Editorial: The competent library

Is a library competent? Not really, library staff are competent and the subject of Competencies in the library is of great importance for leaders and for members of staff.

Every organization wants competent staff, who are able to solve many different tasks, and who together possess the necesary competencies.

Whichever professional occupation you are involved in, there will be certain conditions applicable to just that type of organization, and this certainly holds true also in the library field.

This issue of Scandinavian Library Quarterly gives an insight into how diverse and far-reaching the library’s tasks are, and how many different competencies are in fact required for working in a library now and in the future.

Specialist or generalist?

Throughout the years, discussions have been going on about whether staff should by subject-specific library trained, supplemented with other professional competences, or generalists, whose professional capabilities were supplemented with in-house training targeted the individual type of library institution based on local needs, whether it be a public or a research library.

This discussion is still going on, and this issue offers contributions from the Norwegian and the Danish Library Unions, who argue that competencies should be based on the public’s needs and that these vary from library to library.

Many libraries are fully aware that the educational background is one thing, and that the exact competencies might well be something else, and consideration as to a new recruitment will be a match between formal education, experience and personal competencies as well as the more indefinable factor, which we in Denmark call chemistry between candidate and work place.

New challenges

Most of us learn that what we originally trained as has changed considerably, and the libraries, which previously focused particularly on collections: building, registration and purchase, have now be allotted new roles – not least due to the technological development, where libraries were very quick to embrace IT and also train the citizens to be able to manage in a digital world.

At the moment, discussions are going on as to how the libraries will tackle the task of learning, and where the borderline is drawn in relation to for example guidance, which has been a regular library task. Just how far should the libraries go? What about the interplay with the educational institutions? 

New competencies to future users 

In the future, too, the role of library staff will change and new competencies will be in demand. This is reflected in the tasks, functions and titles of the staff: librarian, information communicator, project manager, event maker, information broker etc.

Consequently, competence development will be an essential element in the development of the libraries. Whether the staff ’s present and future competencies are acquired via formal education and/or experience is perhaps not all that important – the crucial point is that the libraries continue to educate their staff, so that they are prepared to meet the users’ needs whatever type of institution.

Head of Division for Libraries The Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces