Private Sector Gems for Public Librarians

Before stepping into the world of public librarianship three years ago, corporate America was my stomping ground. I spent the first twenty years of my career doing just about anything you can legally do within the space of an 8×8 cubicle. I’ve sold everything from air filtration systems to classified advertising space. I’ve managed employees ranging in ages from high school students to penny-pinching retirees, as well as every demographic in between. My career path was dictated by my life plan at the time: get a cushy office gig and stay there until I died or aged out, whichever came first.

Entering my forties became an introspective time for me. I had nearly two more decades of work life left to endure, but I was tired of ‘enduring’. It was time – long past time, in fact – for me to do what gave me a combination of joy and growth. Those benchmarks are what brought me to my current career and academic paths today.

That said, I take many of the lessons I learned during my time in the private sector with me into the public sphere:

  • Patrons Comes First – This is a statement I have written into the training manuals for our part time staff. Just like a business serves its customers, library professionals should bear this in mind with every patron they encounter. It goes without saying that customer service is the bare minimum we should offer our patrons, going beyond smiles and salutations. Your collection should reflect your library’s community. Events should be planned with patrons’ interests in mind. Accessible and updated technology should be available to bridge digital divides that may exist in your community.

  • Outreach Outside – More often than not, librarians hear the words ‘marketing’ or ‘external outreach’ and run for the hills. With the widespread use of social media platforms, we may think that outreach ends at the keyboard – but any sales rep worth their weight in pitches would beg to differ. External outreach is pertinent to the success of any public library. From bookmobiles to pop-up borrowing booths, public libraries have to physically show up for their neighbors to reinforce their places as beacons of education within their communities.

  • Business Buddies – Public librarians should remember that their patrons are more than parents, children, and seniors. Professionals and local business owners are a significant part of your community and have needs that their public library can fulfill. The thing is, if we aren’t (re)introducing the library as a resource, these busy people won’t know the difference. As Public Services Librarian, I also serve as an Ambassador for the library at our local city’s Chamber of Commerce. Being a librarian in a room full of business owners may seem daunting at first. This is also a prime opportunity to brag about your library’s resources and offerings that might appeal to the professional crowd, such as private meeting rooms and technology suites.


Kellee Forkenbrock is an MLIS student at the University of Iowa (May 2023). She also works full time as the Public Services Librarian for the North Liberty Library (North Liberty, Iowa), assisting with the management of part-time staff as well as serving as the community engagement liaison for the library. Kellee has spoken about library outreach and engagement on behalf of organizations such as the Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL), the Entrepreneurship and Libraries Conference (ELC), and the American Library Association (ALA) Conference. In addition to pursuing her MLIS, Kellee is also in pursuit of a certification in Digital Humanities. Her twenty-plus years of professional experience includes project management, public relations, and multimedia advertising. Kellee is active in her community, having lent her service to the Iowa City Public Library Board of Trustees, Girls on the Run of Eastern Iowa, and currently as an Ambassador for the Iowa City Area Business Partnership. Read more about Kellee on her LinkedIn profile.

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