version will include a workshop on how to make pitches (that workshop will happen around a month before the pitch submissions are due)
  • We may ask some of the winners from 2020 pitch comp to share their experiences and outcomes.

The co-chairs for this event include Angel Truesdale from UNC Charlotte and Kellee Forkenbrock from North Liberty Library, Iowa. The pitches will probably take place in May. The planning team meets for the first-time next week.

2. ELC International! Something new. Under the leadership of Summer Krstevska of Wake Forest University, the goal of the ELC International event is “entrepreneurship librarians from around the world connecting, sharing, and learning with each other.” Edward Lim from University of Connecticut has also been recruiting planning team members from all over. ELC International will take place in the fall.