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Stephen AbramStephen Abram
Stephen Abram, MLS is the Immediate Past President of SLA and is Vice President, Innovation, for SirsiDynix.† He is Chief Strategist for the SirsiDynix Institute.† He is an SLA Fellow and the past president of the Ontario Library Association and the Canadian Library Association.† In June 2003 he was awarded SLAís John Cotton Dana Award.† He is the author of Out Front with Stephen Abram and Stephenís Lighthouse blog. Stephen would love to hear from you at stephen.abram *at sign* gmail.com. Photo courtesy of Michael Sauers, The Travelin’ Librarian..

Library 101: The New Librarian 101
Michael and David asked us to participate in a small way in the Library 101 phenomenon.† They asked the question:†

What are the new basic skills that libraries and library staff must have now and in the near future in order to succeed?

Hmmmmm.† I donít know if these are an entirely new set of skills, but the skills we need certainly getting more important!† I cogitated on this question as I set out on a week where Iíd chat with library folks, politicians and CEOís in Toronto, the UK, New York and San Antonio. Such is this librarianís life as we seek the future. As autumn begins heading for 2010, and nature goes to sleep under its blanket of snow here I Canada, I asked myself a few key questions:†

  1. Is there a core set of skills and competencies that every librarian must have to be accepted as a professional?
  2. Has librarianship become largely a technocratic profession?
  3. What will todayís and future information professionals need to be wildly successful and respected in this century and, more importantly, what competencies and attitudes will have the most beneficial impact?

At about the same time I was continuing to absorb and internalize the conversations I had at ALA for a panel by the ALA Committee on Accreditation as well as the things Iíve learned in my work with SLA with their document ďA Competencies for Special Librarians and Information Professionals in the 21st CenturyĒ and with CLA for the ď8RísĒ library human resources study done in Canada. Added to this I was immersed in some of the more recent insights from the awesome SLA Alignment Project research.† Lastly, our perspective as SLA and as a segment of the profession is informed by the results of the ď8RísĒ library human resources study done in Canada.†

We certainly love to gaze in or navels!†

So what about my questions?†

Is there a core set of skills and competencies that every librarian must have to be accepted as a professional?

I know that there are many people who believe that the only true path to professional librarianship is through an MLS with a foundation of required courses like cataloguing, reference, etc.† I disagree.† I may be a heretic but I think you can be a perfectly excellent library manager without ever having taking either course or any specific course.† (I took both.)† I think that there are more important things to study and learn about library land and that many of the core courses teach skills that could be better and more efficiently performed by collegial effort (like OCLC) or by technical and clerical staff. Libraries of all types do better with diversified teams of skills. I rush to state that I do think an understanding of theory and practice is absolutely necessary, but the front line, minute detail is unnecessary for a generalist or manager.† I think that should be left to specialization within the profession in optional advanced courses and other development activities in lifelong learning and involvement.† We need more diversity of perspective in our teams in librarianship.†

Why?† Well, in the Canadian 8Rís survey of thousands of library workers, it was revealed that a significant majority of the current workforce in libraries did NOT seek supervisory or managerial positions.† Thatís shocking!† We also learned that the vast majority of position openings in the next two decades would be leadership positions in libraries.† For a number of reasons, it is a similar situation in the U.S. and internationally for information work.† Thatís a confounding, complex contradiction.† These current and future leadership position holders will be challenged by the massive millennial transformational changes in our society and field wrought by so many economic, technological, social and demographic changes.† Each of these forces is affecting the new professionals entering our field as much as it is influencing the changes in society as a whole.†

How do we prepare them?† What do those of us with significant career trajectories left do to adapt?† It comes down to a philosophical question. Do we all get better at technocratic competencies?† Will excellence in metadata, technology, intranets, search, portal design, and more mark the one true path to success?† Hence my second question:

Has librarianship become largely a technocratic profession?†

I believe that in the past few decades we have veered towards a technocratic positioning of information professional skills.† And we are good, even excellent, are many of these skills.†† And thatís great.† Then again diffusion of these skills and projects is too slow and there are still too libraries engaged in social media.† Will technology alone get us all the way through this century?† I donít think so and now is the time to rebalance our skill sets and positioning in employersí and educatorsí minds and strategies.† Indeed, the results of the SLA alignment research with C-level executives of all sectors show that they are ready for us to step up to the plate for leadership roles in information and intelligence strategies in their (our) organizations and enterprises.† We need to add value through more than just technical skills Ė we need to strive for strategic advice.† This is a unique opportunity and we have no idea how long this window of opportunity will remain open. F we agree that we need to be positioned as essential to community, economic, recreation, and learning strategies then we need to explain and adapt technology in those contexts.

What will todayís and future information professionals need to be wildly successful and respected in this century and, more importantly, what competencies and attitudes will have the most beneficial impact?†

So, this is the hard question.† What does the new librarian need to know?† In this case Iím not just thinking about new graduates but also about those who need to reinvent themselves in this transformational employment environment.† Basically, thatís everyone.† Listed below is my short list of the top five things that I believe that the ďnewĒ librarians must have for lifelong success.† Every single one is heavily influenced by technology and rapid change, but they are planted firmly in human behaviour first.†

  1. Leadership Skills: The next few decades offer an amazing opportunity for information professionals with library training to influence the path of society in a positive way.† We need to develop a cadre of professionals who have Ė and use Ė their leadership skills to make a difference. We must move beyond supervision and management alone to grasp this ring.
  2. Advocacy Skills: Concomitantly we have to find our voices.† Advocacy can be taught and the confidence to achieve our role in society must be installed and encouraged.† We must project confidence with content. No one will advocate for us without us also advocating for ourselves.
  3. Interpretation Skills: One of the key challenges of the coming decades is the contextualization of technology and its place in human endeavor.† The librarianís and information professionalís perspective on the intersection of people, service and technology in everything from user behaviours to search-assisted decision-making is critical to enterprise success.† We must improve the communication and influencing skills of our profession on every level.
  4. Empathy Skills: We used to call this narrowly reference interviewing, but it is really about understanding the client and their context.† Across all sectors of librarianship we see an increasing need for this most human of skills.† Itís all about relationships and we can no longer afford to shy away from deeper relationships with our communities of users and management and providing intelligent advice to really delight our users and clients.
  5. Imagination, Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurial Skills: This is about invention and change.† The world is changing Ė irrevocably.† And itís neither fated to change for the better or the worse.† It is up to us to create the changes and future we want to see.† That requires us to learn the skills of innovation and change management.† These can be learned and we can do this.† The alternative is having a future happen to us that we neither want nor took a part in creating.† And I am not a fatalist.† We can influence our futures in a positive fashion.

Lastly, weíll need flexibility, a sense of humour, and the ability to deal with ambiguous signals and situations.† I just donít know if that can be taught.† However, I do know it can be recruited by schools and employers.†

There is no single right answer or a true shining path or any magic bullets for success.† Technology is not a white knight astride a flying unicorn.† We must be practical and visionary and dream big.† I know that we wonít win this race if we only focus on those just entering the profession.† Everyone must look deeply and honestly into their own personal and career profile and decide for themselves what skills, both soft and hard, that they need to develop.†

We are entering the knowledge based economy and our profession should be well positioned to thrive and survive.† A good start is Library 101 and you committing to being Librarian 101.

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