negotiating skills for library and information professionals

Negotiate to get yourself (and your library) ahead

June 29, 2016
Clare Brown

After an interesting few months during the pandemic, everyone is facing a new reality of financial negotiations. In a recent article, Stella Butler, University of Leeds' librarian and keeper of the Brotherton collection said:

The pandemic has put extraordinary pressure on university budgets. In the new normal that has yet to emerge libraries will be forced to prioritise their spending. Publishers should be focussing on supporting research by reducing journal costs not on maintaining profit levels. If prices do not come down, cancellations are inevitable.

This is a brave opening to any negotiations but everyone has been pushed to extremes in 2020. End users who cannot get access to physical library collections need access to online resources which cost a lot of money. 

negotiation skills for library and information professionalsTo quote Maria Collins, in her foreword to The Librarian’s Guide to Negotiation: “This constant flux within the library environment makes it ripe for negotiation. With each negotiation, a librarian gains an opportunity to influence change”. However librarians are not just influencing right now, as the quote from Stella Butler suggests, they are forcing change.

So, who do you, as a librarian, need to be negotiating with? And what should you be negotiating on?

  • Budget - in an economic environment where money is tight, and the value of the library isn’t always acknowledged, the successes to be found by negotiating with your boss for extra resources are dramatic.
  • Vendors - as the range of product providers on the market continues to grow, navigating through the sea of suppliers can be tricky enough, let alone negotiating the right price. Nevertheless, a little research and a bit of gumption can go a long way in saving you some valuable resources here.
  • Salary - this is a point true for everyone, whether you are switching jobs, looking for a promotion or are simply wondering if you are worth more. You know how valuable the work you do is, your time and expertise are an integral part of that.

Negotiating your library budget

Do your research on how to leverage your value proposition to demonstrate the library’s influence on your organisation’s success. By clearly showing what has changed as a result of your library’s services, and in a language that everyone understands (no aggregation or curation here!), you are in a much stronger position to negotiate the funds with which to support your team.

Once you’ve got your value proposition clearly established, there are a range of strategies that will help you to show it off.

Firstly, listen, and show that you are doing so. When entering into a negotiation with your boss or manager, making it clear that you are listening to what they are saying and taking it on board will not only mean that they feel respected by you but it will also help to build a bridge of trust. You can even go as far as to repeat back their most important points to make sure that they really see that you are paying attention.

Use these points to support you in negotiating an outcome where both parties can win. Look for commonalities between your goals and aims and try to find a way by which you can achieve them together. Doing so will mean that you are far more likely to achieve success by working as one, and also leaves a higher likelihood of them wanting to work with you again in the future. This is where your value proposition really comes into play by clearly showing them how you contribute to your organisation’s strategic objectives.

Thirdly, be open. Be open to new possibilities and new ways of working. Perhaps you have requested a budget increase to fund some new journal subscriptions but find it denied due to your organisation wanting to focus more on technological innovation. Instead of simply giving up, find a way to make this work to your advantage. Perhaps there is a way that you can incorporate technology into your department more? Don’t be afraid to broaden your horizons, no doesn’t always mean n-o.

Negotiating with vendors

When a new vendor sends you a quote for their services it’s all too easy to take that price as granted and, begrudgingly, approach your accounts department with the invoice, all the while wincing at how much of your budget this is going to consume. More often than you expect, there’s room for a little negotiation, but where do you start?

As with anything, the first step is research! Leverage your network to find out what other customers are paying and use these as reference points in your negotiations. If you don’t have the relevant contacts you can always approach the supplier themselves to ask for a list of previous clients who you can contact for a referral. Combine these figures with quotes you’ve sourced from other suppliers for a similar product and you’re in a very strong position indeed.

 Read more about working with your vendors

Take some time before meeting with the vendor to set out your objectives and priorities for the product or service. Consider what is the most important factor for you to achieve your organisational objectives - price, customer support, quality, payment plans? Getting these clearly set out in advance will not only help you in your search for the most effective supplier for your organisation but will also put you in a stronger place to negotiate when it comes to prioritising certain benefits over others.

As always, remember not to take too harsh an approach, you may well find yourself wanting to negotiate with the supplier again in the future so it’s important to close the deal on good terms.

Thirdly, see whether there is the space for you to take a strategic approach to your negotiations. This is something that can be particularly valuable when approaching a powerful supplier as it can help in levelling the power balance into more of a strategic partnership.

For example, the vendor in question may be extremely well known in one particular market but is looking to expand over into your organisation’s sector where, thus far, they have been struggling to gain momentum. This is where you can come into play, as a gateway to this new market. In return, you can consult your list of objectives and priorities from earlier and see where you can request that little bit extra.

By laying the foundations before going in to negotiate you are giving yourself a head start before even entering the meeting room.

Negotiating your salary

So often librarians will focus on showing and leverage the value of the library and their department whilst forgetting the key driving factor behind it all - you. Your skills and expertise are worth their corresponding financial compensation and there is no reason to be afraid to show this.

Though, remember, don’t start negotiations until you have the job offer in hand. By this stage, your future employers have already decided that they want you and, chances are, they don’t want to go through the whole hiring process again so they may be more flexible as a result.

Once again, start by doing your research. Review other salaries for similar positions in your sector, even if you’re looking at an internal move this is still an important practice to follow to give yourself a starting base. Whilst researching, and indeed when it comes to negotiating too, remember to consider the salary as a component of the whole benefits package. Some positions may seem to have a lower salary but when combined with employee health insurance, pension contributions or gym memberships they are often on a par with their higher paid counterparts.

Use your research to strategically approach the organisation, making it clear that you aren’t doubting your desire to work for them but just the financial contribution to your time. As a rough guide, you can aim for $1,000-$2,000 increase on your initial offer, though it is always important to take your prior research into account and compare the offer with the market value.

If the salary seems set, request a performance review a few months into your employment when you will be able to directly show your contributions to the organisation and use these to negotiate. More often than not, you’ll get a salary increase sooner than you anticipate and you’re showing some gumption at the same time.

Historically, librarians have had lower salaries and pay due to structural reasons as opposed to individual faults. As Lynne Thomas argues, your negotiations are helping to change the salaries of the whole profession, one pay increase at a time.

Solutions to library challenges