A few weeks ago I attended, and ran a workshop at, the first Relationship Management Conference in HE Libraries at the University of Stirling.
As I have mentioned previously I now try to reflect on my conference experiences rather than regurgitate what happened.
So here’s the top 3 things I have taken away from the conference:
- What is RM?
Sometimes (all the time) it is easy to forget that we use a lot of jargon in libraries; I think RM illustrates this perfectly. To most people “relationship management” would probably conjure up an image of couples therapy.
On the first day of the conference we had an activity where we had to highlight key features of RM (in libraries) and possibly come up with a sentence to “define” it. This was hard. We all have different views and experiences that have shaped them. We eventually settled (sort of) on a group of characteristics which led me to a very broad “definition”:
RM = using user-centred approaches to create a flexible framework in order to decvelop and support strong partnerships.
An idea our group and I think a lot of other groups came to was that there is a difference between the concept of relationship management and having RM in your job title. Some of the discussions veered towards the “are liaison/subject librarians outdated?” area, I think we all agreed that we all “do” RM activities even if it isn’t in our job title or description.
Afterall, we are humans*, humans like to be near other humans and that means we have to manage our relationships with those humans; personally AND professionally/ [* well some of us]
We also talked about liaison vs RM – for me liaison is part of RM – as well as all the other areas of my job. The more I think about it the more I realize that relationship management IS my job.
Not all areas of my job are on here but I think you get the idea.
I think that everyone working in libraries (and probably a lot of other industries) has RM at the core of their work. Core to library work is engagement with users therefore, RM is built intrinsically into our role.
So if I “do” RM what’s the difference between me (as a subject librarian) and a Relationship Manager (or other job titles/descriptions of that ilk)? For me a Relationship Manager is the person who take strategic lead on developing and supporting relationships within an organisation.
Maps = strategy (apparently?!)
I realize I haven’t answered one of life’s great mysteries – why are we here? are we alone in the universe? is there another word for synonym? [answers welcomed] – and my answer is simplistic* but I wanted to share because I am a librarian and we’re like that.
2. Pro-activity is key to RM (& data helps)
Well duh! If we take RM in its simplest sense (my favourite) – then of course pro-activity is essential. You can’t rest of your laurels and expect service users to continue to be satisfied with the support. Times change, technology changes, information changes, user needs change – we need to adapt and evolve.
Sometimes for HE libraries it is hard to get the message across about what we can (and can’t ) support. There are lots of different ways of increasing engagement. This was the focus of the workshop (Wearing users’ shoes: engaging with the academic community) I did with Lura Woods (@WoodsieGIrl). Following the Library Impact Data Project (LIDP) as University of Huddersfield we decided to target low users of the library via a variety of techniques: roving in departments, library desktop visits for academics, optional workshops (for staff, researchers, international students and other groups) and partnering with other support services e.g. Wellbeing for our Paws4Thought event – dog therapy for exam stress relief. Find out more here.
Other HE libraries (York, Teesside, Gloucester and many more) are using data (both statistical and anecdotal) to produce reports for departments informing them of how their students are using their service and what the library can do to help. Without the libraries proactively going to departments with this information it is very unlikely that they would ask for it, they may not even realize the library has this kind of data. By equipping departments with the library data, closer and stronger partnerships can be forged and maintained as the academics can get more involved in discussing and make more informed decisions about library support.
The right data in the right hands can be very powerful.
3. Roles are changing
As said above I see RM as central to my job. Roles in libraries have changed a lot over the last few years with a move to more functional groups rather than subject/department based roles. This is something that unnerves me slightly but I am still at the start of my career and I understand that things will change whether I like it or not. However, I know that as a librarian whatever my job title or description is, RM will be central to that role and that is something I am thankful for.
In my professional experience RM has not really been spoken about as a separate concept before, perhaps because it did not appear in job titles or descriptions until recently, but I found it really enlightening. It helped me reflect on my own role, what I actually do and what I could do differently and how I could develop as a professional. I definitely want to get involved in wider discussions about RM in HE libraries.
Finally, highly recommend this conference to others, there was a good mix of speakers (not just from libraries) and the topics were varied. The location and facilities were fantastic – bravo University of Stirling – and the evening entertainment was also brilliant.
There are probably LOADS of better and more information posts about the conference – you’ll probably find them on #rmlib2015
If you would like to find out more about Relationship Management in Libraries you could join the LinkedIn Group.