Future competence needs in public libraries

The libraries of the future need leaders who are continuously able to work with processes of change and development in an interaction with the organisation and its environment, and staff who are able to assume responsibility in relation to projects etc. And then both members of staff and leaders must possess strong meta competences.

Professional development is a central theme in the report The public libraries in the knowledge society, published by the Committee on Public Libraries in the Knowledge Society in spring 2010. As a member of the working group, who has been concentrating on this theme, it is very gratifying to see that the committee has taken heed of the working group’s proposals. The Committee has even been very precise indeed in its recommendations for the public libraries’ future work in terms of professional development.

The fundamental premise for the endeavours concerning future professional development is that the explicit point of reference must be the needs of the library users when considering meeting future competence needs – and not those of the individual member of staff or leader. The necessary strategic perspective of this premise is further underlined when competence development and organisation development are viewed in context: no competence development without an organisational development perspective – and vice versa.

The report points out a number of concrete professional competences, which must currently be developed and enforced in the public libraries. Not surprisingly, good IT skills are singled out, as information technology and digitisation provide the framework and requirements in terms of professional development in the libraries. Apart from that, the report stresses the need for competencies in relation to marketing and teaching.

Important meta competences

Furthermore – and perhaps even more important – the Committee recommends that the libraries, apart from the strengthening of professional competences, ensure the development of a number of meta competences in members of staff as well as management:
• Learning and transformation competence, i.e. the competence to acquire knowledge and be able to transform this into value-creating action
• Relation competence, i.e. the individual’s and the organisation’s competence to handle many different perspectives and perceptions of library tasks, internally as well as externally
• Dialogue and meaning competence, i.e. the competence to meet the demands of the outside world in order to see and create meaning between a multitude of values and understandings.

When the libraries act in a world of constant changes, these competences, which in a classical sense can be perceived as formal management competences, become important to a library system that wishes to develop in harmony with its surroundings. It is a library system where
- focus has moved from collection to user
- the ‘Bildung-ideal’ has to do with facilitating the individual user’s path through a diversity of cultural offers and information – not with shaping the user into a normative, static ideal
- the library’s staff work with many kinds of learning and inspiration activities and join in a number of inter- institutional partnerships inside and outside the organisation.

New interdisciplinary partnerships established

In the report the Committee puts forward the concrete suggestion that tailor-made modules be established in The Public training of Leaders programme targeted at leaders in the cultural sector. At the Centre for Leadership and Governance, which is part of the Metropolitan University College, we have picked up the gauntlet and formed a partnership with the Union of Danish Librarians and the Association of Library Leaders in order to offer targeted competence development to the culture and library sector. Through their thorough knowledge of the sector the professional organisations have helped to identify the two most pressing leadership challenges in the culture and library sector:

1.To be able to work in new types of organisation (team, network, project organisation etc.) as an ever increasing amount of library and culturalprofessional development work takes place in interdisciplinary teams and networks. It is apparent that the area of culture in a municipal context increasingly is being invited into for example prevention initiatives, integration, business and tourism policy, health initiatives, children’s area etc. The interaction with other specialist professions, with citizens, politicians and other stakeholders within the field of culture therefore becomes absolutely essential in the cultural sector’s work.

2. To be able to embrace processes of change and development as a permanent condition for the sector, which following the municipal reform operates with fewer and larger units and also experience increased pressure in the shape of – users and politicians who want more choices in terms of services – the technological development that challenges and in part supersedes existing offers and services – greater focus on non-users – requests for entering into partnerships.

Concrete initiatives in relation to leaders and co-leaders

At the Centre for Leadership and Governance we operate with an extended concept of leadership which applies to the formal leaders, but also to what one might term co-leaders, being employees who actually assume professional managing of a great number of tasks that have to be dealt with every day. This would typically be project managers, process managers, coordinators in interdisciplinary work etc. These are roles and tasks that take up more space and time in the day-to-day work than before and demonstrate how leadership and management happen at several levels in large, decentralized organisations. Therefore the target group for the new competency initiatives includes both formal leaders and co-leaders (professional leaders).

Together with the professional organisations we have chosen to apply for certification to offer two qualifying modules to the culture and library sector – under The Public training of Leaders programme. The modules have been selected among about 20 possibles in the course regulations of the programme and are professionally designed specifically to meet the culture and library sector’s actual challenges. An important point is that both modules are carried through in a pedagogical- didactical way so that students simultaneously develop the soughtafter meta competences. The two modules are:

Team and network leadership where the students through theory and practice acquire knowledge, skills and competences for working in teams and networks, and where they are equipped to orientate and develop both themselves and their individual organisations in the interaction with the large number of stakeholders as well as their personal perspectives on the concept of culture.

Management of processes of change where focus is directed at how culture and library management succeed in handling the dual pressure and apparently conflicting demands betwee being the attractive work place and at the same time developing, prioritising and functioning effectively in a multitude of management rationales and concepts. In the module the students will through both theory and practice acquire knowledge, skills and competences in how political and administrative management unfold in the public sector. Just as they will be able to analyse and understand conditions and possibilities in the interplay between citizens, users, specialist professions, administration and politicians.

Centre for Leadership and Governance compiles knowledge about practical, operational leadership with the latest theory and research on leadership – to the benefit of the large welfare areas. CLG is a knowledge centre with educations, courses, consultancy and advisory services as well as knowledge development and research on leadership.

Ingelise Konrad
Senior consultant
Centre for Leadership and Governance,
Metropolitan University College

inko AT

Ingelise Konrad has for many years worked as
leader in the library and culture sector, but now
works as a senior consultant with leadership and

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Senior consultant Centre for Leadership and Governance, Metropolitan University College Ingelise Konrad has for many years worked as a leader in the library and culture sector, but now works as a senior consultant with leadership and governance.