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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Skills for the New Generation…They Look Familiar, Sort of

It’s Bastille Day, and I’m hoping our librarians don’t celebrate it by trying to storm my office. My barricade consists of an Aeron Chair tucked beneath the doorknob, but I don’t think that will hold for long.

Via Infodocket – which I’m really liking despite the fact that the quality content brings a correspondingly  low amount of blog fodder – I discovered a paper to be presented at the IFLA conference this August: “Key Skills and Competencies of a New Generation of LIS Professionals.”

Fortunately, I can read it online and avoid that trip to Puerto Rico. Nothing against PR, but I had my sights set on a cooler clime for my August vacation.

Basically, the study just surveys a whole bunch of other studies on the topic and summarizes the results. You gotta love LIS research!

Supposedly, “The findings of the study provide a complete picture of an archetypal set of skills and competencies which build the image of a new generation of LIS professionals.”

That sounds pretty exciting. Who wouldn’t want to find out what skills the new generation of librarians – er, LIS professionals – will possess.

Again, supposedly, “Due to digitization of the knowledge-based society, libraries are faced with many kinds of changes with regard to technological aspects, user and learning behaviors, and social aspects. All have major impacts on the roles, competencies, skills and knowledge of LIS professionals.”

This new digital age. I’m just not sure when I’ll ever adjust to it. One day I’ll even figure out this clunky email thing.

The skills and knowledge are categorized as personal, generic, and discipline-specific. For example, the personal skills:

The personal skills required for a new generation of LIS professionals include being analytical, creative, technical, flexible, reflective, able to deal with a range of users, detective-like, adaptable, responsive to others’ needs, enthusiastic and self-motivated are central to library work.

That’s a pretty big list, and a tall order. I, of course, have all those skills, which is why I’m the most successful librarian of my generation, and every one of those skills would have been useful for previous as well as future generations of librarians.

Whether current and previous generations of librarians have those skills in general, I don’t know. There are librarians who have those skills, but I doubt it’s the majority. The problem for the “new generation” is that it’s not likely to be the majority of them, either. More on that after we look at other skill sets. And now, the generic skills:

The generic skills that are respectively required are as follows: information literacy, communication, critical thinking, teamwork, ethics and social responsibility, problem solving and leadership.

I’m not sure I’d call information literacy a generic skill, but why not for the sake of argument. Presumably, new librarians will become information literate in library school, or at least more so than the people they’ll be helping, which is all that matters.

Unlike information literacy, the other skills have been around for a long time, and were always useful. Communicating, thinking critically, solving problems, providing leadership: these aren’t new skills to libraryland. Librarians have them, just not the majority, which is why it’s easier for some than others to move up in the profession.

When I got to discipline-specific knowledge, I was hoping for a bit more, well, discipline specific.

The discipline-specific knowledge which is required for the new LIS professionals includes metadata, database development and database management system, user needs, digital archiving and preservation, collection development, and content management systems.

The only two things in that list that are specific to librarianship as a discipline are collection development and maybe digital archiving and preservation. Those are standard library functions that usually no one else does.

But all the rest are skills widely used in lots of areas, basically any field that develops content for the Internet. Useful skills to have, but hardly specific to libraries. Those are the skills libraries borrow to do library stuff.

The question I left hanging earlier was whether the majority of any new generation of “LIS professionals” is likely to have this skill set. Those of you who have passed through library school more recently than me can say whether the majority of your peers seemed to possess them.

Presumably, the personal and generic skills are acquired before library school, or at least outside of library school. Is the field really attracting a majority of people with all or most of those generic and personal skills?

Especially since people really possessing all those skills would have a wide range of choices. Look at the list again. How many people are really like this: analytical, creative, technical, flexible, reflective, able to deal with a range of users, detective-like, adaptable, responsive to others’ needs, enthusiastic, self-motivated, information literacy, communication, critical thinking, teamwork, ethics and social responsibility, problem solving and leadership.

Those people can go do something other than save the world one library card at a time.

Admittedly, there are a lot of librarians like that now. Often the librarians you’ve heard of before have those skills, excluding the popular contingent of librarians who seem little more than insubstantial motivational speakers, and even they have most of the skills except for analytical and critical thinking ability.

Then there are the local stars who don’t get out much but who are always an asset to their library.

But in general, most librarians having most of these skills seems like pie in the sky, especially considering how low the standards are for so many library schools.

Instead of key competencies for LIS professionals, these are going to be the key competencies for the small part of the cohort leading the way, which has pretty much been the case for previous generations of library leaders. That’s good news for the leaders, I guess, as they survey their peers and plan for promotion.

What an amazing profession librarianship would be if most librarians had all these skills. I think we’re all safe from being amazed, though.



  1. “Those of you who have passed through library school more recently than me can say whether the majority of your peers seemed to possess them.”

    I graduated two years ago, so I suppose that qualifies. Let’s look at the rundown:

    metadata – I think there was a class specifically for this but it wasn’t very popular. A few other classes touched on it as something you should know but didn’t go into depth actually making sure we knew it. The big focus was still on teaching MARC. I was brought up to speed at an internship after library school.

    database development and database management system – Again there was a class for this. Nobody was taking it since the prevailing opinion was that “all that computer stuff” wasn’t necessary for people who thought planning the right books for children’s reading hour would be the most onerous of their job responsibilities.

    user needs – The reference interview was covered pretty thoroughly. Does that count?

    digital archiving and preservation – There were two separate courses for each area, but only the small number of people who were angling for special libraries bothered to take them.

    collection development – This is one of those things that has always been a part of “old guard” librarianship so it was beaten into the ground, picked up, dusted off, and then beaten into the ground again over the course of several classes.

    content management systems – I once did a presentation in a class on how to do a standalone install of WordPress and Joomla, about as simple as you can get with a CMS. The majority of “peer response forms” from the class dinged me for picking a topic that was too technical for the typical librarian. One person yelled at me for talking down during the presentation and assuming the class didn’t know anything about the subject. Take from that what you will.

    Are library schools starting to teach all of these skills that will be necessary in our brave new digital future? I would say yes, but grudgingly. And most students don’t bother taking those classes because they don’t think the skills are relevant to their career.

    The other problem is that the coverage of these subjects is usually very shallow compared to what someone would get in a computer science course where the real heavy lifting is done. Students get a broad overview of how something works, but there isn’t a deeper understanding of why it works.

  2. I got out of library school on ’06 and I remember thinking, “Of all the people I’ve had classes with, there might be half a dozen that I would ever consider hiring or wanting on my team.”

    So, no. I don’t think they possessed those skills- at the time at least.

  3. In my experience most working librarians do have these skills – today’s job market means that chaffy applicants don’t even get an interview – but they sure didn’t learn them at library school. I went to one of those schools that was slightly ashamed of its library roots and, therefore, spent a lot of time pretending it was preparing us for a career in some vague high-tech “I” career. As with the previous poster, most of the skills I use today in my librarian job I acquired as a student librarian, coop student and on various professional experiences that I organized myself.

    You can be sure that I’m very grateful to Ms. X who hired me for my first student job – setting me on the work experience/work ethic path that’s managed to keep me a step ahead of most of my classmates.

  4. I am inclined to agree with both comments above. I recently graduated from library school in 2010 and have been working as an academic librarian for a year now. I would say that the majority of my education has come from pursuing continuing education on my own and through my experiences at work. I work at a graduate university and there have been many moments when I have kicked myself for not taking that extra class or asking the instructor to delve a bit deeper into the content. Many factors could contribute to this, but what I truly believe that today LIS programs need to strengthen their curriculum.

    I also agree with Spencer that there were definitely only a handful of people in the majority of my classes that could be deemed as the “new generation.” I internally questioned my peers’ reasoning for attending library school

  5. Formerprof says:

    When I think back about my time in libraries, I’m struck by the general lack of any distinguishable skills necessary for being a librarian. So you’re an analytical thinker…you’d be good at cataloging. Not a very analytical thinker? Be a children’s librarian. Want to be a detective? Try Reference. Don’t want to be a detective? How about BI or collection development? And so forth. The range of duties a librarian can perform is sufficient to satisfy any combination of skills/attributes you might (or might not) have.

    The “skills” listed in this article (and similar) are applicable to nearly any worthwhile job. And by the way, if you possess all (or even some) of these qualities, your worth in the marketplace is far more than libraries will ever pay. And the professional satisfaction is greater too.

    If you’re reading AL (and feeling annoyed), you’re well on your way out of librarianship. Come on out!

  6. Jaded_MLIS says:

    As a recent LIS graduate, one of my biggest problems with library school is in their desperate attempt to stay alive they let just about anyone with a pulse and the $$$$ enroll. Like Spencer, I would hire only about a handful and the rest I would politely eject from this “profession” altogether (assuming that we will ever actually be a profession but that’s a gripe for another day).

    Most of the people in my library school were not there because they were interested in libraries, information technology, archives, etc. but because they failed as teachers or because they “wanted an easy job.” A good number of my fellow graduates struggled to do the most basic coding and database searching but thanks to the ancient wisdom of “group work” they could get by.

    That said, I’m not all that impressed with some of the older generation librarians either. Few even bother to continue educating themselves in new or developing technologies that are immediately affecting their own place of work. I’m not asking that they understand the latest and greatest in cloud computing or Google+ but it wouldn’t kill them to know which datbases their library owns and how to search them. In sum, at any given moment I question whether more than half of our profession is competent enough to run the coffee machine let alone if they even care whether or not they are (in)competent. Maybe that’s me just being all negative though.

  7. @Jaded-

    It makes me feel so good that other “new” librarians get it. It makes me feel like things could get better. Then I realize what a small percentage people like you are and it makes me sad again.

  8. FinallyaLibrarian says:

    I graduated May 2010 and landed a Librarian position in July in the system I already worked as as asociate. Most of the tech skills I have were accumulated over decades of working in IT, not in library school.

  9. Techserving You says:

    Ignoring the main thrust of this article… I’d just like to mention that Puerto Rico is not Florida. It has a very consistent temperature – a mean temperature of 82 or 83 all year ’round. It’s not any worse to be there in August than it is to be in most parts of the US.

  10. Techserving You says:

    Interesting, Andrew. Where did you go to school? Database management and development was a required core class for all students (whether they planned to go into librarianship, knowledge management, or archives) at my school. I graduated in 2007.

    The students were all interested in tech stuff – at least the application of it. The big thing the students in my program railed against was the required management class. “But I just like books, I don’t want to be a manager!” I’m glad that the prof – who also had an MBA – stuck to her guns. Sooner or later most librarians need to manage SOMETHING or SOMEONE and it would be good if they at least had the bare bones knowledge of project management, writing a vision statement, staffing, etc..

  11. Techserving You says:

    (I’m not saying I think true management skills are best learned from a book – but it seems that many librarians don’t learn it on the job, either – the nature of the “profession,” I suppose. Unlike being able to pick up cataloguing skills on the job, librarians simply don’t seem to pick up management skills of any kind. It’s the rare librarian who is an excellent manager, with or without formal training. But it’s best if they at least have some sort of exposure to the various elements of management.)

  12. question says:

    @Techserving You–

    Your thoughts about management a breath of fresh air! I have worked for two different incompetent library managers who I swear figured management skills were superfluous to library work, & never bothered to learn them. One of them had been to library school, one had not. Which, I’m not so sure how people land these management jobs without training of some sort.

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