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The NCLA 60th Biennial Conference was the first conference I attended in my first professional library position – and what a great time it was! I enjoyed meeting lots of North Carolina librarians, including those who are doing similar work to me right now and those who like me are just starting out.

Most of the sessions I attended fell in the broad category of digital projects – North Carolina’s contribution to the National Digital Newspaper Program; social media strategies for special collections and digital projects; and the new NC ECHO, which harvests the metadata of digital collections across the state of North Carolina and provides simple keyword searching across the collections whose metadata was harvested.

But two of the most memorable sessions I attended were those that fell just a little bit outside my comfort zone but nevertheless still touch on my work.

Always Be Closing: Liaisons As Sales Force

Nathaniel King and Jacqueline Solis of UNC led this session. Drawing on both Karen Williams’ Framework for Articulating New Library Roles and Neil Rackham’s SPIN selling techniques, Nathaniel and Jacqueline argued that engagement requires offering library solutions to solve user problems – in essence, being a salesperson.

Applying the SPIN framework to liaison work looks something like this:

  • Situation questions
    • How long have you been in this department?
    • What are you working on now?
    • What kind of data do you collect in your research?
  • Problem questions – Get the customer to talk about difficulties or dissatisfaction with their current situation.
    • Do you have data sets without a way to easily store & retrieve?
  • Implication questions – Take the stated problem to its logical conclusion. How is the problem affecting the research/teaching/productivity of the customer?
    • How does not easily accessing data affect your research?
  • Needs-payoff questions – Customer describes the benefits of solving the identified problem and tells you the payoff they would receive by solving it.
    • How would it help your research if you had one secure place to store all your data? We have an IR…

Nathaniel and Jacqueline used role playing to demonstrate the framework and encouraged participants to practice during the session, as well. This framework gave me a lot of food for thought about strategies that I’d been using implicitly when engaging with humanities faculty at new faculty receptions, but having an explicit framework within which to place my strategies will, I’m sure, help me to close the sale more frequently in the future.

Telling Your Story with Data

Joyce Chapman and Beth Hayden of the State Library of North Carolina led this session, which focused on using data to support arguments. Joyce was the person behind the beautiful digitization progress charts for a collaborative digitization project among Duke, UNC, NC State, and NC Central so I was excited to attend her session. Most of the data sources Joyce and Beth highlighted were targeted towards public librarians, but the framework they provided for substantiating either claims of need or claims of excellence in service is applicable to all library contexts.

For me, the most useful exercise from their presentation was to take an anonymized example paragraph from an actual grant application and consider how its argument could be strengthened with data:

“This type of special collections materials is frequently accessed by users. The papers of X, Y, Z are among our most requested. The papers of A, B, and C were recently processed and therefore have been accessible for only a couple years. Nonetheless, they have seen growing research interest during that brief time.”

A reviewer of this grant application might ask “Well, how frequently are these materials requested or accessed by users? How do you know research interest has grown?” so it would be helpful to incorporate evidence into the claim. One might say a collection is among the top 10 most requested each year, or that it has been requested more than 40% of other collections. The most important takeaway was to contextualize your data – not to provide numbers in isolation but to answer the question “compared to what?”.

Attending this session gave me food for thought about how to track our digitization stats in such a way that we have data at the ready when we sit down to make an argument – either when reporting on the strength of our services or applying for a grant.