April 20, 2018

Jack of All Trades, Master of Library Science | Not Dead Yet

Cheryl LaGuardiaWhen I attended a non-library event recently, I was introduced to the group as a librarian, whereupon one of the assemblage enthused, “you must love to read!” to which I replied, “I do—but I don’t get to do much of it at work.” “What do you do at work, then?” was the very reasonable followup question. I talked about database searching, and teaching, and serving at public desks, and giving researcher tours, and doing research consultations, and giving presentations, and serving on committees, and keeping statistics for all of this…by that time the querent’s eyes were glazed over and they very probably regretted asking what they thought was a no-brainer question.

The truth, as all librarians know, is that we do a lot in our daily work that no one outside of libraries would ever guess that we do. There are many of us who check out books, yes, and who shelve them, and recommend them to patrons—but that’s about as far as most non-library folks get in imagining what we do. And that got me thinking about all the things I do now that I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever be doing (teaching, for instance. For many years I was terrified of getting up to speak in front of a group. Now you need to have a hook nearby to get me to stop. My sister, who taught middle school math for nearly 20 years, gave me the initial secrets to overcoming that fear, but that’s a whole other story…).

We librarians really are Jacks and Jills of all trades, as well as being Masters of Library Science. To get a better idea of the number, and kinds, of trades in which we share, I consulted a few library job listings. Here are just some of the traits, skills, and knowledge sets I found were required, or desirable, for successful librarian candidates to possess, arranged in what seem to me to be “like pods”:

Communication and Intangible skills

  • Ability to work independently
  • Ambiguity: ability to deal with it effectively
  • Analytical skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Change embracer: must thrive on constant change
  • Coaching skills
  • Collaborative skills
  • Communication skills (excellent / superb / persuasive)
  • Courteousness
  • Current awareness
  • Customer service skills
  • Delegation ability
  • Diversity sensitivity
  • Enthusiastic learner
  • Facilitation skills
  • Firing skills (ability to discharge staff)
  • Flexibility
  • Generosity
  • High ethical standards
  • Hiring skills (ability to advertise for, interview, and hire staff)
  • Integrity
  • Leadership skills
  • Management skills
  • Marketing skills
  • Mentoring skills
  • Multitasker
  • Networker
  • Politeness
  • Presentation skills
  • Problem-solving approach and skills
  • Professionalism
  • Public relations skills
  • Supervisory skills
  • Time allocation
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Willingness to travel
  • Writing skills

Technical skills

  • APIs
  • Computer operating systems
  • Computer programming (Java, PHP, Perl)
  • Copy machines
  • Data management expertise (DSpace, CONTENTdm, Archon, ArchivesSpace)
  • Data mining
  • Data storage protocols
  • Data visualization
  • Database architecture and management (MySQL, Microsoft server, PostgreSQL)
  • FAX machines
  • HTML
  • Integrated Library Systems (ILS)
  • Mobile devices and apps
  • Open source CMS
  • Proficiency in using a variety of software packages, including spreadsheets and databases (e.g. MS Excel and MS Access)
  • Semantic Web
  • Social media
  • Systems analysis
  • User centered design
  • Web design

Knowledge bases

  • AACR2 and LC classification and subject headings
  • Assessment: qualitative and quantitative
  • Benchmarking
  • Budgets
  • Collections analysis
  • Conservation and preservation
  • Copyright law expertise
  • Digital preservation
  • Distance education expertise
  • Documentation management and analysis
  • Editing skills
  • Establish name and subject authority records
  • Fundraising
  • Instructional technologies expertise
  • Intellectual property rights’ knowledge
  • Legal knowledge: ability to analyze, interpret, and apply laws, labor contracts, policies, rules and regulations
  • Library space design
  • Licensing of databases and other tools
  • MARC
  • Metadata (Dublin Core, EAD, MODS, METS, TEI, VRA, Darwin Core, etc.)
  • National and international book trades
  • Operations management
  • Organizational change expertise
  • Original cataloging
  • Policy-making expertise
  • Project management
  • Publishing practices and policies
  • Quality measurement
  • RDA
  • Resource allocation
  • Service evaluation
  • Statistics’ expertise (collection and analysis, SPSS, Excel)
  • Structures of information
  • Subject expertise (in the Arts, Engineering, Humanities, Sciences, Social Sciences, and Technology)
  • Teaching effectively
  • Up-to-date knowledge of Voyager, OCLC, and Library of Congress policies and cataloging practices
  • Web content management
  • XML
  • Zillions of reference and information resources

Educational requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Certification (state, city, technical, etc.)
  • Language expertise (from Abkhaz to Zuni and anywhere in between)
  • Master of Library and Information Science degree
  • Master of Library Science degree
  • Master’s degree in another subject
  • Second Master’s degree in addition to the MLS
  • Ph.D.

…And, of course, a clean background check.

A couple of observations: if the tech skills list, above, seems a bit skimpy, it’s because these skills change so frequently that it’s not possible to have a truly up-to-date list of what’s needed today and tomorrow. Some of the intangible traits (enthusiastic learner, especially) apply here, because enthusiastic learners will master new technical skills as they emerge and are needed. Also, let me add the overall disclaimer that I know darned well these lists are not exhaustive; part of my agenda here is to encourage those of you reading this, especially those active in various fields of librarianship, to add to the lists those skills and traits you identify as essential for library folks to possess. If anyone reading this knows of a librarian who has all of the traits and skills listed, you should immediately nominate them for sainthood in the library pantheon (which, if it doesn’t yet exist, should).

And I have to share the single best qualification I came across, from a Midwestern public library: “If you are passionate enough about libraries that you would keep working even if you won the lottery, you could be our next Assistant Director.” Now that sounds like a great library in which to work!

Read eReviews, where Cheryl LaGuardia and Bonnie Swoger look under the hood of the latest library databases and often offer free database trials

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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  1. It’s so true, Cheryl, that most people have no idea of the myriad tasks & talents that are expected of librarians. Kudos to you for educating at least a few more people about what it takes to be a modern librarian!

    I recently wrote about a tactic that I use in such situations to help make people curious about library work, so I can talk to them for a few minutes and (hopefully) change their perceptions.

    More of us need to get out there and talk to people, face-to-face, about why libraries are still vital to society. Let’s keep breaking stereotypes!

    • I love the taxi chats idea, Kathy! Only problem for me is that I never take taxis anymore, because I go to very few conferences. I do find myself chatting with folks at the grocery store more. Maybe an adaptation to “Cucumber Bins and Floor Wax Chats”?
      Thanks very much for writing!
      Best wishes,