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For Qualcomm’s library, the message is clear: Value above all else

Mar 13, 2012

Britt Mueller, Director of the Library and Information Services Group at Qualcomm

Library Connect interviews Britt Mueller, Director of the Library and Information Services Group at Qualcomm. Based in San Diego, Qualcomm is a Fortune 500 company specializing in mobile technologies.

Library Connect: What’s going on in the wireless space?
Mueller: Right now the industry focus is really on the expansion of wireless into pretty much every part of our world — that is, putting a computing device in the hands of everyone around the globe. “The Internet of everything” is a phrase used a lot right now. What this enables is what’s truly important, from medical breakthroughs to communications in disaster zones. It will touch everything within our world, and it’s a very exciting space.

You direct Qualcomm’s Library and Information Services Group. What does “library” mean in your context?
What to call ourselves is a question that comes up a lot. We’ve considered whether library has an older connotation, as well as something more physical. However, we also know that if we call ourselves an Information Center or if we muddle our name, people don’t quite know what we do. Ultimately, it’s a conversation I don’t care to have very much, and I don’t think it’s very useful. Call it what you want, but define it by what you do and then move on.

What does your LIS group do?
Three areas within the LIS Group — Research, Licensing and Content Acquisition, and Technical — all have distinct functions.

The Research team works hand in hand with the business, looking at matters related to patents, competitive intelligence, legal and market analysis, and positioning. We source the necessary information, make it useful and turn it around quickly. I came in as a researcher and loved working directly with high-level clients. There was always a challenge — if I couldn’t get to something in a way I’d done before, how could I triangulate to get the information I needed?

Licensing and Content Acquisition manages our whole content portfolio, including databases, third-party content, specialized resources, and market research. The fields we explore are extensive from electronic engineering to industry verticals, and we’ll want to look at those areas from a business, R&D and technical perspective. By having an enterprise-level focus, negotiating on behalf of various groups and leveraging budgets, we can purchase resources for less and serve them up in a centralized manner.

Then, of course, we need people who can deliver it all to our global employee population. The Technical, Infrastructure and Database team ensures that whether you are sitting in San Diego or Beijing, you have the same access to the information you need to do your job and to make Qualcomm incredibly efficient.

How do you stay abreast of your field?
The Special Libraries Association (SLA) is a good starting point — I’m the past president of my local chapter so I can say that with some knowledge — but it’s a large group. Find your niche and a network of peers. When I connect with people who do what I do, I can share best practices and use them as sounding boards.

I also reach out to people outside the organization: experts in demographic information or the workplace, conference boards, the Pew Research Center, the IT-based search community. Breadth comes outside of our standard library space, and the middle layer becomes much less important.

Our profession needs a little bit of a kick in the pants because I know that if we have the right information and we’re providing the right value, there’s almost no number someone won’t pay for it. If we do it right, it’s so valuable and rare. You have to work very, very hard, though, and be willing to change in a heartbeat. You can’t be married to a solution.

What’s on your mind currently in terms of serving your customers?
I’m interested in social media, which is not a standard space for libraries. How do we mine that information and connect it to what we do? Libraries have always looked at federated searches, but we’re now challenged to make that data more meaningful, connected and digestible. That means providing more value in terms of analytics and visualization. You cannot provide data to someone that is all text based and takes someone more than four or five minutes to read through. The ocean of information is getting larger and we need to have the right tools to identify the trends and key information. We are responsible for doing that, not them.

You’ve worked in both academic and corporate spaces.How do you compare and contrast?
I started at University of Michigan in its associates program and then worked at the University of Oregon, which was a wonderful environment. At a university, it’s great to have a large number of colleagues who are highly specialized. In the corporate space, with fewer resources, you’re often pressed to be more flexible and expand the breadth of capabilities needed. It’s fast paced, constantly changing, and demands a global perspective.

In a corporate environment the use case for the library is much more front and center than in academia. You could be and are looked at as overhead. Businesses don’t do things altruistically. The library must contribute to the success of the organization and the value must be clear. If you’ve done something well and it has had an impact, you will see it immediately. It’s everyday real.

How do you prove that value?
We track what we do — we track who uses us and what they’re using us for. We never report on how many things were borrowed or how many databases were hit. We collect stories from a lot of different people on the value we brought to their project. Formally, we report out at the fiscal half year and fiscal year close with data, and provide an annual report to employees so they understand how they can use us. No matter how busy we are, we never say no to an opportunity to market ourselves with a presentation.

I thrive on the idea of proving value. I get frustrated in the library space when I hear that the “bean counters” don’t understand. If people don’t get it, you’re not communicating it right. If you don’t show your value appropriately, you shouldn’t be here. Our profession needs a little bit of a kick in the pants because I know that if we have the right information and we’re providing the right value, there’s almost no number someone won’t pay for it. If we do it right, it’s so valuable and rare. You have to work very, very hard, though, and be willing to change in a heartbeat. You can’t be married to a solution.

It’s also critical to understand where it’s useful to spend your time. We’re not administrative people, and we need to explain to our clients where our value lies. If you don’t have that skill, you shouldn’t be in this profession in this day and age.

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