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Whooo Says…

Dear Whooo,

I’m a hospital librarian in a medium sized community hospital. As part of the “baby boomer” generation, I plan to retire within the next few years. I’ve been watching the hospital trend of closing libraries, or not replacing professional librarians when the current librarian retires or leaves. I’m very concerned that this could happen in my case. I try to let my manager know how involved I am in the operations of the hospital, and the impact I have on the goals of the hospital, but I’m still worried that the management team doesn’t consider my position essential. What should I do?

Concerned in Kansas

Dear Concerned,

I’m so glad that you have written, and are aware of the importance of planning for your successor. I suspect that many of your peers in other hospitals are facing the same dilemma. Also, I’m very glad to hear that you are aware of the need to promote the value of your services and resources in the context of the goals of the hospital. That is the critical issue, which is the foundation for any further discussion.

My first suggestion for you, Concerned, is to take a serious and considered look at the services you now provide:

  • Who takes advantage of the research services that you offer?
  • Do you participate in clinical rounds?
  • Do you travel to the various patient units within the hospital and offer service to the staff?
  • Do you serve on committees within the hospital, and which committees do you work with?
  • Are you involved with quality improvement initiatives?
  • What type of collection do you maintain, how is it used, and by whom?

These are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself and your staff. Once you have thoroughly explored these questions, you can decide if physicians and hospital staff are using these services. Are they an effective and efficient use of your time? I think it is important to engage your direct supervisor in this discussion; s/he can learn more about your professional activities and resources as well as provide vision and feedback from the administrative levels. Keeping your services and resources current with the needs of your users is crucial.

After you complete your assessment, the next step is to create a strategic plan. Your plan should include the services and activities you have decided are relevant and useful to the goals of your organization. As you implement the changes you have outlined, you will have the perfect opportunity to communicate with your users in a variety of ways from informal conversations to classes and newsletters. Use as many forms of communication as you can to reach the widest audience possible. Your goal should be to create a system wide awareness of your services and how they can help others perform their functions at the highest possible level. Having a broad user base and wide support for your expertise throughout the system speaks loudly about the need to keep a vital library functioning in your hospital. Also, take the time to identify champions who value your services and are willing to speak about your contributions (help tell your story). The testimonial of a champion can be as effective as your regular marketing activities.

When you have completed this process, you should have a good understanding of your purpose and status within the hospital. This will give you some guidance about starting the succession planning process. You can start the planning long before you actually plan to leave the hospital by having good documentation of your processes and having your job description up to date. Work with the Human Relations office to determine what they will need to conduct a search for your replacement. Or, take a careful look at your staff to see if a person with the interest and capability to step into your position is already present. If so, you will have time to mentor that person and prepare them for the future. They may need to complete a formal education process, or merely sharpen their skills and develop a broader awareness of the workings of the hospital and the role of the librarian in them.

Finding a replacement for an employee is a significant task. It involves considerable time, money and change. Everyone involved should be interested in making the transition as smooth as possible, so planning ahead is wise. Of course you will need to stay closely focused on priorities of your hospital and continue your promotional efforts during this period. You can make suitable adjustments to your strategic plan as you see the vision and goals of your administration evolve.

Concerned, I am so pleased that you are planning for the future of your library! I have noticed that many librarians are aware that this is necessary, but many are putting the issue off until another day. I hope that you will share your story with your library peers and help them through this process.

Best wishes for a great transition,


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