Microsoft library tour

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Panorama of the library, taken near the entrance.

Last week, the staff of the Microsoft library generously opened their lovely space to a passel of students. They greeted us with excellent snacks, told us about their work, and gave us the run of the place. Here’s some of what we learned:

Microsoft has approximately 110,000 full-time employees and a similar number of contractors; the services of the library and archives division are available to all of them. The library in Redmond has six full-time employees who approach the library’s work from a strategic perspective. Day-to-day operations and research are conducted by contractors; the whole team is about 25 to 30 people. The librarians also noted that there are many people with an MLIS who work in other roles at Microsoft, such as content management, user experience, and information architecture.

Along with the library at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, there are physical branches in Beijing, China; Redding, England; and Hyderabad, India.

The physical collection includes 8,000 books that are shipped around the world for use. The collection is unusual among special libraries in that it exists not just to support job-related research, but also as a resource employees can use to learn and grow. In that way, the librarians said, they’re more akin to an academic library, which supports both the research needs of faculty and the interests of the general campus population. The library also has a Maker Garage with a 3-D printer and spaces for sewing, soldering, printing, and a variety of other tinkering.

Microsoft’s archivist assists executive groups with research: she can provide company history, photos, information for points in a speech, and more. The archives also contain every piece of software the company has made, most of the company’s advertising, and hardware needed to run that old software and play advertising in obsolete formats (notably, a Betamax).

Part of the appeal of working in the Microsoft library is that positions come with a lot of variety and autonomy; the librarians said they’re never bored. They also said a key way to succeed at Microsoft is to volunteer for things — to see something that looks interesting and jump in.

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In terms of assessment, the library staff relies not only on data it’s collecting using Microsoft’s own tools, but also on understanding and conveying the library’s impact on employees and on the company. They pointed out that it’s impossible to quantify what it means for people to have knowledge, and that the ability to tell a story that demonstrates the library’s value to its users is as important as data. (On a related note, Philippe, who leads marketing and outreach efforts, said his job is “evangelizing the hell out of the library,” and he recommended a book: “Blueprint for Your Library Marketing Plan.”)

The library plans to review its online portal and the way it’s organized, and to research how it’s being used. Nicole Partridge, who manages the portal, made a point that stuck with me: Librarians think in terms of content types, but people who need the library think in terms of the questions they have.

Two job-hunting tips: Keep your LinkedIn profile updated not only with what you’ve done, but what you want to do; make one-on-one connections with librarians whenever possible (via informational interviews or informal discussion) to learn about the work and how to be successful in it.

Many thanks to Merrill, Nicole, Kimberly, and Philippe for their time, expertise, and good humor.

 

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