Friday, November 07, 2008

Article Note: On librarian skills and the modern world

Citation for the article:

Gerolimos, Michalis and Rania Konsta. "Librarians' Skills and Qualifications in a Modern Informational Environment." Library Management 29.8/9 (2008): 691-699.

Read via Emerald.

This short piece reports on a study looking at job ads to see what kind of skills and qualifications librarians should have. The literature review presents various models for the "ideal" librarian should be and the necessary skills. From looking at that, it seems that a very unrealistic picture can emerge. And if you look at some job ads, you see the unrealistic expectations in them as well. I mean, a cataloguer who can also do systems work, speaks four languages, and do liaison to the nursing program? You know when you see such an ad that: a) they already have an internal candidate in mind, but have to advertise, or b) they need a hire, but have to combine two or three jobs into one (likely to pay less as well). We've all seen ads like that at one point or another. Now the literature review does not mention ads like the hypothetical one I just suggested, but it did make me think about that.

Here is what the authors seem to get out of their literature review, which I think makes a pretty good statement of what a good librarian should be:

"According to these works, thus, the modern librarian should be a professional that possesses standards and values that function effectively and smoothly in a technological environment. He fully understands and knows sufficiently the conventional library practices. He constantly wishes to change, to develop and to learn. He adapts easily in a permanently altered environment of information, he has experience in education and possess [sic] a considerable amount of communication skills (Salter 2003)" (qtd. in 691-692).

The authors refer to Biddiscombe and write:

"Although it is difficult for one person to acquire a large number of skills, he states that every modern librarian must be able to recognize informational needs, manage users and encourage people with different skills to work in the same team. Such 'hybrid' teams will play an important role as far a management of future information systems is concerned" (692).

In other words, while a librarian should have a solid skill set, he/she should not/cannot know everything. Hiring managers then are responsible for hiring and managing diverse, hybrid teams rather than advertising and looking for some "silver bullet" librarian who can do everything.

So, what are some of the findings:

  • "Communication skill appears in over 60 percent of the ads and should be considered a desirable skill for every modern librarian" (695).
  • "Interpersonal skills, in general, have a high percentage of appearance in the job ads" (695).
Notice anything in those two? That is right: it's not just the ubertechnical stuff. You still need some old fashioned human sense and ability to actually communicate with people. Other findings:

  • While ICT skills come out low on the survey, "general use of software and the knowledge of creating and maintaining web pages are two of the most desirable skills in this category" (695). In fact, a lot of the ads I see do feature some form of web page maintenance duty.
  • "Probably the most important aspect of professional development and advancement for the modern librarian is adaptation of current skills in new practices and motivation in acquiring new skills when needed" (695). You have to continue learning and be open to change and adapting. Having said that, it does not follow people appreciate being changed. Notice the distinction. People usually are fine with change. It's when you try to change them where the problem comes in. Food for thought to the managers.
  • "Social skills are important not only for professionals working in public services, but should be considered a distinct category of skills, along with professional skills, important for every modern LIS professional" (695). This should be a given.