Editorial: Eight types of professional skills – badly needed in public libraries

From book containers to community centres with focus on the needs of users in terms of lifelong learning, e- inclusion and cultural inspiration and citizenship – this marks a change of scope for the public libraries. A change that has been broadly accepted in the library communities and also among the general public in the Nordic countries.

Decades ago it was recognized that traditional collection management core competences, as within cataloguing and classification, were no longer sufficient to run a library with an ambition to play a role in bridging the digital divide, in social inclusion and basically in presenting today’s media to the citizens. Actually the traditional professional librarian skills are becoming clearly inadequate or at least insufficient.

In the Nordic countries at least one agenda has had to be adopted early in the transformation process, namely the agenda of continuing education that has been and continues to be essential in order to handle the new conditions in a digitally oriented knowledge society. The average age of librarians in public libraries tells us that the majority of staff have their roots in the old book and card catalogue paradigm. It is thanks to a systematic focus on training and building new competences that we are today prepared to take the last steps into library concepts based on the digital paradigm.

What then are the competences needed to create the ultimate library of the knowledge society? A Danish government report on the concept of the public library in the knowledge society was launched earlier this year (see SPLQ no 2, 2010), which was based on a year’s work in a committee that I had the privilege to chair. Overall the report recommends the establishment of a national digital library, new concepts for the library space with a focus on the role of community centre with learning and cultural activities and partnerships as a model for relations to users. To fulfil this vision we need staff with socalled meta-competences in particularly three fields. These are competencies that are general prerequisites for more specific subject-oriented competences to develop. The three metacompetences are:

1) The ability to acquire knowledge and use it for change and development.

2) The ability to handle the many relations involved in creating a dedicated and relevant service profile.

3) The ability to handle a dialogue between a multitude of attitudes and values and establish and communicate a platform for the library services recognized by staff as well as by the public. In addition to those meta-competences we identified five competence fields that we agreed are particularly needed in the process of transforming the classical library into the library of the knowledge society – and competences that in recent years have proved to be necessary:

4) Skills in instruction, teaching and intermediary activities. These skills should be seen in relation to the growing need for supporting media and digital literacy on many levels, for supporting the ongoing process of transforming the library space in appealing and inclusive ways.

5) Skills in marketing are generally recognized as necessary, and public libraries’ marketing have developed in recent years, but there is still room for improvement.

6) Updated competences in ICT for all staff members will in the coming years be crucial for the transformation of the library in a way that matches new services competing with library services.

7) Professional competences in various subject fields are traditionally core competences in libraries and will still be needed.

8) Skills in leadership and management are becoming more important the faster the conditions for running library services change.

The competences that we focus on reflect, of course, our vision for the new public library that is accessible on the web as well in the traditional space, that is constantly offering services that help citizens to cope with their lives, that inspire them to use and learn from all the different kinds of media presented to us. In consequence of these ideas we suggest that each and every library plans competence-building for all its staff members, has a policy for recruitment of new competences and for the maintenance and development of services. The plans must relate to the given conditions for continuing education and training. Generally the needs are endless, so the good library leadership will work with a variety of means from internal knowledge sharing to master programmes at library schools and universities.

There is always something that can be done – do it.

Jens Thorhauge
Director General
Danish Agency for Libraries and Media
jth AT bibliotekogmedier.dk

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Jens Thorhauge Thorhauge Consulting, independent advisor