Library Leadership

29. How Do We Express Our Worth: Solving the Value Dilemma with Constance Ard

How do we, as librarians, communicate the value of our services? On this show we hear from Constance Ard, the Answer Maven, now utilizing her MSLIS and 20+ years of experience as the Research Services Resource Manager with an international law practice.

As we listen to Constance, we no longer have to be intimidated by expressing our value, nor will our message be lost in a changing world.

Transcript

This podcast is brought to you by the School of Library and Information Management from Emporia State University, where library leaders are created, with program sites in Las Vegas, Nevada; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Emporia and Overland Park, Kansas; and by the Park City Library—making film and podcasting possible with green screen, and sound recording resources.

Adriane:

I’m here today with Constance Ard, an information professional with twenty-plus years of experience. After nine years of operating her own consulting business, Answer Maven, she embraced a new challenge as the Research Services Resource Manager with Hogan Lovells, an international law practice. Today she helps us answer the question, How do we as librarians, communicate the value of our services to data-driven decision makers? As we listen to Constance, we’ll no longer have to be intimidated by expressing our value to the community, nor will our message be lost in a changing world. 

So, welcome to the show, Constance.

Constance Ard:

Thank you, Adriane, it’s nice to be on your show.

Adriane:

Question #1: It’s great to have you here. I’m really excited to jump right in and talk about the value dilemma, and if you can share with us what this is, and the challenges and opportunities that come with it. 01:12 

Constance Ard:

Sure, so, from my perspective the value dilemma stems from the need to demonstrate value of a library within an organization, no matter what type of library it is, but not having a standard method of doing so. In trying to define a way to make that process easier— we’re all very busy, and it becomes really difficult to necessarily communicate the value without a little bit of structure around it. Organizations are continuing to evolve more toward reliance on data to drive strategy and make decisions. So no matter what type of library you are, there’s a need to quantify services and communicate that quantification in a meaningful way to demonstrate a library’s value.

It’s a challenging scenario because it presents a myriad—but it also presents a myriad of opportunities. I don’t know about your organization, Adriane, but I’ve been in organizations where it’s been really hard to understand what metric needs to be used to demonstrate values. So, that’s one of the biggest challenges that I find in the value dilemma. It’s just knowing, Okay, what metric do I need to share with my stakeholders, and what do I need to share with my users, and defining the metrics that really matter within your organization.

Adriane:

Sure, and we all probably use slightly different metrics. We’ve got some in common, but then our organizations may want something distinct depending on what we’re doing. So, that’s a good point.

Constance Ard:

Yeah, and your stakeholders too, vary. So, how you use the metric differs in terms of how you communicate with different stakeholders. While that’s one of the challenges, it’s also a really good opportunity because you can reach out to your stakeholders, and your users and get them to help you understand what they need to know about your library’s value, and help you define the message that you need to deliver with those metrics.

Adriane:

Question #2: How do you define worth? 03:30 

Constance Ard:

I think worth is something that you want to expend effort on to see it succeed. Yeah, I think worth answers a need for a community, and equals the effort required to deliver that to the community.

Adriane:

Question #3: So, in your viewpoint why is it important to define worth? 03:56 

Constance Ard:

Because, no longer is the library a sacred cow. I mean, even public libraries are under pressure from budgets. Academic libraries are stagnate in terms of budgeting. So, if you’re not communicating, and defining your worth, then it becomes very easy for these data-driven organizations to say, Well, you’re not really supporting the mission of the organization, and we’re going to cut your funding. Or, We’re going to cut your services, or we’re just going to cut you out completely. And, while that was more prevalent a few years ago during the economic crisis, I think it is a message that is constant now.

Adriane:

Question #4: Who, exactly, are we trying to explain our worth to? 04:49 

Constance Ard:

One, it depends on the organizational type. I work in a corporate environment, and have the majority of my career. I have very different stakeholders than a public library. And, a public library has very different stakeholders than an organization. 

Now a few years ago, I worked on a project called the double A, double L Economic Value of Law Librarians project. In that work we had a very long discussion about who is a stakeholder because we wanted to deliver a report that provided a model for law librarians to use to deliver their value message to their stakeholders. It was incredibly important to step back and say, The stakeholders are not necessarily your end users. 

I think that’s true in your organizations no matter what type. You really do have to step back and say, Who are the decision makers? Once you identify that, that’s the message of value up the chain that really matters about strategy and decision. Not that you don’t want your user input, and you don’t want to deliver a value message to your users. But, that’s a very different message. It’s more about accessibility of the services, and the resources provided by the library, rather than the value provided to users from the resources and services.

I don’t think the value dilemma is incredibly difficult to overcome. I think it comes down to a couple of key factors. One, understanding who your stakeholders are. Two, doing the work of understanding what you want to communicate. You know what services are valued by your users. Being able to communicate that up to your stakeholders, so that their strategy reflects that value, really, will be key to success in overcoming the value dilemma.

Adriane:

Question #5: What is the main reason we struggle to communicate our worth in your opinion? 07:40 

Constance Ard:

I think the main reason is because we’re service oriented. As a profession we’re very service oriented. And, we just expect people to see that worth. I think it’s a little uncomfortable for librarians to say, Hey, I did this. This is the impact I had based upon my knowledge and expertise. I think we just have to do better about getting really comfortable with that.

I’ve been in the library industry for over twenty years. When I was a baby librarian it seemed really easy to just report some numbers out on an annual basis, and you were good to go. I’ve seen that evolve into something where reporting the numbers and letting them speak for themselves is no longer enough. Librarians need to take ownership of those numbers and actually identify actions that will elevate the valuable services, and activities. Or even, identify the services and activities that are not being used and eliminate, or reallocate resources so that the valued services bubble up, and get the support that they need.

Let’s just talk—and I haven’t worked in a public library in a really long time, but adult programming was a big part of the public library that I worked for. If you were to fast-forward me to today in a public library setting, and I was looking at adult programming, I would want to take a look and see, Okay, adult programming’s really well received overall, but which programs are really successful, and drill into that, and repeat that success. And the adult programs that maybe weren’t so well attended, or weren’t so well received, dig into that a little bit and identify why it wasn’t successful. Either tweak it, or eliminate it. And really, reallocate resources into the things that were successful so you can continue that evolution and success.

Adriane:

Question #6: We report to governing bodies, stakeholders, funders, counsels, commissions, and they have a lot of outside pressure to produce results in the communities, and areas that they serve. And, so I know if we can meet their needs, a lot of times that helps them understand our worth. And, there’s a lot of communication that goes with that. So, can you tell me about communication being important to this process? 10:01  

Constance Ard:

I think everyone understands that communication is important, but it’s the method of communication that really impacts the success of the library. You just mentioned a myriad of different stakeholders that you report to. Every library, no matter what their type, has different stakeholders. And, each stakeholder has a different way of receiving information. 

So, I find it really important to customize the message to fit the audience. You know, finance officers and numbers guys really like charts and graphs. Your boards probably want a good story, you know? The numbers matter, but they’re a foundation of the story for many of your stakeholders. And, I think that customization is really important. 

I also recommend that the communication is continuous. I’ve found that the most successful messages about value are those that are constant. Annual reports are really important because it brings together the big picture, but it’s easy for you to disappear from your stakeholder’s mind if you’re not providing on-going communication. So, I think it’s important to talk about the small wins throughout the year. 

I currently work in a position where I am responsible for acquisitions, so I often have a situation where I’ve had a really good negotiation with one of my vendors and I share that with the stakeholders at the time. I think it’s important. It reiterates that you’re doing what you need to for the organization, and you’re working toward their mission on a constant basis, and it just helps to keep you top of mind. And, keep the value you deliver top of mind.

Adriane:

Question #7: What is the number one key component to express our worth? 12:42 

Constance Ard:

Confidence. I think we have to have confidence in the knowledge that we are experts in what we do.

Adriane:

Question #8: Right. And, it can be intimidating to convey our worth upward, in particular. In your opinion, what can we do to overcome that? 12:56

Constance Ard:

You know, I have a young team member that I was talking with yesterday, and it was really—I was very surprised. She said, I talked to a stranger in the elevator the other day. And, it reminded me that as a profession, librarians are a little shy, a bit introverted—not everyone, by any means. Everyone is different, but I think we—our profession often attracts people who are a little less reluctant to tell their story, and really deliver a message about the impact that they have. 

I think if we can continue to build confidence in our library professionals, that will help them get more comfortable with delivering that message up the chain. I just really find that people can be intimidated by the need to communicate. But at the end of the day, if we remember that everyone’s human, and everybody’s just doing their job. Then, I think it becomes a little easier to get out of our own head and communicate more effectively.

Adriane:

Question #9: That’s great. You want to have your ducks in a row, too, as you go into these conversations. So, what do you recommend in terms of that? I know numbers, and metrics are essential—having stories, will you share with us the essentials of this? 14:32 

Constance Ard:

It’s really hard sometimes to keep up with the pace of the work that we deal with and still find time to put together the story that the numbers tell us. But, it is important. The numbers are the foundation of your story. Let’s think about a situation where, maybe, you’re trying a new initiative in your library, and it’s going to impact your users really broadly. If you take a step back and think about how you’re going to do that successfully, and then get the buy-in from the stakeholders to implement it broadly. 

I often find that doing a small pilot project with a small group of users, and then using that data A, to determine whether or not it’s going to be a success or a failure. Or maybe, you can take the numbers that aren’t so positive for that pilot and say, Okay, this needs to be adjusted, that needs to be adjusted. Then you can use those numbers to deliver to your stakeholders a business case that really reiterates the need for the initiative to be implemented. 

That type of metric is being used to make a decision. And, it may be a decision that you make even before you take it to the stakeholders. Like, you’ve done the pilot and, You know what? This is a no-go. But, if you didn’t look at the numbers, and you just went with your gut instinct about the initiative, you might throw it out there to the broader organization and have a big failure. And then your message of worth is really lost.

Adriane:

Question #10: This really does require expertise, and agility, and confidence—I’d say maybe, practice. How does this translate into the successful demonstration of value? 16:37

Constance Ard:

If you start with something small, and you have a success with that, and then you’re like, Oh, let me look at the numbers on this. I do this to my team on a regular basis. I’ll look at something that they’ve presented to me for a purchase decision. I’m like, Well, let me see the use data. Then I’ll look at the use data and I’m like, Well, those are the wrong users for this product. Why are they using it and not these users?

So, I can take those numbers and then reach out and elevate the accessibility of the resource, or expand the user’s group to people I didn’t know needed the resource based on numbers of requests for it, and that type of thing. And just using numbers in a way that underscores the service that you’re delivering, I think, is an iterative process–and you can continue as you do it to build the models that you use for the analysis. 

Once you’ve done the analysis then, it becomes a little easier to take that message forward in a succinct way to your stakeholders and say, Hey, you know, we invested this much into this program. In year one we had X. In year two we had Y. We continued to market it, and so forth, and you know what—we think that this is something to watch for the next five years, and invest in for the next five years. And, the stakeholders can see that success, and that value that you’ve delivered, and it becomes easier for them to provide the continued support.

Adriane:

Question #11: Librarians are so good at what they do, and I think that’s great advice. Do you have a favorite book, or resource you’d like to share about leadership, and why? 18:47 

Constance Ard:

Yeah, I have three, actually. Two are by the same authors. One is called Extreme Ownership. The other is The Dichotomy of Leadership. Those are by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. I think I’ve got that name right, but I can email you with the details.

And then the other one that I really like is more about having impactful work in your day. It’s called, Busy. There’s a subtitle that I can’t remember [How to Thrive in a World of Too Much] but, I will email you those details. But, yeah, in terms of defining my leadership and my leadership style with my team, Extreme Ownership is definitely the thing that has informed me the most. 

Adriane:

Question #12: In closing, what does being a librarian mean to you, personally? 19:44

Constance Ard:

I am educated as a librarian. My career has had such pivotal changes throughout the years. I really think that being a librarian means being able to adapt, and adjust to fit the needs of your users and your organization. It might even mean honing a skill that you didn’t know you had to provide the value you want your user to receive. I feel like I’ve done that in every iteration of my career. So, I guess that’s what I think being a librarian means.

Adriane:

Question #13: That’s fantastic. And, I think you’re not alone in the fact that many careers in librarianship take meandering paths. That sometimes we find ourselves in one place, and we gain a wonderful perspective, or wonderful skills, and then take that into a new area that we didn’t even know we were going into. So, it’s a great profession to be in. And, I like that you share that perspective.  20:24

Constance Ard:

Thank you so much. I appreciate it. I think it’s a great profession, too, as long as we continue to evolve. And, I think we do. I think it’s natural.

Adriane:

Definitely. And, conversations like this help immensely. We all need to share our insights, and visions, and values, and just get out those ideas that help us all be better day by day.

Constance Ard:

I couldn’t agree more.

Adriane:

Constance, it’s been great to have you on the show. Thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts on the value dilemma and key components we can all use to express our worth as libraries.

Constance Ard:

Thank you so much, Adriane. I appreciate it.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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