Librarian superpowers

Magic wand and laptop

I recently participated in a panel discussion for an AIIP webinar, Running a Successful Private Investigations Business, along with Michael Donaldson, Tim Hardiman, and moderator Eddie Ajaeb. One of the questions for me was about how my background as a librarian prepared me for PI work. I love this question, because it gives me the opportunity to brag talk about what I call my “librarian superpowers.” 

It hasn’t always been this way. When I first started my business in 2000, some of us found it was best not to use the “L” word when talking about our value. Back then, it conjured up images of a stuffy library with nothing but books, but lately there seems to be a newfound awareness of and respect for our expertise.

What’s also changed is that librarians are everywhere. Instead of hanging out in libraries, we’re working alongside other team members in any information-hungry business. Many of us started our own information related-businesses and discovered there’s a growing need for our training and experience.

So, what are these librarian superpowers, and why are they so important in my work as a PI?

We know the information landscape – One of the first required courses in my graduate program at the University of Denver was Understanding the Information Landscape. There I learned where information hides, what forms it takes on, and when enough can turn into too much. Librarians are information experts, and, since investigative work is all about information, I use that knowledge every day.

We know how to find out what our clients really need – Librarians call it the “reference interview,” and we learn this skill early on, because people rarely ask for what they need. We learn to ask probing questions to get to the root of the problem, explore solutions, and even offer alternatives. I rely on this as an investigator to remind me that I need to keep asking questions.

We know databases – As a reference librarian, I’ve searched databases covering just about any topic you can name, and I’ve taught others how to get better results from their searches. I’ve purchased and managed electronic sources and know how to work with vendors, and now I rely on this expertise to help me find the best information as possible for my clients. 

We know how to find valuable web content – University reference librarians often create study guides, curated lists of online resources that students use for course assignments. As part of the team responsible for developing a virtual library for the first accredited online MBA program, I covered a set of diverse topics, including engineering, health sciences, mathematics, criminal justice, and much more, and now I’m able to locate and evaluate web content, no matter what the subject. 

We know how to organize information – Librarians are trained to manage and share huge amounts of information, and they quickly get up to speed on what’s important to their clients and what’s not. In investigative work, finding is just the first step. All that data needs to be sifted through, organized, and turned into reports that answer questions and inform decisions.

If you’d like to listen to the full webinar on Running a Successful Private Investigations Business, the recording is posted on the AIIP website.


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