Making A Difference
Professional and Institutional Relations
Can you identify the influential people where you work? That's probably easy for most of you to answer. The more difficult question is: Can they identify you?
If your answer is "No" or "I'm not sure," you are probably not making a visible difference in your workplace. If you're not a regular participant in key strategic meetings at your institution, you need to improve your professional relations. There are many ways to do this, but you will have to take the first step. Here's how.
Professional and institutional relations simply means helping your colleagues understand how they can benefit from what you do. Start by analyzing who uses your library. For a week, two weeks or even up to a month, collect information about each user. This information should be gathered informally and, whenever possible, in person. Pay particular attention to anecdotal comments such as "Dr. Jones always makes his students use the library" or "I couldn't find this anywhere else and Mrs. Smith suggested I try here."
Here is what you want to know:
Once you have completed this exercise, you have taken the first step in conducting a communications audit. You have identified some of your library's clients, and you have information about why they use your library.
The next step is to analyze this data. Do you have frequent users, occasional users or a mix of both? Do most of your clients come from one department or one discipline? If so, you have found your "booster club," people who understand and value your services. You should acknowledge their support by sending a quick follow-up note letting them know the outcome of their referral and thanking them.
If you don't have a "booster club," you can create one by establishing and nurturing good professional and institutional relations. As you follow along the communications audit, think about your library's image. Are you hidden in a basement corner or do you have a lot of walk-in traffic? Does your library accommodate independent research or do you want people to rely on your staff for assistance? How do you let people know what to expect?
When you have a good idea of who your current clients are, the next step is to identify potential users or target audiences. Target audiences include:
All of those listed above, and many more, are people who are already part of your institution, and it should be fairly easy for you to begin communicating with them.
You now have information on people who use the library. Next you need to find out why people don't use the library. The only way to do this is to ask them.
Think about the target audiences that could really benefit from your services. Call up someone from one of these groups and schedule a brief meeting. Tell them you would like a few minutes of their time to gain a better understanding of how your department can be of service. Let them know you are conducting a communications audit and that their input is essential to obtain accurate results. If they don't have time to meet with you, ask if someone else on their staff can meet with you. If all else fails, ask if they will fill out a five-question survey for you. Tell them they can do it by e-mail.
You will probably need to be persistent, but until you know why people are not using the library, you cannot make any progress.
Let's say that you have completed this part of the communications audit and have learned that the library's location or its hours are inconvenient. That's easy to remedy by making sure people know they can access the library staff by fax or e-mail at any time.
Or maybe people feel they don't get timely responses or get too much information. Devise a form that lets your staff know how quickly the information is needed and whether "topline" information is sufficient.
By conducting an informal communications audit, you can begin to better adapt your library to its users' needs.
Now, you're ready to put out the welcome sign. Do visitors to your library know what to expect?
Think about what happens when you visit a new restaurant. Is it clear whether you should wait for a hostess or take your own seats? Do you find menus on the table? Is it a casual restaurant or should you expect to be handed a wine list? Can you linger over a meal or will you be expected to leave shortly after you have finished dining? Almost all of us instinctively determine how to act in our surroundings based on non-verbal cues.
Your library is no different. Ask a friend to stop by your library and give you his or her impression. Is it immediately clear where to go if you need assistance? Is there an area where people can converse quietly? Is there a place where people can set their things down while they fill out a request form?
Use signs to let people know what to do, whether they need to find a free computer or figure out if it's okay to bring food into the library. Don't post a list of library rules. Instead, put up a few simple, easy-to-read signs. For example, use a hanging sign over computers that can be used by any visitor. Then, put out a table sign that indicates where to go for assistance.
How easy is it for visitors to find your library? Make certain that your library is listed on your building's directories and that there are adequate hallway signs. Many hospitals use colorful pathways on walls or floors to guide visitors. Is there a pathway to your library? This is particularly important if you wish to encourage visitors such as patient's family members, who are unfamiliar with your facility.
Now that you know something about who does and does not use your library and you have done all you can to ensure that visitors will feel comfortable using your library, it's time to leave.
The best way to ensure that your library is viewed as a vital part of your workplace is to build awareness of you and your staff's capabilities.
First, learn how employees prefer to get information about your workplace. Do they read bulletin boards, hold regular staff meetings or simply communicate by e-mail? Make sure you are "plugged in" to this communication network. Understanding the way people communicate in your organization will increase your chances of getting responses from them.
Here are suggested ways to communicate with your co-workers:
Host a thank-you coffee for your frequent users and invite them to bring guests.
Be prepared to demonstrate ways in which your library's resources can be utilized. This does not mean you should try to explain things as you would to another librarian. Put yourself in your audience's position. For example, compare these examples:
"Here is where we keep chronological reference copies of the Journal of Infectious Diseases, and we also can research this journal online. This has been particularly useful to the doctors here."
While that explanation would satisfy another librarian or a health care professional experienced in infectious diseases, it would not be suitable for a wider audience.
"We were able to help our internist, Dr. Smith, identify an unusual rash by searching the literature for skin conditions that matched his patient's symptoms."
The second explanation is much more useful to a wide range of potential library users. By giving an anecdotal example, it illustrates exactly how your library can help. It is much easier for someone to imagine situations where they might want to use the library's resources.
You may have noticed that the second example doesn't go into detail about what publication was used or how the search was conducted. That is because, with rare exceptions, people do not care about how you do your job. They simply want to know what you can do for them.
In other words, if someone only needs to know the time, don't tell them the history of clocks!
New Employee Orientation
Be a part of orientation for new employees, including volunteer and support staffs.
Contact your human resources department and ask to be included on employee orientations. Don't forget to include new volunteers. They often interact with patients and their families and can help them put your library to good use. Make sure support staff personnel know about your library. Students, interns and residents sometimes ask support staff where to find things rather than ask "dumb" questions of people they are trying to impress. Finally, make certain the library is included in employee manuals.
Ask to attend other departmental staff meetings to familiarize yourself with their needs and priorities. For example, you may find that the surgical department is seeing more elderly patients than ever before. Be sure your library's geriatric literature is readily available, and let the surgeons know your library is ready to assist them. If you want to encourage surgeons to contact you even when they are in the operating room, let them know you're available by phone and make sure someone is on hand in the early morning if that is when most surgeries are performed. You certainly wouldn't want a surgeon to call at 6 a.m. only to find your library isn't open until 9 a.m. and cannot provide an answer until 10 a.m.!
Design an Information Rx. Borrow this technique from pharmacists and create a simple form that is suitable for all your target audiences to use. Have several printed and distribute them widely within your institution. Encourage physicians to give this form to their patients. Stress that informed patients are better patients and that their patients are more likely to be compliant when they understand the doctor's orders.
Be an active participant in grand rounds. Many of you already sit in on grand rounds. Take this responsibility seriously. Look for ways to help and then respond as quickly as you can. Again, don't overload people with more information than they need. If you are uncertain how much data is needed, get back to the person with a short summary and let them know you can provide more information if necessary.
All of these are effective ways to begin networking with your fellow employees. The more opportunities you can create to showcase your expertise, the more people will be convinced that you and your library's resources are a vital part of the organization.
You can continue to stay visible within your organization by staying involved.
Stay in touch with the human resources and public relations departments. If your institution has a newsletter, ask if you can contribute an article on "Using the Internet to Find Healthcare Information" or write a "Question and Answer" column. Be sure you are a regular contributor to your institution's Web site.
You also can take the next step and start communicating with larger groups:
In the following section, you will find specific techniques on how to give a good presentation. The same techniques apply whether you are talking to a small group of employees or addressing an audience of thousands.
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2007 July 13