Tuesday, April 16, 2013

One is Not Like the Other

After reading the article The Librarian Doesn't Exist regarding the list of skills that every librarian should have, I began to think about my own branch within my organization.  While I certainly agree that there cannot be a set of skills every librarian should know (since librarianship covers a range of many specialties,) I would argue that it is essential for librarians within the same organization and job description to have such a list.  Certainly my skill sets are much different than my colleagues, but should they be?  This is quite a complicated question with a near impossible answer.  As with most of my answers to life's complicated questions, I look through the eyes of our customers and their expectations of the librarians who serve them.

LIBRARIANS VS. LIBRARY SPECIALISTS
Through the eyes of a customer, every person in the library is a librarian.  And who are we to tell them any different?  One thing that remains true for most libraries is that the word "librarian" is equivalent to supervisor or manager.  Sure, we may have a specific expertise but at the end of the day, when it comes to information, the library specialists are performing the job which customers view as "the librarian's job."

We train library staff to be knowledgeable by equipping them with skills we learned in library school, cross our fingers, and hope for greatness.  At best, staffers receive a couple weeks of training and are let loose on the library to get the real world training and experience.  It isn't until new employees are in the trenches that they realize, "we didn't have a training class on how to use the copier!" What's even worse is if the actual librarian doesn't know how to make that double sided copy.

DOING OUR JOB
Whether a customer is being helped by a librarian or library specialist, the one thing that should be consistent is knowledgeable customer service.  As I mentioned in Digital Literacy and You, we want to minimize circumstances where Jane Librarian needs John Librarian to help with a specific question.  This happens most often when technology is involved, but you may see it crop up in other situations as well.  When a staff member doesn't know the answer and must seek out a coworker's help, valuable time is wasted.  This doesn't mean that library staff must know everything, but they must know everything within their job description.

What is the best way to determine what everyone should know? Core Competencies.  I've seen technological core competencies floating around libraries for quite some time, but beyond a vague job description and a new hire training checklist, I have never heard of a list of core competencies for varying library positions.*  Core competencies would include things that seem like no-brainers but have the potential to stump even the best of library staffers.  Topics like searching, digital media instruction, and basic customer service expectations would appear on this list.

COMPETENT LIBRARIANS
Library staff in a public library need to know different concepts and have other skill sets than staff in an academic, medical, or law library, etc..  Even within departments, knowledge varies.  For example, knowing the ins and outs of a MARC  record is really not needed for library staff who do not process incoming materials but knowledge of model reference behaviors is a must.

As a group, library staff at my location have developed a working document of core competencies that are relevant to the jobs we do every day.  Little things, such as good customer service practices, are on this list as well as the big, job description concepts.  Not surprisingly, compiling a list where everyone has input opens the floor up for discussion and helps individuals single out areas where extra training may be needed.

Taking into consideration the needs of your customers, the services you offer, and the type of library you work in, what are the core competencies of your job?  While all of our lists may share some commonalities, I guarantee that none will be exactly alike.


*Unlike the list of skill sets that are referred to in The Librarian Doesn't Exist article, core competencies would be varying from library to library and position to position.

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