Top Skills for Tomorrow's Librarians ....
Dear Library Colleagues
Our work environment is a dynamic one. See the skills listed below, mostly “soft skills” required to continue as a librarian in the current and future work environment. We constantly need to explore ways to remain relevant, since we can be relevant in so many ways.
How many can you tick off?
This key competency has two distinct but overlapping paths: raising awareness of value among stakeholders, with an eye to maintaining or increasing funding, and building community, organization, and outreach, with an eye to expanding those services and effectively serving the constituencies who need them. According to Patrick Losinski, CEO of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH (2010 LJ Library of the Year), the field needs “people who are very comfortable in the public sphere. Must participate and be proactive—not rely on past reactive methods.”
To get there, says Rivkah K. Sass, director of the Sacramento Public Library, CA, and the 2006 LJLibrarian of the Year, “Library education that includes courses in public policy, budget advocacy, and building partnerships will be more critical than ever.”
Both within the staff and among board members, community organizations and individuals, and other libraries, the ability to work collaboratively is hardly a new skill in libraries but one that will be increasingly important as economies of scale produce everything from shared collections and off-site storage to complex ecosystems like SHARE and DPLA (the Digital Public Library of America).
Mentioned in some form by virtually everyone we spoke to is an ongoing necessity to communicate effectively to stakeholders—“to articulate our value in communities and the ability to speak about all of our offerings and how those offerings can practically impact people’s lives,” explains Nicolle Ingui Davies, executive director of the Arapahoe Library District, Centennial, CO, and the 2016 LJ Librarian of the Year.
This skill is also essential in dealing with library staff, as in “giving and receiving professional critique, conflict resolution, and active listening,” specifies Sean Casserley, county librarian, Johnson County Library, Overland Park, KS, and his executive team. Last but not least, it comes into play with patrons, “providing meaningful exchanges and experiences for our users,” according to Rosemary Cooper, director of the Albert Wisner Public Library, Warwick, NY, the 2016 LJ Best Small Library in America.
Pam Sandlian Smith, director of the Anythink Libraries in Adams County, CO, tells LJ, “I think creativity is probably the most important and the most lacking [skill], not only in library schools but in education in general.”
A baseline skill but one still perhaps more honored in the breach. The most hands-on guidance for librarians looking to develop this key attribute was offered by Casserley and company, who suggest “following the guidelines of Richard Paul and Linda Elder. Their work came from the Foundation and Center for Critical Thinking.”
Both Losinski and Vailey Oehkle, director of the Multnomah County Libraries, Portland, OR, cited identifying the data needed to make decisions; knowing how to collect, analyze, and gain insight from that data; and presenting the accompanying narrative to explain it to others.
Not surprisingly, given the pervasive landscape of rapid change and repeated disruption, many leaders called out flexible thinking as an essential. That doesn’t mean not having any unmoving goalposts, however. Sandlian Smith cites the “ability to…balance flexibility with structure.” Oehkle adds into the mix the related concept of comfort with ambiguity.
As Eva D. Poole, director of the Virginia Beach Public Library, sums up, “I believe library schools should be teaching leadership skills. As my generation retires, we need new leaders, especially those who can strongly advocate for libraries and library workers.”
Under this heading, also, came some aspects of self-knowledge: Casserley says these future leaders “should know their Myers-Briggs profile and have a good understanding of their personal preferences and work style. They should be aware of other personality styles and…how to flex to another style [and] know how to develop their own development plan.”
Beyond these tools, Cooper bottom lines the essentials of leadership: “Asking hard questions and being willing to listen to the answers and do something about it.”
Another staple skill, marketing will be at least as important in the future as it is right now. Columbus’s Losinski notes that “it is important to differentiate among communications, community relations, public relations, advertising, government relations, etc. Few have this skill set.” Casserley calls out in particular “how to market the library and the services [it offers] through your social network and how to work with a marketing department in a collaborative manner.”
Casserley and Oehkle both cite the importance of project management expertise, including scheduling and capacity planning. Related are budgets, facilities, and grant writing.
Web development (and “whatever comes next in that space”), technological literacy, and coding were among the specific examples of tech know-how called out. As Bonnie Tijerina, founder of the Electronic Resources & Libraries conference, says, “In order to critically evaluate what we serve up to users, we need more library professionals who can understand what’s happening underneath the surface.” And because tech is the fastest changing and most rapidly obsolescent skill set of those named, Oehkle points out that just as key as existing technical skills is the “willingness to continually learn new ones.”