Tips for Asking for Advice or Help from Professional Colleagues (or People You Know from the Internet)*

I like to help people. I will go out of my way to do a favor. I mean, I enjoy it.

I enjoy blogging not only because it helps me document my own reading and library life, but also because I think it helps people. I’ve gotten so much knowledge and insight out of the librarian and book blogging community, I like to give back when I can.

In fact, I would say that a large part of why I pursued librarianship is because of this community. I felt like I had found my people.

I am by no means an expert. But I continue to share what I have learned and experienced with this community. It helps me to reflect, and if it can help someone else, even better.

But, after three years (how fast it’s gone by, but how short a time it is!) I’m realized that some people might not know the best way to go about being a part of this community or asking fellow professionals or people they just know from the internet for help/advice/insight/resources.

And this lack of courtesy could be a result of a lack of awareness or knowledge, or laziness or busy-ness. I’m not sure, so I’ll assume the former.

Most people who blog or are otherwise networked online in a professional capacity are completely willing to share any insight or knowledge with others. So I don’t mean to dissuade anyone from inquiring about something someone has written about online. This is intended to encourage those who may be too shy to ask, but I also want to provide my own opinion on what the best practices for those sorts of interactions are.

It’s okay to ask. Really.

For as much as I like to help out, I hate asking people for their time. Whether it’s for help on a project, an opinion, or a letter of recommendation, I am struck with anxiety when having to ask for things. I’m a DIYer. This is something I need to work on myself. It’s okay to ask. Whether it’s soliciting guest posts, asking more details about a program, to see if they want to present at a conference with you, whatever– just ask. The worst they can say is no (and it’s still okay if they do).

Understand that everyone’s time is finite.

Don’t expect an immediate answer. Someone might have a personal family emergency, or a busy work week, or any number of reasons not to reply right away. They might have a few email addresses and not check one every day. So even if it’s a simple request, don’t expect immediate turn-around. Expecting someone to be able to devote hours to your project is a bit much. Even if they’re interested and want to help, they might not be able. If they say they can’t do what you’ve asked, accept it. They are probably still the cool person you thought they were.

Respect if someone says that your question or request is beyond their expertise. 

We’re all learning together. If someone has shared what they do know, then say that something is beyond their knowledge, let it go. I’m not telling the story behind this advice, but suffice to say that even though someone says “thank you” it doesn’t forgo a respect for someone’s time or give license to pester them when they’ve honestly explained the limits of their expertise.

If someone helps you out, say “thank you.”

I feel like this should go without saying, but in my experience, some people need this reminder. If someone takes the time to reply to your inquiry, shoot them back a quick “thank you.” I mean, even if they weren’t very helpful, it’s polite to thank them for their time. Not only is this courteous, but it keeps them from wandering if you ever even got their email. Over the last few years I’ve sent people hundreds of emails, whether it was just to send a copy of a pdf version of a a read-alike flowchart I made for The Hunger Games or copies of blind date with a book blurbs I made.

I was happy to do all of that. It took just a few minutes of my time and I am all about sharing resources and not duplicating work. While many people have responded and been quite friendly, over half those emails have been met with silence. In other cases, I’ve spent an hour or more answering someone’s question, whether it was about how my library uses Tumblr or how we manage our circulating e-reader collection, and never gotten a response, even as simple as a “got it—thank you!” Lots of people do respond, and these interactions have often lead to collaborations or even friendships. Don’t underestimate the power of a thank you.

Pay it forward. 

The best way to thank someone for helping you out is to share that knowledge or return the courtesy. It doesn’t have to be online. If an awesome read-alikes list from a blog helped you match a reader with the perfect book, great! If you are using someone else’s idea in a conference presentation, give them a shout out! If you’re more into embracing technology than books, spread that love of circuits or robots or Minecraft. In the end, we’re all in this together.


This is part of a larger conversation about the way people participate in in professional learning networks, saying no, and doing work without compensation. Women, more than men, are likely to “give it away for free.” But there’s a balance between costs and rewards of taking on a project or offering your time.I talk about that in this post.


CC image by Siebuhr

3 thoughts on “Tips for Asking for Advice or Help from Professional Colleagues (or People You Know from the Internet)*

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s