Knowledge Cafe Reflections – Proving a Research Service’s Value

Last night was an evening of firsts and lasts. I attended my first ever Knowledge Cafe with David Gurteen and Allan Foster thanks to SLA Europe, ASLIB and the International New York Times. Sadly, it was also my last event as SLA Europe’s events committee chair (I’m stepping down as next year I’m taking on the role of SLA Europe’s president-elect). It is the Knowledge Cafe that I would like to reflect on here though.


As it was my first cafe-style event, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The concept is really rather simple though – an idea or question is floated to the room, and in groups of 3-4 people, this idea is discussed, debated and dissected for approximately 10 minutes. The groups are then rotated, and the discussion begins again.


Our question last night was something along the lines of how do you justify to a sceptical manager that the work your library and research service undertakes is required and justified (the exact wording escapes me). As I cycled through the groups, many practical solutions were put forward for specific situations, and these started to be collated together into broader headings:

– using metrics – prove your worth through stats and financial figures

– reputational risk – if the library service isn’t available to fact check, who will? Would you need to hire someone anyway to fulfil the same role, but less effectively?

– if it gets to the stage where the question is being asked, then really it is too late. One needs to be visible and prove their worth constantly, not wait until the point that it is questioned.

Some of the most interesting points during these discussions came from vendors that were attending the evening (publishing houses, professional membership organisations, and database providers). They are used to hard-selling, dealing with numbers and justifying purchases, so some great tips were gained from these interactions. It also reinforced how too often in the information profession we only talk to librarians, as opposed to encouraging vendor-librarian discussion. We’ve a lot to learn from each other.

Following the group stage, the room came together for a larger discussion of the points that had been mooted. Here, two additional thoughts resonated with me – ensuring that you are speaking the same language as the person you are justifying yourself to (ie. If they are the CFO, use figures), and to get the buy-in of partners/key stakeholders in advance of meetings. Don’t just expect to be able to drop your biggest users into a meeting and ask them to support you and your service without warning. Always speak to them in advance, and make sure they agree with what you would like them to back you up on.

A few other points were also made throughout the evening:

– often you have only 5 minutes of a senior manager’s time. Be sure to put your key points across first in case your meeting gets cut short.

– whilst having a bank of enquiries to draw on is useful for high level meeting prep, make sure all your staff are well versed in the value that your service provides to the firm. A chance encounter in a lift may mean that your senior manager speaks to another member of your team before you. Ensure that they can sell what you do just as well as you can.

The café was a great way to share ideas, and a refreshing change from a PowerPoint presentation. Thank you to David and Allan for giving up their time to come and run it for us, and to the International New York Times for sponsoring the evening!


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Annie on December 5, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Oh wow, congratulations Mr President-Elect!


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