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Really really really, I can help you. Please Believe Me!

I’ve been composing an email to the new faculty members in the departments I serve this afternoon, and another librarian I know has been composing a similar email to faculty in a particular program at her library. And you know what? These emails are hard. I want to come across as helpful and practical and not the least bit overwhelming or pushy or beggy.

I don’t really need a response from these people or anything, but I’d hate to see this email just get deleted and forgotten. There’s good stuff in there. Or at least I think so, though I may be a tad biased. Still, I know that I’m competing with a deluge of similarly information-full emails from other places on campus, not to mention the mountain of getting-hired paperwork, or the chaos of moving to a new town. So I’ve decided that the key is to start with the one or two things that are most likely worrying these new faculty. After that, the rest will probably fall into place on its own, but this first interaction has to be about them and their upcoming instructional challenges, not about me and my work. If they read no more than the first sentence or two, what will grab their attention and let them know that I have their interests at heart, not my own?

In this case I think that “I have to fit all this into ten weeks?!?” is probably foremost on these new faculty members’ minds. So I’ll start off by saying something about how I can help them fit research projects into a ten-week term without derailing their course content.

But I think that as I move forward, I’ll try to keep this shift from “here’s what I can do” to “here’s how I can help solve this problem you have” in mind whenever I write these emails. When I first started here, I wanted to prove to people that I could help them, so I gave lots of details about all the various kinds of help I could give. Then I shifted towards giving a couple of examples that illustrated many things, or that would spark people’s imaginations. And I still like using specific examples, but I’ve gone off the idea of telling them Everything They Must Know (here and in my instruction). No, my goal now is much more modest: I would like them to know at least one thing they really wanted to know. After that, details seem to work themselves out and they end up learning what they need as they need it. At least, I hope they do.

4 thoughts on “Really really really, I can help you. Please Believe Me!

  1. At the Dean of the Faculty’s instigation, we have a brief meeting with new faculty in the library during their first week. Since it has the Dean’s name on the invitation, the faculty understand it isn’t exactly optional. We subject them to a very brief presentation, followed by wine and snacks, which is when the library liaisons really go to work, finding out what the new faculty are interested in and letting them know how we can help. I also find out when they want me to take them out to lunch to go over stuff in a bit more detail after they have had time to think about it.

    Only then do I email them with an invitation to a free lunch.

    I know that won’t scale for larger institutions, and the involvement of the Dean is crucial, but it works pretty well for us in reaching new faculty.

  2. That sounds so civilized.

    Every other year here, our first interaction with the new faculty has been at an (optional) session during their orientation. The academic technologists, classroom technologists, and library liaisons all cram them full of information for over an hour, and then we all leave feeling a little dazed. Then we send out the fall email to all the faculty, department by department.

    This year the person who coordinates the orientation for new faculty wanted us to email them before they even arrived in town. We’ll have to see how it goes.

    I think wine and snacks (and a dean) would be a great step forward.

  3. This is very timely, both in that I’m on our new faculty library reception (very similar to what the above poster described – except that this year we’ve got a prize raffle to entice them to coming!) committee and that today I will be working on an email to send out to my entire department’s faculty basically telling them what I can do for them. And I agree – that’s a hard email to write.

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