LJ reached out to academic and public library directors and other thought leaders nationwide to find out what new skills they expect to need in librarians in the next
20 years. The 11 listed below emerged as the essentials. Not complete departures, rather they build on trends already in evidence.
This key competency has two distinct but overlapping paths: raising awareness of value among stakeholders, with an eye to maintaining or increasing funding, and building community, organization, and outreach, with an eye to expanding those services and effectively serving the constituencies who need them. According to Patrick Losinski, CEO of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH (2010 LJ Library of the Year), the field needs “people who are very comfortable in the public sphere. Must participate and be proactive—not rely on past reactive methods.”
To get there, says Rivkah K. Sass, director of the Sacramento Public Library, CA, and the 2006 LJ Librarian of the Year, “Library education that includes courses in public policy, budget advocacy, and building partnerships will be more critical than ever.”
Both within the staff and among board members, community organizations and individuals, and other libraries, the ability to work collaboratively is hardly a new skill in libraries but one that will be increasingly important as economies of scale produce everything from shared collections and off-site storage to complex ecosystems like SHARE and DPLA (the Digital Public Library of America).
Mentioned in some form by virtually everyone we spoke to is an ongoing necessity to communicate effectively to stakeholders—“to articulate our value in communities and the ability to speak about all of our offerings and how those offerings can practically impact people’s lives,” explains Nicolle Ingui Davies, executive director of the Arapahoe Library District, Centennial, CO, and the 2016 LJ Librarian of the Year.
This skill is also essential in dealing with library staff, as in “giving and receiving professional critique, conflict resolution, and active listening,” specifies Sean Casserley, county librarian, Johnson County Library, Overland Park, KS, and his executive team. Last but not least, it comes into play with patrons, “providing meaningful exchanges and experiences for our users,” according to Rosemary Cooper, director of the Albert Wisner Public Library, Warwick, NY, the 2016 LJ Best Small Library in America.
Pam Sandlian Smith, director of the Anythink Libraries in Adams County, CO, tells LJ, “I think creativity is probably the most important and the most lacking [skill], not only in library schools but in education in general.”
A baseline skill but one still perhaps more honored in the breach. The most hands-on guidance for librarians looking to develop this key attribute was offered by Casserley and company, who suggest “following the guidelines of Richard Paul and Linda Elder. Their work came from the Foundation and Center for Critical Thinking.”
Both Losinski and Vailey Oehkle, director of the Multnomah County Libraries, Portland, OR, cited identifying the data needed to make decisions; knowing how to collect, analyze, and gain insight from that data; and presenting the accompanying narrative to explain it to others.
Not surprisingly, given the pervasive landscape of rapid change and repeated disruption, many leaders called out flexible thinking as an essential. That doesn’t mean not having any unmoving goalposts, however. Sandlian Smith cites the “ability to…balance flexibility with structure.” Oehkle adds into the mix the related concept of comfort with ambiguity.
As Eva D. Poole, director of the Virginia Beach Public Library, sums up, “I believe library schools should be teaching leadership skills. As my generation retires, we need new leaders, especially those who can strongly advocate for libraries and library workers.”
Under this heading, also, came some aspects of self-knowledge: Casserley says these future leaders “should know their Myers-Briggs profile and have a good understanding of their personal preferences and work style. They should be aware of other personality styles and…how to flex to another style [and] know how to develop their own development plan.”
Beyond these tools, Cooper bottom lines the essentials of leadership: “Asking hard questions and being willing to listen to the answers and do something about it.”
Another staple skill, marketing will be at least as important in the future as it is right now. Columbus’s Losinski notes that “it is important to differentiate among communications, community relations, public relations, advertising, government relations, etc. Few have this skill set.” Casserley calls out in particular “how to market the library and the services [it offers] through your social network and how to work with a marketing department in a collaborative manner.”
Casserley and Oehkle both cite the importance of project management expertise, including scheduling and capacity planning. Related are budgets, facilities, and grant writing.
Web development (and “whatever comes next in that space”), technological literacy, and coding were among the specific examples of tech know-how called out. As Bonnie Tijerina, founder of the Electronic Resources & Libraries conference, says, “In order to critically evaluate what we serve up to users, we need more library professionals who can understand what’s happening underneath the surface.” And because tech is the fastest changing and most rapidly obsolescent skill set of those named, Oehkle points out that just as key as existing technical skills is the “willingness to continually learn new ones.”
Tomorrow’s Academic Librarians
While many of the skills cited by public librarians can generalize across library types, at least to some extent, academic library leaders named some requirements that are more pressing, if not altogether unique to the academic library.
Bryn Geffert, librarian, Amherst College, MA, says, “We need librarians who think of themselves first and foremost as teachers. We need librarians who light up classrooms, who need to be around students, and who infect those students with the joy of research. Library schools cannot catechize the passion required for teaching, but their admissions offices must select for this trait, and they must then train the already passionate how to teach.”
Active Faculty Support
Chris Bourg, director of MIT Libraries, Cambridge, MA, says some librarians may need to help scholars put together the data needed for tenure and promotion reviews.
Rapid Resource Response
Looking ahead, Bourg would “like to see librarians be active in quickly putting together resources and activities to help students respond to and understand current events. In other words, I would like to see things like the Charleston Syllabus project be the rule, not the exception, and be led by librarians.” Besides the “ability to discover, describe, and organize resources with a sensitivity to the audience,” Bourg says this demands “understanding social issues from multiple perspectives…critical consumption of media and data, and…teaching those skills.”