How to Sit at the Table: Lean In

by: Joan L. Axelroth, Axelroth and Associates, Library & Information Management Consultant


I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the challenges facing law firm librarians, including the obstacles to success and what we can do to overcome them.  Always a worthwhile topic, it is of particular interest these days as I work alongside a stellar committee on programming for the upcoming Private Law Library Summit to be held this July as part of AALL’s annual meeting.  

Why is it that librarians are so often the first to recognize how technologies (intranets, social media) and services (knowledge management, competitive intelligence) can be used to advance our firms’ strategic interests and yet so often lose control to others in the organization?  Does management still look at the library as a place rather than a critical service?  Do we present ourselves as spokespersons for one department rather than as an integral part of the team?  Do we fail to sell our ideas using words and techniques that will be heard?  Bottom line, what should we do (or stop doing) to retain ownership and to merit a seat at the management table?   

While pondering these questions one day, I found myself distracted by an interview with Sheryl Sandberg whose new book, Lean In:  Women, Work and the Will to Lead, hits bookstores this week.  Sandberg’s resume includes her current position as Facebook’s COO, a past position as Google’s VP of Global Online Sales and Operations, and a couple of Harvard degrees.  She cites the statistics we all know about the paucity of women leaders and states her belief that increasing the number of women at the top of the corporate ladder will benefit us all.  Her advice to women for how to get there:  lean in (not back) and embrace success.   

Yes, Sandberg has chosen to direct her remarks to women but nothing about this advice is gender specific.  Unfortunately, in our profession, law librarians with a seat at the table are sparse regardless of gender. 

For me, Sandberg’s advice resonates because it addresses something in our power to control:  our own actions.  If a seat is what we want, we can make a decision not to hold ourselves back by deciding in advance that we won’t be heard.  We can make a decision not to be afraid.  As Sandberg told NPR,

Of all the posters plastered around Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters — “Move Fast and Break Things,” “Done Is Better Than Perfect” and “Fail Harder”. . . Sandberg has a favorite: “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?“ 

We can also make a decision to enhance our strategic skills.  A goal of this year’s Summit is to help participants shape their success by defining the roles and developing the services that add value to our organizations.  Lean in.  Embrace Success.

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