30 June 2009
Lessons for Corporate Libraries--and Others
“When the Internet as a popular research tool began affecting the lives of librarians and information professionals and their clients, accountability for contributing to the mission (i.e., bottom line) of one’s parent organization—whether a for-profit or not-for-profit—became the most critical driver behind the survival of corporate libraries.”
Thus begins a great article by special library gurus Toby Pearlstein (retired from Bain & Co., Inc., Boston, Massachusetts) and James Matarazzo (retired Dean, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Simmons College, Boston). They outline the ways corporate librarians can—and, in fact, must—make their value known to the decision-makers in their organizations.
What happens to an organization when the library is closed? The authors answer this with the case study of the “Caveat Publishing Co.” The librarian had not seen the signs of a change in the wind and it was too late to make a case for keeping the library open. Senior management had hired consultants to make cost-cutting recommendations. “Since they were never asked for any data from the library manager,” the decisions didn’t take into account how or if the library was used. They conclude that if the decision to close the library is made by top management, “resistance is futile.” The head librarian had 4 months to train the staff to meet their information needs with the resources on their desktops. However, ‘is it reasonable to expect that they [the writers] can do the job of a researcher as well?” (I see a double meaning for “as well:” in addition to their own jobs and as well as the librarian did.) The answer is unknown, but probably not. “In similar publishing environments where the library has been cut, one writer noted that he never heard anyone say it was a good thing….”
Pearlstein and Matarazzo conclude, “Perhaps there was a disconnect between the library and the divisional heads or their bosses at Caveat that made it easier or at least less controversial for them to drastically reduce library services.” The moral? Know what’s going on in your organization, make sure top management knows the value your library brings to the organization’s bottom line, and act proactively. As networking guru Harvey McKay says (in the title of one of his books, which you should read, by the way)—Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty—because if you wait until the axe falls, it’s too late.
Read, understand, internalize, and implement the message in this article—before it’s too late for you!
Pearlstein, Toby and James Matarazzo, Survival Lessons for Librarians: Corporate Libraries—A Soft Analysis and a Warning, Searcher 17(6):12-17,52, June 2009, available for US$2.95 at http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/jun09/index.shtml