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Life Lessons From Working In A School Library

When I was 11, I was constantly in trouble, as a middle child I have learned this was somewhat normal in and around the teenage years. 

I was often told off at school for being the joker / class clown and the teachers would often ask me to leave class.

One particular time, I was told to go and help out (aka work) in the school library, it was one of those things that was more for the teachers to have a rest bite than teach me a lesson.

The funny thing, looking back I learned more in the library and more about business than I ever did in Maths, English, or Science.

Hosting one of my Marketing coaching sessions I talked through the lessons that have stuck and it led me to start writing a list of lessons I learned throughout my career.

Reflecting back, a fair number of lessons that came from working in the library has set me in good stead even today.

It reminds me of a podcast I appeared on “content makers podcast” with my friend Beth Gladstone. Beth asked me about my Marketing career and the lesson I have taken away and it stuck with me how important the library lessons were for my career.

I would say at the age of 11 (alongside running the school stationery cupboard) the library was the first true step into Marketing and understanding Growth and the Business world. I know it helped me lead a crowdfunding upstart and make vital decisions that improved search rankings, drove hyper-growth and developed a much better product for maximising network effects.

Onto the life lessons… 

Hierarchy Is Important. 

Everything has a hierarchy and an order to follow. Without an order or system no-one knows what to follow and no one could find the important book for their education and increase their learning. Books are a priceless resource for many.

In the world of work, hierarchy is being questioned as hierarchy has had to flipped from corporate structure to personal to help employees know their own place within their team and their organisation.

Example of how people are having to think when unhappy at work:
Level 1: Me
Level 2: Team
Level 3: Department
Level 4: Company
Level 5: Organisation

Categorisation = Order

Categorisation is essential, it’s a way to chart and order.

Things haven’t really moved on with libraries, sure they have online however in libraries the same categorisation happens and enables discovery.

Process Rules, If Process Break You Struggle To Adapt 

Something that has stuck with me more than anything, especially in creating Focus. Processes generally rule silently, without a good process, many important foundations break, and chaos occurs.

Despite what people say, people need processes to understand if they are on the right path, if they belong to this (tribe) group of people and if they share the same values.
When rules are broken or processes breakdown, it takes us humans a long time to adjust (think of items out of stock or the item you want has been discontinued).

In twenty years of professional work (plus the year of working in the library) an agreed broken process has a huge knock-on effect, the process takes much longer to bring back to normality. Humans are hardwired this way for safety.

Recommendations Are Underrated 

Typically people don’t know what they need or what they want, they know what the kind of thing they are looking for, or the question they sort of need to answer but rarely know.

You might notice a theme, these are all areas if you shop on e-commerce after reading this, you will definitely see, even if you use a search engine and find the product or service you were looking for. 

Without these, Google wouldn’t be in the position it is today, nor would Facebook or importantly neither would everyone’s favourite example, Spotify.

What Spotify is doing within the podcast space is a game-changer. Categorising, allowing adding to playlists, and adding contextual recommendations is changing the podcasting space.

FWIW TikTok FYP page wouldn’t work as they use cluster recommendations to drive your usage and entertainment.

A Recommendation: Keep an eye on how Spotify and Amazon Prime Video are adding more categorisation, lists, and subcategories to help search, improve discovery and apply better recommendations.

Book Value Can Be Priceless 

Readers are often rewarded with answers or justification of what they are doing is right or someone else is doing it my way. The priceless lesson from the library for me was the takeaways people would get from the written word, especially if it triggered a follow up book or series of books.

With the barrage of content available (yes, we have hit content fatigue) at our fingertips and within audible etc, there still is nothing quite like touching the paper, reading the word, and empowering you to take more action.

There is a saying: Most books should be long blog posts and typically this is true, there are a tiny number of blog posts that have the ability to change lives however some books are life-altering, some can be considered life-changing.

Help With A Life Mystery

One of life mysteries (to me) is how and why some books are religiously shared and read between groups of people. This sharing behaviour has baffled me for years. 

These are away from book clubs (which is incredible), however they do no doubt have an influence on the sharing of influential books.

I believe if you can crack this code, you truly understand how to influence people’s lives positively.

Q. What lessons did you learn from early life? Was there a library job or moment for you?

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