New York Library Association. - The eBulletin


Always be Shelving

by Robert Drake

A good salesperson never orders room service…

Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi, was published over a decade ago, but continues to find its way into conversations amongst my friends.  Ostensibly a book about networking for businesses – just the sort of cynical, trendy, cash grabbing pabulum I usually despise –the subtitle caught my eye:  How to build a Lifelong Community of Colleagues, Contacts, Friends, and Mentors.  

The premise – somewhat paraphrased – is simple:  Success equals relationships and the key to relationships is value.  If you approach every interaction with an eye toward offering assistance, you develop the sort of community that naturally supports your own endeavors.

Ferrazzi uses various examples to demonstrate this point but the most evocative is the one that supplies the title.  One traveling salesperson orders room service after a long day on the road.  Another spends their dinner swapping stories with the hotel bartender.  The former has lost an opportunity to learn something the new.  The latter, by contrast, has enlarged their network by one.  And who knows, maybe that bartender will buy a smokeless ashtray someday…

At first glance, this reads like an ode to gregariousness, but the point is not really that the bartender is going to become a customer, but rather that connections are valuable unto themselves.  By this interpretation, the key to success – even success in sales – is to build relationships without expectation.  “…never keep score.”  Ferrazzi notes, “If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit.”

This could certainly be applied to interpersonal or interdepartmental interactions or to things like customer service.  The realm most untapped, however, is also the most exciting.  The library as a building is often filled to the brim and struggling to maintain circ, whereas the library as an institution seeking to find ever more valuable ways to support its community has an indisputable raison d'être.  

In practice, I have seen this demonstrated by library staff members using their working hours to plan or participate in town celebrations, to curate special collections for placement in the lobbies of service clubs, and to attend regular meetings with mayors, police chiefs, and fire departments.  Yet others have brought database training to hobby meetups (Ex. Chilton's to a car club), helped coordinate farmer's markets, or assisted other public entities in presenting new programs.    

In the best of each, the library has left its own building for the purpose of offering its resources to other groups…who unsurprisingly became ardent advocates when it came time to vote.  According to Ferrazzi, “…by giving your time and expertise and sharing them freely, the pie gets bigger for everyone.”  Or, to pull from another book that sometimes makes the rounds, “No one has ever become poor by giving.”  

Hopefully this approach of diplomatic generosity itself offers some value, and of the rather buzzy books I’ve come across, Never Eat Alone is a rare recommendation.  Admittedly, however, my real purpose is to better fill out my dinner plans.  Consider then this article's long-winded subtitle: If you see me at a bar, you’re welcome to buy me a drink.


Robert Drake is the Assistant Director for Technology Operations at the Nassau Library System.  He whistles Gunfight at the O.K. Corral before long meetings.  The views, opinions, and positions here expressed are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of NLS, Robert Drake himself, or probably anyone...