The Importance of Being Blue
by Stephanie Noell, Senior Editor
The information professions tend to be very people-oriented. Even the technical side is focused on making information accessible to the end user. To be in such a people-focused profession (and work closely with others to reach mutual goals), we must be able to consider each situation with a compassionate mindset. While a select few may steer the overall vision of a department, library, or organization, everyone ought to consider other points of view when assigning tasks, designing marketing materials, or coming up with outreach programming. These sorts of considerations are why the information professions need assessment, usability studies, and personality tests like True Colors.
Back in 2012, the University of Texas at Arlington Library offered the True Colors test to any interested library staff. The test consists of a few Myers-Briggs-style questions. For each question, the answer you choose will rank you in four categories: orange, gold, green, and blue. At the end of the test, you add up your answers in each category and the results show which characteristics you favor. People who are orange tend to be risk-takers while people who answer mostly gold tend to adhere closely to a set of rules. If your answers are primarily green, you are more analytical and if you answer mostly blue, then you are more compassionate. This last category embodies some of the most important qualities found in library work: sympathy, compassion, and even idealism.
Strong blue personalities tend to focus a lot on others, which can make them come across as busy-bodies or bleeding hearts. However, these same qualities make “blue” people very successful in public service areas as well as in collaborations. Strong blue personalities will go the extra mile to ensure that you get exactly what you need. Such sympathetic idealism can read as a weakness to those who are not strong blue personalities, but these characteristics are exactly what many people need when they need assistance finding a resource or figuring out a software suite. One need only look at the steps of a reference interview to see a heavy blue influence:
- Initial approach—information professionals working in a publicly accessible space must make themselves seem more approachable by smiling, making eye contact with users, and greeting users in a friendly manner.
- Interest—after initial contact is made, the information professional must maintain eye contact, acknowledge the user’s information need, give the user their full attention (as best as possible), and speak in a relaxed tone.
- Listen—let the user explain what they are looking for (with as little interruption as possible) then paraphrase their information need to show that it has been heard and is understood.
- Interview—ask open-ended questions to help define and narrow down the specific information need.
- Search—at this point in the interview, the information professional can either search for the request and provide the user with an answer or a referral or the professional can instruct the user on how to conduct the search using the information provided (I usually choose the latter, but I’m all about information literacy instruction opportunities). The latter option engages the user more, whereas the former option will require the professional to keep the user updated on the progress of the search.
- Answer—once an answer has been located, the information professional needs to verify that this answer meets the user’s information need and that it is understood by the user.
- Follow-up—after the information need has been met, the information professional should check to see if the user has any other information needs.
This process, since it is focused on the end user, requires a lot of blue qualities—a warm presence, great communication skills, and a good bit of altruism. If you are not a strong blue personality, that’s okay! You can still be a public service librarian, you just need to be a more active listener so that you can read between the lines of a user’s information need and maintain a patient, calm demeanor to set your user at ease.