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Sarah Houghton-JanSarah Houghton-Jan
Speaker, Consultant, Author and Digital Futures Manager for the San José Public Library
Learn more at librarianinblack.net

“Ethical, cultural, information-seeking, technical, inspirational, and mathematical skills” make up the new “Librarian 101”.

Librarians are the informational backbone of any community, be it online or face-to-face.  We all know that long gone are the days of sitting at a reference desk reading the latest reference books.  Memorizing Dewey is no longer enough.  The skills that a librarian needs today, regardless of position, are largely ethical, cultural, information-seeking, technical, inspirational, and mathematical.

  • Ethically, librarians need to be familiar with copyright (including creative commons) rules, online licensing (digital rights management), resource sharing principles (such as open source and open access), as well as traditional ethical considerations such as plagiarism standards, intellectual freedom, and privacy considerations (including online privacy policy best practices).
  • Culturally, librarians require the ability to connect with their communities both online and face-to-face through all of the various places, spaces, tools, and technologies that their communities use.  Cultural sensitivity and acclimation is also required, including the unique sensitivities that come in different online environments, religious and ethnic groups, and in groups of users of different ages.
  • Information-seeking skills that librarians need include all of the traditional skills like reference interviews, knowledge of subject sources, and.ability to use wayfinding tools effectively  More than anything today, however, librarians’ search skills and ability to harvest data from the invisible web is essential.
  • Technically, librarians need to be familiar with online environments of all kinds, including popular tools and emerging trends, but also need to be comfortable with the software and hardware used by their users to access library and other information resources.  All librarians need to be able to be able to adjust to new technologies as well, quickly acclimating themselves to new environments to provide timely assistance.
  • Today’s librarians need to find and provide inspiration.  Librarians need to discover inspiration in constant change.  Librarians need to find inspiration in focusing on providing information to their communities, and in finding how to capitalize on few dollars and staff hours to provide many resources for our communities.  Librarians need to be willing to inspire their leadership to look to new priorities in library services and a new locus for their services, focusing on what users want from us and what niche we fill in our communities, not staying the course of the last several years.  Librarians also need to inspire others–to inspire a willingness in their communities to change as well, to encourage the braving of new frontiers, the pursuit of new knowledge, and the use of new tools to make life better, easier, and more enjoyable. 
  • Math?  Yes, math.  More than anything remember your math skills.  You have X# of dollars and Y# of community members.  In all of your work, think about how to equitably distribute your services to your community members. Remember that libraries are for everyone.  Libraries exist to serve the entire community, from one language to another, one skill level to another, one age group to another, one literacy level to another.  Remember the niche services that only libraries can provide in your community and focus on those first as it is likely that your dollars won’t stretch much further than that. 

So, librarians, the skills we need evolve every year as our communities evolve, both online and off.  All of us need to pay attention to our surroundings, the trends of all of the different groups we serve, and how to meet as many needs as possible with the unique skills that the librarian mind brings to our world.

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