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What HR Pros Can Learn From Librarians

Originally posted: April 24, 2013 on TrishMcFarlane.com

You’ve read countless posts with titles like this, right?  What HR Pros Can Learn From _____________.   The reason they resonate  is that you really can learn things from other professions that will help you approach human resources in a different way.  Sometimes all you need is a twist on your perspective, a turn on your old ideas, or another view on fixing the problems you face in the workplace.

I had the good fortune of meeting a librarian from the Omaha Public Library a few months ago.  I admit, I was immediately intrigued when I met Amy Mather and excited about what we might learn from each other.  I was thrilled to have so many great examples of how she approaches work.  From the way she handles customers and requests, how she provides the best training,  how she conducts research, to how she helps people find the answers and information they need.

microfiche_21Here are some great tips that I learned that can apply to HR professionals:

  • Be a curator of knowledge-  Like a library, one thing a HR department typically does well is collect data.   We collect as much as we can about employees, costs, expenses, etc.  The key is being not only a collector of data, but a curator.  The word curator implies that the person not only has the information but regards it with care.  This means being able to know what information you have and how it can be valuable to other people.  How to mine that data and then distribute.
  • Act as a resource guide-  I remember going to the library resource room when I was growing up.  It was THE place to be to talk to a librarian who could guide me in researching the topics I was studying.  In HR, we often just answer the question at hand.  Take this to the next level by questioning like the librarians do so you can get to the real question and then guide the employee in the best direction.  Remember, you’re not there to solve the problem, but teach the employee how to solve the problem or deal with the issue.
  • Working with traditional methods and cutting edge technology–  Look, we all remember card catalogs and the Dewey decimal system, right?  How about looking up newspaper articles on microfiche?  Well, combine that with the latest technologies and you have systems libraries use.  It’s not much different in most HR departments.  You may have some of the latest software, but you also have systems that have been in place a long time.  The important thing is knowing how to make them work together to provide the best information for your clients.
  • Provide incentives and awards (for reading)-  One of my best library memories occurred each summer at the St. Louis County Public Library.  They had a summer reading program that involved having a target of reading 100 chapter books.  As you progressed toward your goal, they offered small, but wonderful, prizes.  The summer I remember the most, they created a large tree in the library lobby.  Each milestone, I received a bookmark or a pencil.  When I hit the 100 book goal, they placed a beautiful leaf with my name on it on the tree.  I was very proud.  Like the library, HR departments can influence leaders to use incentives and awards for their teams.

What have you learned from your library experience?  Share some ideas that apply in business.

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