The future is here

When Wilhelm Widmark became the Director of the Stockholm University Library, five years ago, he decided that all new recruitments should be assessed and determined by the entire management team because all recruitments need to be strategic. This strategic thinking has led to changes within the staff at the library. Those with the skills and expertise needed for the future have already been hired.

Wilhelm Widmark. Photo: Annika Hajerpe“Our basic philosophy is that all recruitments are strategic recruitments, and we therefore have a joint budget for personnel, and make joint decisions in the executive committee. No recruitments should be perfunctory,” Wilhelm Widmark explains.

Library staff used to consist of librarians and library assistants, but this is changing, and at the Stockholm University Library the change has already taken place. During the past year; the library has needed to recruit several experts from other professions.

“In the past, librarians used to do everything here, but I think it is important that libraries in the future include personnel from different professions with different areas of knowledge, who can move around in various sectors and perform a host of tasks. Today, the whole labour market is much more mobile than it used to be, and this creates a sharing of knowledge,” Wilhelm Widmark observes.

More IT competence

Wilhelm Widmark sees libraries as being more and more about storing data and making data easier to access. This, in turn requires personnel with the proper IT expertise.

“We have recruited systems and IT personnel, and we now have pure programmers with an interest in the development of library systems. We will also need more competence within metadata and I don’t mean just cataloguing, but rather, metadata in a broader perspective. In other words, we want metadata experts instead of cataloguers, because we have to improve the way we work with research data.”

As the Stockholm University Library is a research library, it is important for its staffs to keep up with developments in research data, so researchers can be provided with data management plans, and be able to give advice on how to store data and think ahead.

“We have recruited statisticians and lawyers, so we can support researchers dealing with Open Access issues, and help them track their publications, and find and visualize the right statistics. This is really research intelligence. What type of statistics do researchers need? What kind of bibliometrics? How does ranking work, and what should be collected? It is our job to support the researchers.”

Need support 24-7

In 2012, Stockholm University Press, an open access publisher of peer-reviewed academic journals and books, was founded. It is based at the Stockholm University Library, and this has influenced the library’s need for expertise.

“We have hired editors, and I am happy to say that editors from several wellknown publishers have applied for jobs here,” says Wilhelm Widmark, who asserts that social and pedagogic competence and innovative ability are becoming increasingly important for all libraries. In a research library, social and pedagogic competence are important factors in working with researchers and students. He also views it as important to be able to support the students’ needs of different types of media, such as chat or e-mail, in order to provide them with the information the library wishes to deliver.

“We conducted a survey to find out how the students want the library to provide them with services, and found that many students need this support on a 24-7 basis. Naturally we can’t staff the library day and night, but we can create easily accessible information videos that students can access on our web page.”

The survey also showed that the library needs to get better at helping the students help themselves, for example when it comes to assisting them in their search for information.

“We need to become better at being supportive, and we need to hire experts in User Experience (UX) who can work with light and design at the library in order to facilitate the experience for our users. This is something we must work more with in the future,” Wilhelm Widmark says.

Everything will change 

He thinks that in-service training is important, as is having a plan, and following up developments in order to know which skills and expertise will be needed, going forward. This is about straightforward business intelligence and competence planning. However, he warns against attempting to predict the future.

“It is foolish to predict the future. If you believe you can, you will assume that you know how things will end up. It’s better to work in shorter cycles and look at where you are heading.”

He has observed enormous changes in only the past five years.

“Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that we would not only use our mobile phones as communication devices, but also have almost all data stored in them? Everything will change, I don’t doubt that, and we will need more skills and expertise in libraries than what librarians generally have. This is no prediction of the future – this is happening now.”

Theoretical education

Since Wilhelm Widmark became the Director of the Stockholm University Library, he has seen a greater need for communication skills and has thus increased the library’s number of communicators. They are working with the library’s communication functions in a host of ways, from helping with PowerPoint presentations, texts and images to creating printed material, web design, and providing librarians with support as to how to write in a way that will reach out to the users.

“We have focused on how we should work with our users. After all, we are a library that should serve our users to the best of our ability, and all of us are here to serve our users, whether we work on the floor or elsewhere.”

Wilhelm Widmark sees the educational preparation of future librarians as theoretical education and not as vocational training.

“However, even though theoretical education provides a framework, we must not forget that training to become a librarian takes place in the library. It is here one becomes a librarian.”

He can see that the education has changed over time, but thinks that more change might be necessary and that more dialogue would be beneficial. The biggest change that has taken place within the librarian’s profession is the greater demand for social skills.

Need good leaders

Although Wilhelm Widmark sees a need to employ professionals other than librarians, at his library one can never attain the title of Librarian without the proper educational credentials in library science. Naturally, he expects a newly-qualified librarian to be up-to-date, conversant with the latest developments in open access and publishing, familiar with business intelligence on library issues, and able to think outside the box and work innovatively to improve services for the users. 

One thing that Wilhelm Widmark is willing to predict is that the libraries of the future will need good leaders.

“To recruit leaders who are motivated and good at what they do, libraries will need to work with management supply,” he concludes.

Editor-in-chief National Library of Sweden
  • The University of Stockholm has 70,000 students, 1,800 doctoral students and 5,000 members of staff.
  • The Stockholm University Library has about 1.8 million visitors per year, which comes to about 5,000 per day. The library has 2,000 study places that soon will be increased by another 200. It is open 78 hours per week during semesters, and 44 hours per week during the summer.
  • Full-time employees, besides the usual library staff, which consists of 56 librarians, 16 library assistants, a library director and a deputy library director, the library has four people working with accounting and human resources, a lawyer, a research coordinator, a publishing editor, a co-ordinator, four researchers, two communicators, seven managers of different areas and 12 specialists in IT, web design and operation.
  • The library’s holdings consist of 2,641,596 physical items and the 698,402 items on electronic media (December 2015). There were 1,218,883 initial and renewed loans of physical items, and 4,112,435 loans of items on electronic media, resulting in a total of 5,331,318 loans (2015).