SLA, 7/17: Kee Malesky and Bobby Schrott: Aligning Resources for Maximum Insight

LexisNexis’ Bobby Schrott introduced the session by explaining the fascinating conversations he and NPR’s Kee Malesky have had led him to think he wanted to bring the conversation to a broader audience of content lovers. He provided some background on NPR, it’s use of content, and the role the librarians play regarding information consumption, preservation, and use in the organization.

Kee opened by explaining National Public Radio’s different librarian roles: music, broadcast, and reference. She also gave a brief overview of her career and decision to become a librarian. She teased Bobby about an early LexisNexis terminal with keys so tiny, she had to use a pencil to type. She grins: “It is, as most of you have realized, one of the best library jobs in the world.” The organization recognizes the importance of their work. “We have an obligation to the American public because we are public radio to save our work.”

Bobby cycles back to the idea that the librarians at NPR were contributing story ideas—not a traditional librarian duty—and asks Kee to talk more about that and how Kee has been able to partner with certain reporters to really contribute to the news cycle and programming. Because NPR started as a small, underfunded organization, doing things inexpensively and pitching in to help the greater organization just became part of the normal routine. There are many opportunities for Kee and other librarians (two broadcast librarians are in the audience) to mention things they learned through the news or events or … anything to the reporters. “It’s important to always be in that conversation,” Kee stresses. Contributing like that is a continual process.

Those two librarians are working on a project to digitize 40 years of NPR audio. When cataloging, Kee and the other librarians way back when used to joke about how convenient it would be to be able to click a button right there on the catalog record that would play the audio instead of the digital record pointing to a physical location from which someone would have to pull tape. The software is open source

An audience member asked about NPR’s organizational chart related to libraries: where do the librarians fit in the structure. The libraries moved out of the news umbrella a few years ago. A newer investigative unit asked for a librarian when it was formed. The director of the librarians, SLA News Division colleague Laura Soto-Barra, has made some staffing changes to enable her to focus more on big picture things, promoting two librarians to managerial roles.

The librarians also do a lot of customized training, from new employee orientation to more specialized tasks if reporters need it for a story or when changing roles.

An audience member asked about ticketing and tracking systems for reference inquiries. Laura instituted some more organized ways to keep statistics on library use. It sounds like doing so is fairly simple: what kind of inquiry (broadcast, reference …), from which group, how long did it take to fulfill the request, and maybe a few other metrics. Bobby points out keeping the numbers can be as simple as using spreadsheet software. There will always be people or departments who use the library more than others. Learn who those users are because you might be serving an audience you didn’t expect to serve so much and because at some point, you may need advocates and people who can go to bat for you. Bobby observes that “it’s hard for senior managers to ignore a compliment that’s been broadcast nation-wide.”

People also mentioned LibStats, Servicewise, Desk Tracker, homegrown system, RefTracker (which features forms on the intranet clients can complete), InMagic, and Sharepoint to share spreadsheet files. I built a FileMaker database during a previous role.

Credibility: When a new accountant starts, she doesn’t have to prove trust in the same way other professionals, like librarians, have to establish trust. Kee began in the reference library in 1990. Back then, there were two librarians who worked days to cover the week that didn’t overlap. When she was a new librarian, one of the famous NPR personalities visited the library and seemed hesitant to interact with her fully. By providing excellent service, she was able to establish trust with him gradually.

Bobby asked the audience to share stories about establishing credibility.

Some people recognize that librarians are better at going through large amounts of research or search results than they are; and, that often they can do it more efficiently. Some execs and non-librarians recognize that they don’t have the same kind of time to do that work themselves. Some people realize when and how they need librarians.

Wowing senior management can be a very good thing, but with how quickly they can change, be prepared for changing relationships and needing to establish credibility with new people often. Bobby requests an audience member share her experience with that. Learning how to communicate with upper level business folks is important: do they prefer charts and graphs to text? Synopses? Analyses? A list of results? Tailoring answers and results to your audience is vital.

Bobby prods Kee to talk about some challenging or difficult questions she’s handled. One example is when Kee tried to find the words “follow the money” in documents related to the Watergate scandal. People associate that with the book All the President’s Men, but it isn’t there. They traced it to the movie script.

Decisions about when to tell people in the same company about similar research happening elsewhere often falls to the librarian. Corporate library confidentiality is different from public library confidentiality. In some news environments, the librarians regularly play yenta. “Oh, you know, someone else was asking about that the other day … Are there two stories happening on this topic … ?” Some reporters will vet ideas with the librarians before fully developing them in order to get ideas about what’s available, what’s been covered before, what might be a new approach now.

Librarians sometimes can point out how companies are using information inefficiently. One librarian mentioned how after she came on board, she noticed people in the company kept ordering the same journal reprint articles because there wasn’t a way within the organization to see what had previously been ordered and whether the rights to that article permitted sharing. In some cases, the same people were reordering the same articles.

Get to know the experts in your organization: people who speak other languages, have certain hobbies or degrees … Create an experts list with contact information.

Don’t discount the value of free labor and internships. Corporate office in Australia that will never hire a degreed librarian? Would a local university with a library school have some kind of intern program that might cover that gap?

An audience member gave an elevator speech about the importance of giving elevator pitches.

A lady wonders how we can offer new services to employees who have been with a company for decades. Librarians need to be adaptable and flexible and familiar with their clients needs and desires.

The NPR news production process has changed in the last few years, librarian Janel Kinlaw explains, so the librarians have become more proactive than they were previously.

There’s a danger with innovating too much, both in terms of moving too quickly for users to feel comfortable and when it comes to all areas the library covers. Great, you have a Twitter feed! How’s your cataloging software?

Libraries as portfolio managers is a hot topic.

One of our News Division colleagues ponders strategies for maintaining human contact in this world where many people prefer email or texting or … Walk up and down the hallway, engage people in conversation (“Wow. I really liked your piece yesterday!), and just make yourself available in person, outside of the library, somehow. NPR’s embedded environment makes in-person interactions much easier.

Being embedded has its benefits. We can reach our constituents easier, but we also lose incredibly easy contact with our librarian colleagues. Instant messaging and chat solves some of those problems.

Since Kee works alone on the weekends and has her days off during the typical work week, she reads through the logs the librarians use to track what’s happening. Others do the same when they return to work after the weekend to learn what Kee handled.

Some examples of being proactive include reminding people about valuable resources during certain times. “The Olympics begin in a few weeks. We have the following materials: …” They also take time to give updates about major projects.

Bobby advises taking advantage of mistakes to point out to people how the library could have helped. (Other organizations’ mistakes are suitable.) His example was one where a media outlet put someone on the air who claimed to be a certain expert. Another outlet broke the story that that fellow wasn’t who he claimed to be. Bobby reminded that organization about some resources they had through LexisNexis they could have used for a quick background check that would have indicated this fellow was bluffing.

NPR has about 19 librarians and interns all together.

Kee’s suggestions for the future include reanalyzing ourselves to figure out what we can do with our roles in the organization and how to change when the areas around us change. She uses one of our newspaper colleagues as an example. When the newspaper decided to close its library, he was able to create a job by pointing out how his content management skills would benefit the reporters if he managed certain kinds of information and information architecture. Kee emphasizes that the need for librarians and our skills is growing, though many jobs are not going to be titled as “librarian.”

Kee closes the session by briefly mentioning her new book due out in the fall.

(Oh, heh, I should have worn my “I heartfully listen to NPR” shirt again, eh.)

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