Career Strategies for Librarians
Using Sales Skills in Library Work
by Stacy Highlender
I worked in the Silicon Valley for fifteen years. I spent those years flying by the seat of my pants with
dogged determination. I had no educational degree to back my claims to be able to sell, but I had
nothing that proved I couldn’t. So, with visions of money and recognition, I carved out my seat right next
to Zig Ziglar. I felt success; I even tasted success. Most of the time, however, I only made enough
money to pay bills and make it to the next paycheck! In my second career as a librarian, I have realized
that my experience in sales helped me develop several skill sets that help me be a better librarian.
During my first years in sales, I think I got by on my outgoing personality, which turned out to be a
valuable asset. People seemed to like me. I was honest and I enjoyed pleasing people. These
attributes weren’t specific to selling but they helped. I think over time I learned how to cultivate these
traits into a skill set that helped me work better with people and ultimately turned out to be an asset to
Fortunately, I worked for a distributor that sold many different products; while one product line might not
be selling well, another usually was. As I moved around to several different software and hardware
companies in the Silicon Valley, I continued to develop my skill set which included greater
communication skills, the ability to work with difficult people, and persistence in completing requests
and demands. I also acquired technology skills in the early 1990s as the World Wide Web came into
existence. Things were still great for these jobs, and it seemed that technology had never looked better.
As I look back on that timely decision to quit the good life in California and return to Texas where I still
had family ties, I think this time spent in sales and technology helped me grasp my footing as a
librarian. I learned the value of good customer service, which helped me succeed as a sales
As important as customer service is in sales, it is just as essential in the library with students. They
want to know that what they are doing matters. The students I work with want instant feedback, so I work
hard to talk with each one as they come into the library. I try to understand what they are looking for
before we launch into a research request. While the instructor that has assigned the topic is not
standing in the library with the student, I still have the responsibility to help the student find new
information as well as satisfy the teacher. I want the student to come back often. Most students return
when they discover I can help them get better grades. Maybe they need me to proofread a document or
just to spell a few words for them. Sometimes the student just needs to hear that the paper sounds
good and they should be proud of the work they did.
While we work together, we begin to form a bond. This bond usually results in a relationship of trust.
The student knows I can be trusted to help them, and I work hard to not break that bond. I learned the art
of developing relationships with my customers during my sales years. Talking to the same people every
day, knowing my client’s reputation to their customer was on the line based upon my information kept
me from being irresponsible in those phone calls. I am happy to provide the same level of one-on-one
personal customer service in the library. It keeps my students more aware of our services, it keeps them
coming back, and it encourages them to recommend what we provide to their classmates.
I like to remind students that not only can I help, but if we work together we can usually complete a task
in less time. If I proactively approach the student and jump right in, I keep another sales skill honed.
Some students are shy or even lacking in self-confidence. In order to head that off, I try to greet each
student as they enter the library, ask them what they are working on, and tell them to let me know if they
run into trouble. I like to respond to new faces in the library and start talking with students right away. I
like to establish a partnership with students so they learn to begin a paper, find the right sources, learn
how research their topic, and cite the paper properly. Any time I can take a situation to the most personal
level and help someone find what they are looking for, I feel the value in the profession. I strive to really
understand the needs of the user. The student’s immediate needs are important; however, I also enjoy
getting feedback that can be incorporated to make the services better tomorrow than they were today. I
like to follow up with students and find ways to help them even when they are not in the library. As
technology evolves, so do the avenues in which we can reach our patron. I send follow-up information to
students by email or Twitter communication blasts. Recently, our graduation ceremonies were taking
place, and in order to get the word out that cap and gown pickup had been extended a week, we sent out
communications via Twitter. Podcasts and videos are on the radar for orientation to the library and in-
house online databases. The many Web 2.0 tools are a great means for keeping students and staff “in
Raising awareness and communicating with students is a top priority, but also high on my list is helping
students realize this is the time to reach for their dreams -- maybe even go beyond their wildest dreams.
I like working with students who have their eyes on their next move. If students wish to pursue an
additional degree or start a business upon graduating, I help them find resources to help determine
what next steps they need to take. I hope the vocational college is just the first step for the students who
begin their journeys here.
People today demand more satisfaction from service providers, and today’s librarian is in a unique
position to meet that demand. I can spend the time necessary to ask a leading question, which may
lead to several more questions, which ultimately gets the patron to exactly what he or she is looking for.
People come to the library to find “the answer.” If there is an answer that will satisfy as well as stimulate
the college student to ponder more, so we shall search and find.
Sales helped me develop tenacity, determination, creativity in overcoming obstacles and objections, and
interpersonal skills. Tenacity and determination are essential strengths for a college librarian. Tenacity
in completing research requires the need to move past roadblocks, time constraints, and physical and
emotional setbacks. Sales with a technology emphasis helped establish skills I now use in my second
career as a librarian. As I go to work each day, doing what I do feels as natural as the day I learned to
read. Thank goodness for that day in second grade.
About the Author
Stacy Highlender graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from University of Houston in May 1999.
Ten years later she went on to Sam Houston State University and earned an MLS degree in May 2009.
She was selected as a poster presenter at TLA in April 2009. After a sales career in California with
several firms, she left selling with sales skills intact. She combined her interests in sales, technology
information, and books into her second career as a librarian. Currently working as Head Librarian for a
private college, she hopes to gain enough writing and publishing experience to head confidently back to
school one final time for a doctorate.
Article published September 2010
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily
represent the views of the LIScareer editors.