I’ve been a professional librarian since 1993 and I love my chosen field. These past 16 years have seen significant changes in librarianship and I have been fortunate to be at the forefront of many of these changes – embracing and welcoming. I have served as a Library Director twice and I love being in a leadership role. The basic skills that librarians need haven’t really changed all that much during my years, but perhaps they are coming into better focus now as we have to “protect” our field of practice. I work with great librarians both within my library and with those throughout the country. So, when I consider the skills that make a librarian great I need to look outside myself at those I respect and aspire to learn from. Of course, I have my own work ethic that has served me well so I can also consider the efforts I have made to be successful as well.
It may be easy to focus on technology, but my feeling is this would be far to limiting. Though my technology skills have served me well, it is the other soft skills that will carry us through anything. Technology will come and go and we will need to be technology neutral so we will consider those things that stand the test of time; those things you can use throughout a career. What are those things?
Fearless. This means being able to step into the unknown. This means being able to make mistakes. What happens when the books disappear? What happens when libraries don’t subscribe to magazines and newspapers? Are we still librarians? Are we still a library? The role we make for ourselves in society may not be tied to a building or an idea. If we are fearless, we can see through this to the other side, to a place where we continue to be librarians.
Marketer. Everything we do is marketing. Cliché perhaps, but true. We are always selling ourselves, our services, and our library. How we interact with people, how we think about ideas, how we express ourselves, what we defend, what we promote – this is all marketing. I work in an academic environment and spend considerable time outside the library. Even when I’m in the library, I’m thinking about the library beyond our walls. Sure, you can take a marketing class but I’m not sure if it would truly cover what I mean by marketing. I’m talking about a personal brand – our character, our ability to interact as a person, our innovation, our leadership.
Experimenter. What are we trying that is new/different, with an idea of meeting the needs of our customers? Dumping Dewey and going with BISAC? Putting text messaging alerts into the catalog? Dumping the catalog? In my career, my focus has been on technology but this isn’t the exclusive domain of technology. In our library we got rid of all the “no” signs, put in some couches and encouraged group study in addition to the technology changes. There is so much we can experiment with in a library environment. And if we fail, then we simply acknowledge it and move on. Have fun, that’s the key for me.
Assessor. I’ve got to admit that I’m not very good at formal assessment. However, looking to see if what we’re doing is actually working and beneficial will save us lots of time and energy in the end. I do this casually, and occasionally formally, and have made changes in services and practices as a result. Many of us are spending other people’s money and we need to make sure that we are good stewards.
So, these are the “new” basic skills for librarians in the 21st century. Bring your sense of humor along with you, be willing to meet and greet people, and success will be your result.