Communicating With Upper Level Management


Donna J. McCloskey

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am for myself alone, what am I?
If not now, when?
                                  Hebrew sage, Hillel

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Orientation to Organization
  • Ask Your Manager
  • Management Expectations
  • Performance Abilities
  • Service Awareness
  • Increasing Advocacy
  • Formal Reports
  • Presentation Strategies
  • Professional Development
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography


        As a beginning special librarian, learning to communicate with upper level management may seem like a daunting task.  It is a task worth undertaking and mastering as communicating successfully will reap its rewards for the librarian as well as the information center.  The beginning special librarian should start at the beginning by orienting himself to the organization, asking questions of upper level management, and defining management expectations.  Moving forward, the special librarian may demonstrate his performance abilities, increase awareness of available services, promote the library to management, and keep management informed through formal reports.  Finally, the special librarian can progress from the library proper to the boardroom and the professional arena in support of the organization.

Orientation to Organization

        An orientation to the organization whether formal or informal is an excellent way for the special librarian to answer the question, “How do things really get done around here?”  This induction training can help the new employee in achieving the following objectives:

  • Understand the mission of the parent organization
  • Get to know the other staff inside and outside of the library
  • Hear views of those outside of the library
  • Get to know existing and potential users of information services (St. Clair 1992)
  • Understand the lines of authority and the place of the librarian in the management hierarchy
  • Understand how the library compares to other departments in staffing, funding, etc.
  • Explore the history, growth, and economic challenges of the organization
  • Explore the facilities, the layout of the building, and the location of other departments (Salmon 1999)

Ask Your Manager

        After the initial few weeks on the job, questions may have arisen in the mind of the special librarian which upper level management is poised to answer.  These questions can open the door to communication.  By addressing any issues up front, miscommunication in the future can be avoided.  Some of the questions that may need to be addressed include:

  • How much time should be spent on technical services?  Are any services outsourced?
  • Are there situations where the librarian can take action independently?  What actions need prior approval of management?
  • Are there suggestions that will help the librarian get off on the right track with library staff?
  • Who besides the librarian’s immediate supervisor is involved in procedures and workflow?
  • How often is an update of the library’s progress required and in what format?
  • What are the personal priorities of the manager?  What are his areas of responsibility and what kinds of decisions must he make?
  • What are the management’s expectations of the librarian for the next six months?  Next year? (Salmon 1999)

Management Expectations

        Through an orientation and conversations with upper level management, the new special librarian should have a clear understanding of management’s expectations for support of the library and the library’s role in the organization.  A thorough knowledge of the industry or subject specialty as well as the organization itself is essential.  The librarian must demonstrate adequate professional qualifications, knowledge of databases, and administrative competence.  It is important for the librarian to keep management informed while developing a close rapport with users.  A review of expenditures and their cost effectiveness need to be addressed on a regular basis (O’Donnell 1976).

        The special librarian may communicate value to the management by meeting the following objectives:

  • Saving the organization money
  • Saving employees time
  • Providing value-added service by organizing and synthesizing information
  • Helping employees to meet deadlines
  • Providing accurate, helpful, and appropriate information
  • Anticipating the needs of users
  • Supplying the information needed rather than what is asked for
  • Providing consistent service
  • Fitting into the culture of the organization (Matthews 2002)
        In addition, the special librarian must communicate to upper level management the desire to continuously update his own competency level in a variety of areas.  These acquired competencies include:
  • Extensive and proven expertise in a variety of subject appropriate databases
  • Proficiency in Internet search and metasearch engines and the ability to select engines based on informational need
  • An understanding of materials available through interlibrary loan networks and other fee-based services
  • Familiarity with public sector information agencies and how to use them effectively
  • Familiarity with trade and industry publications
  • A personality conducive to effective teamwork and collegiality among all levels of staff (Lettis 1999)

Performance Abilities

        The special librarian may further demonstrate his value to the organization by possessing certain performance abilities.  Professional recognition as a librarian is directly proportional to how relevant the information services provided are to the top management.  To demonstrate professionalism, the librarian must take charge of his personal life and not let it interfere with work.  The librarian must have a positive impact and a positive attitude.  It is important to be a problem solver and not a problem creator.  A professional embraces and adapts to change with determination and optimism.  The librarian must communicate openly and directly, creating a feeling of trust as well as being a good listener.  Being a positive role model, teaching and sharing ideas, and looking for leadership opportunities will communicate dedication to the organization (Podesta 1997). 

Service Awareness

        It is important to communicate to upper level management the services which can be provided by the special library, the value of those services, and the skills of the information center staff.  Having a prepared, rehearsed message on how the library provides value may be useful in a variety of informal settings: the cafeteria, on an elevator, in the hallway.  The savings and benefits of information services include better decisions, time savings, money savings, and productivity increases.  The special librarian may communicate these savings and benefits to upper level management in the following ways:

  • Talk to upper level managers one on one
  • Send memos to those who will benefit from particular information services
  • Publish a newsletter, post to the Intranet, or develop a web page
  • Hold or arrange for seminars for users
  • Exploit your advocates/users
  • Establish a library committee
  • Develop outside contacts to share insights (Matthews 2002)

Increasing Advocacy

        There are a number of ways to increase management’s interest in the library.  It is important to establish personal contacts and build relationships with others in the organization.  Get to know and show interest in others and what they are doing.  Bring up the library in conversation so that management knows what the library does, how it has helped others, and how it can help them.  Fight for the library but know how to pick your battles.  Find solutions for yourself before going to management.  Be courteous and respectful not only to management but to all levels in the organization—even the custodian.  Make your manager look successful by understanding his concerns and priorities.  Establish your credibility by consistently following through.  Learn to communicate in the style of the organization.  Learn the unwritten rules of work hours, work ethic, and dress code (St. Clair 1992).

Formal Reports

        Unless otherwise required by upper level management, the special librarian can keep management informed by issuing a quarterly report on the progress and future objectives of the library.  More important than statistics is an outline of instances where library services have had a direct impact on the mission of the organization and where time and money have been saved.  In additions, suggestions can be made on how to improve the library by adding services and taking on additional responsibility (Kok 1980).  “Management does respond positively to demonstrated need, cost effectiveness, and contributions toward the organizational goals” (Holladay 1981).

Presentation Strategies

        There may be occasions for the special librarian to take his message directly into the boardroom.  This is an excellent opportunity to communicate the value of the special library.  It is important to remember, however, that the presentation is about the organization as a whole and not the library.  Relevant background data is essential.  Demonstrate how what the library is doing fits with the mission of the organization and show concrete results.  Communicate in the language of the organization thereby enhancing your image.  Know the audience; manage and use politics to the library’s benefit (de Stricker 2002).

Professional Development

        Once established within the organization, learning opportunities should not cease.  Hopefully, this was part of the original negotiation for the job.  If not, the special librarian must communicate to upper level management the importance of professional development, including attending conferences.  Advantages which may be communicated include keeping up with changes and trends in the industry, seeing new products and meeting vendors face to face, hearing from leaders in the profession, and receiving free merchandise or trials of software (Getting 1999).  In requesting time away from the library, the savvy librarian will address the issues of how the library will function during this time, how travel costs will be controlled, and improvements were made as a result of past conferences.  A detailed report to management upon return, emphasizing benefits to the organization, will increase the chances for participation in future events (Siess 1).


        Communicating with upper level management is an ongoing process.  Working diligently at the task on a daily basis will lay the groundwork for a positive and successful relationship between management and the special librarian.


De Stricker, Ulla. “Winning in the Boardroom.” The One-Person Library 19.3 (2002): 6.

“Getting Your Boss to Let You Go to Conferences.” The One-Person Library 15.9 (1999): 7.

Holladay, Janice. “Small Libraries:  Keeping the Professional Position Professional.” Special Libraries 72.1 (1981): 63-66.

Kok, John. “Now That I’m in Charge, What Do I Do?” Special Libraries 71.12 (1980): 523-8.

Lettis, Lucy. “Be Proactive:  Communicate Your Worth to Management.” Information Outlook 3.1 (1999): 25-7.

Matthews, Joseph R. The Bottom Line:  Determining and Communicating the Value of the Special Library. Connecticut:  Libraries Unlimited, 2002.

O’Donnell, William S. “The Vulnerable Corporate Special Library/Information Center: Minimizing the Risks.” Special Libraries 67 (1976): 179-80.

Podesta, Connie and Jean Gatz. How to Be the Person Successful Companies Fight to Keep:  The Insider’s Guide to Being #1 in the Workplace. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Salmon, William A. The New Supervisor’s Survival Manual. New York: American Management Association, 1999.

Siess, Judith. “The Importance of Conference Attendance.” The One-Person Library 17.4 (2000): 1-3.

Spindler, Donald C. “Management Looks at the Corporate Library.” Special Libraries 73.4 (1982): 251-3.

St. Clair, Guy and Joan Williamson. Managing the New One-Person Library. New York: Bowker-Saur, 1992.