Tasks for Modern Info Pros: Reduce the Burden of Stretched Resources

In November 2013, SLA published The Evolving Value of Information Management, a report summarizing the results of research commissioned by SLA and the Financial Times. The report, which was based on surveys of and interviews with information professionals and senior information users, identified five essential attributes for modern information professionals. The report also set forth a list of 12 key tasks that information professionals must perform in order to develop the five attributes.

Several SLA members have agreed to share their thoughts about the 12 tasks. In this post, Liz Turner, a librarian in the Dallas area, describes how creating choices and taking on menial tasks can actually reduce burdens on information professionals while empowering customers.


At age 16, while earning extra cash for college, I learned a valuable lesson working the phones at my neighborhood pizza chain. In fact, I learned several lessons, starting with this: hungry folks aren’t always rational thinkers.

The most important lesson—which I reiterate to this day—is that creating an opportunity to make a choice will endear you to your customer. When an angry customer called to complain about their pizza, I didn’t backpedal, I didn’t respond in kind, I didn’t even transfer the caller to a manager on duty. I said, “Here’s what we can do for you. We can do option A (remake the pizza and deliver at no charge) or we can do option B (place a credit on file for next time). Which would you like to choose?”

Immediately, the tone and the balance of power shifted. Empowered by choice, the customer felt satisfied, and the manager was relieved of a potential additional burden.

Creating choices, particularly when designing self-service solutions for knowledge consumers, can facilitate not only more efficient use of resources, but reduce the physical access points necessary to fulfill an information request. It ties in beautifully with some of the concepts of user-driven design and testing: creating micro-interactions that engage users without them leaving the page, ascertaining users’ purposes and functions and directing them to personalized assets, and making careful observation of testing behaviors, navigation paths, and clicking patterns to inform future services and solutions.

Sometimes we can create value by taking on even the most menial tasks. For example, I have found that it’s seldom demeaning to my position or perception by volunteering to scribe at meetings. I can make notes and action items available to the team in a common space, and I can use this space to direct them to other digital assets, collections, or information of interest.

It’s kind of like what Tom Peters wrote in The Pursuit of WOW!—even trivial tasks and routine activities have the potential to be re-imagined, reinvented, and re-engineered. Librarians and information professionals often are relegated to the “drudgery” of redesigning and maintaining the Website and curating the term store, but owning these areas with every bit as much enthusiasm, excellence and ardor as we do our more customer service-oriented functions can make us irreplaceable.

A last note on the power of metrics and usage statistics: equipping yourself and your team with logs that can demonstrate where popular services, reports, or pages get more traffic can help promote their value and adoption. This practice can also make the case for retiring or archiving underutilized content or reassigning it to a place where its target audience will find it more readily.

These action steps will help you reduce the burden of stretched resources in your library or information center:

  • Create metrics, but remember that numbers don’t tell the whole story.
  • Listen to colleagues and ask them prompting questions (“What’s your biggest concern? What do you not have time to do this week?”) to uncover opportunities to contribute.
  • Empathize and offer choices to redirect customer complaints.
  • Always be cognizant of your abilities as well as your limitations—and don’t overstretch yourself!

Any large business structure consists of several units, and local teams are formed in each department who are competing with each other. Spy app can play a key role in this struggle.

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