Recently while volunteering as a mock interviewer I was working with a young woman applying for legal librarian roles. She was qualified but some of her responses indicated a lack of confidence and fear about the perceived value of her role. Speaking about industry trends, she brought up how librarian services were often “the first to go” when cutbacks were being made.

That may, in fact, be the reality and I have no doubt that some firms undervalue support roles; however, it wasn’t her insight but her acceptance of it that troubled me.

Downplaying the importance of the role wouldn’t help her (especially if she interviewed with other librarians who took pride in their work).

Instead, I suggested she focus on the value she offered.

Support roles can be difficult to define the exact value. It is much easier to define the profitability of those in profit centers (i.e. lawyer who works for X hours at X rate.) There is a hard way and an easy way to determin value. I suggest you do both.

1. The easy way: Research the market value

There are tons of articles on the subject including link to data sources (Glassdoor and Linkedin come to mind). My suggestion is:

  • Give yourself a time limit – you can spend all the time in the world on research. When you start getting overlapping advice, i.e. diminishing returns, stop. You should have a decent range to work from.
  • Find folks you know in the field (and location) and have honest conversations about real salary figures. (Go to meetups, ask friends, family, volunteer – make connections). This may feel awkward. Do it anyway.
  • Don’t undersell yourself. It’s tempting when you are at the bottom. Resist the urge. You must be your biggest champion. No one else knows what you can do

2. The hard way: Write the business case for you.

Market Value research is a good proxy but can’t reflect your full value. This is especially useful if you have a skills mix or new skill set that may not be factored in the current market value.

It also gives you the opportunity and permission to ask questions both of potential employers as well as informational interviews. Asking questions is also good because not only can you learn things, it makes you seem more personable because it forces you to listen, and people like people who listen. Support roles are all about well you help leverage those in profit centers. In the example above, the applicant (i.e. librarian associate with data science skills) might ask:

  • How much is it worth to save an hour of an attorney’s time?
  • How would improving the query results by 50% help?
  • What is the cost of not finding the right information in the right time?
  • How might accessing information, more completely, accurately, faster help attorney achieve their goals, help them prepare and respond to litigation?

Asking good questions can accomplish several things:

  • Establish both your technical and industry expertise
  • Test the appetite for innovation
  • Assess how your prospective employer might value your skillset

Of course, you may find that your full skill set, expertise etc. is not valued. That can be discouraging but it is important not to let their perception or valuation determine your value.

Moral of the story

Fish don’t need bicycles. You want to work where you are needed. Understanding your worth will help you determine if you and a future employer are on the same page. The sooner you can separate the fish from the cyclists, the happier you’ll be.

That’s not to say you won’t take a detour as an aquarium ornament (sorry to torture the metaphor) – but anytime you take a superfluous role and leave your value on the table, you take on additional risk which you need to factor into your decision.


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