Sometimes relationship building can come across as a selfish behavior. From an outsider's perspective, it can easily be misinterpreted as always making an ask, or stepping on someone's toes. Not everyone instinctively knows the value of a library partnership, so it can seem a bit out of place, or one sided.
Consider this hypothetical case: A library may try to achieve a goal of increasing instruction stats by offering more workshops. Based on feedback forms, the library is going to try to offer workshops in non-library locations, like the student union. A librarian may reach out to the department of programming to try to establish a relationship. What the librarian may not have considered before reaching out are the following circumstances:
- it is a person's job to provide programming in the student union; it may seem presumptuous that you are asking to essentially do this persons job - even if that was not your intention, it can come across this way
- the student union probably has a programs budget; if you are asking to do a program in their space, they might think you're also asking them to pay you. Clarify your intent (and free of charge benefit) from the early outset
- the student union might have constant battles for their space; consider project lead time, don't ask for special treatment and skip the reservation process, and work within the parameters that they expect all campus partners to work within
- It's not necessarily the student union's job to improve academic performance; perhaps frame your offering as free programming offered to all students, or to a specific group of students that unit strives to support (for example, there is a Commuter Student Resources Room in our student union - we could provide a specific workshop for Commuter Students).
- Offer to host a standing series of workshops, such as the third Thursday of the month, so that office knows that you're handling programming for that day; your offering fits into their strategic plan, but does not become a burden on their staff, budget or other resources.
- Make sure the other department's name is in your agreement as much as the word "Library" - one sided goals are doomed to fail; they may succeed in the short term, but unless there is equal buy-in from both sides of the relationship, there will be no sustainability.
- Identify this groups' priorities and plans for the future - for example, maybe the student union wants their space to be used for academic purposes, would like to have higher traffic during lunch hours, or is looking to advertise campus programs on their digital signage. All of these goals could easily fit in with library programming and marketing! By knowing what they're trying to accomplish, you may think of partnerships you didn't even consider at the beginning of the conversation.
Librarians tend to use jargon. I've written about this before. I'll write about it again. I'm pretty sure it will be engraved on my tombstone. Librarians. Use. Jargon.
Speaking Their Language is a huge step in developing a meaningful relationship. Certain offices will respond well to the terms "retention," "academic success," or "student development" while others may be particularly responsive to "services for alumni," "programming," "therapy dogs," or "safety and security." Here are some words they're sure NOT to respond to:
- access services
- policy & procedure
- Next Gen ILS
- Citation Managers
- Database Workshops
Hello Alumni Relations,
Our Access Services Department has recently rewritten our policies and procedures regarding alumni visits to the library. Alumni access is now restricted to certain terminals and access to certain materials is restricted, per publishers requests. The library has recently upgraded our system to a Next Gen ILS which facilitates searching of many sources at once time. Alumni must have their alumni cards to access the facilities.
Hello Alumni Relations,
Did you know Loyola is one of the only libraries in the area that does not charge alumni to access the library? We see around 150 alumni per week! With their alumni card, any graduate can visit campus at any time to use a set of computers dedicated to alumni access; most of our online tools are available for them to use inside the library. We just upgraded our library system to make access easier than ever! We think the library is a great opportunity to get alums back on campus for events and activities - if you're interested in partnering with the library for strategic engagement - let us know! We're here to help.
P.S. - No service is perfect! If you hear of any complaints about the library from alumni, please let us know. We'll work hard to solve the problem.
The first example is a great demonstration in how to get someone to click "delete" before they've finished reading an email. An alumni relations staff member likely has no idea why they would possibly be expected to care about some of those things. It also seems excessively negative, using words like "must have" and "restricted" and "policies and procedures." The second example is a great demonstration of providing a service to the constituents this department cares about. It's an invitation to continue a conversation, quantitatively represents the library's service to those patrons, and demonstrates the libraries ability to get alumni involved - a perpetual goal of the alumni office!
Of course, both of these sample emails were created with the intention of being examples; it's likely that even if you (or someone you know) has written a letter similar to the first one, it wasn't quite that "library-ish" - either way, it's smart to give all your communication a second read and check for opportunities to "speak their language."
A special reminder: there is NO SUCH THING as a rubber stamp; you cannot simply create a template and send it out to every department, or even every member of an individual department! The language should also change over time to reflect the evolving needs of your campus. Critically look at each piece of external communication, and update it periodically.