Saturday, January 23, 2010

So what skills does a Librarian need? And do they need porn shoes?

Following on from my last post, the same person who requested information on careers and qualifications web links also asked about the kinds of skills Librarians need to develop. So here is a quick overview from my point of view (having only worked in Academic Libraries - so it may have a certain slant to it!).

It seems increasingly that Librarian skills fall into 2 overarching categories. Those which are considered the "traditional" skills of Librarians and those which are considered more general, or "softer", skills and often include a far wider range of abilities than non-library-types might ever imagine could be relevant to Information Professionals.

The "traditional" skill set might be said to include (and this list is by no way exhaustive - but neither do all of these skills apply to all librarian roles):

  • Indexing
  • Classification
  • Cataloguing
  • Assessing quality and reliability of information
  • Storing and retreiving information in a wide range of media
  • Delivering training to users
  • Understanding of a specialist subject area
  • Liaison with stakeholders (understanding why and how they use the collections and how to develop collections to best serve their needs)
  • Paying attention to detail
  • Creating guides, training materials etc. (in a range of media)
  • Identifying when and where to use these skills in order to best serve the information needs of the community the Library supports

Assessing the needs of a user is a skill in itself, as library users frequently present themselves at libraries with very little idea of what they actually want, and often a very limited way of articulating their needs. So Librarians need to have people skills and communication skills, and this is where we start to enter the second category - the more transferable "softer" skill set.

The more transferable skill set is very broad with libraries developing the way they are, depending on your library, and your role with in it, such skills may include any or all of the following, and more besides. These are listed in no particular order:
  • IT skills
  • Online social networking
  • Project management
  • Staff management / team building
  • Marketing
  • Administrative skills
  • Customer service 
  • Budgeting
  • Writing policy and procedure
  • Report writing
  • Presenting
  • Teaching / training
  • Statistical collation and interpretation

If you imagine any kind of modern-day business and the diversity of roles required to run it you can apply these requirements to the running of any developing library alongside the need for professional information management skills.

Arguably there are also appropriate personality traits which suit the profession, and these may not be the ones that non-librarians might expect them to be. The stereotyping librarians are subjected to, even now, when libraries are so heavily engaged in new technologies and marketing, leads many to hold the view that librarians are quiet, meek types, who are shy and retiring, avoidant of adventure, with more interest in books than in people.

The stereotype could not be further from the truth. People I currently work with at Warwick include a Law Librarian who has ventured to Ethiopia to help set up training for a new law school there, an Academic Support Officer with a tendency to engage in dangerous sports (and the roller-skiing injury to prove it) and a qualified  female bouncer.

It is not only my current post which brings me into contact with such exciting characters, former colleagues have included a gothic biker chick (complete with obligatory tattoos), a pole dancer and a man who told THE dirtiest jokes I have EVER heard. And yes, they ALL still work in libraries and are much respected by their library-land peers (most of whom fail to fit the stereotype as much as they do).

Librarians are people-people, they are loud, confident, and often opinionated - they don't avoid a fight if they think the outcome will improve their services. They are very hard working and extremely adaptable. They embrace learning and a great deal of that learning does NOT come from books. They love information, they love technology, and most of all they love people.

The best managers I have had in Library-land have been the ones who are concerned about their staff in more ways than just the aspects that make them good at their jobs - "Do you need more training with the Library Management System?" is no more important a question than "How was your weekend?" or "Did you get on ok at the doctors?".

As important as a specific professional skill set is, (and it is, undoubtably important), a general all-round competence and professionalism, and a personality which makes you stand out from the corporate crowd are REspected and more and more EXpected in the Information Profession.

So come on - show us your porn shoes, lend us your collection of horror DVDs, give us a tour of your favourite virtual world, ask us to join your extreme sports club - we'll make a librarian of you yet!