On the 28th of November I had the opportunity to attend the CILIP briefing on ‘Skills for the future
academic library’ through a bursary from the Information School and CILIP. The event saw library practitioners and researchers present their findings and experiences of academic libraries, with a focus on what skills and developments they foresaw as particularly important for the future.
The day began with Stephen Pinfield’s presentation on the 2017 SCONUL report on ‘Mapping the Future of Academic Libraries’ by Stephen Pinfield, Andrew Cox and Sophie Rutter. This presentation introduced the concept of expanding our understanding of skills beyond traditional hard and soft skills, adding ethics and values, mindsets, and contextual knowledge as useful types of skills for LIS professionals to consider.
As the professional landscape changes, LIS professionals require not only different skills, but changes in mindsets.
Regina Everitt from the University of East London presented the SCONUL Workforce Development Task and Finish Group’s recent research on LIS workforce development. Key focuses for the task group are addressing the lack of ethnic diversity in libraries, supporting new entrants to librarianship, and adapting to change. The group’s research found that librarianship has a 96.7% white workforce, and that 45% of BAME LIS professionals have expected racial discrimination at work. Continuing research aims to further understand the workplace experiences of BAME LIS professionals and explore how to support diversity in the professional by reconsidering how we recruit in libraries and share information about LIS careers. Regina Everitt emphasised that “if we continue to hire in our own image, we need to be challenged on that.”
Andy Priestner, consultant on UX in libraries, also conveyed the importance of changing mindsets in his presentation on embedding UX research and design in libraries. Andy demonstrated the need for a focus on creativity, speed and flexibility, rather than aiming for immediate perfection, when trying out new services. UX-based service development also requires collaboration and user-feedback to be effective.
Soft skills and relationship building
Changes in the roles carried out by LIS professionals impact what soft skills need to be prioritised and developed.
Katie Evans shared her experiences of how a continuously developing research analytics service at the University of Bath has meant certain soft skills have become more important. In particular, the service has increased the library’s impact on strategic decision making and the need to build partnerships.
Michelle Blake’s presentation on relationship management similarly emphasised partnership-building at the University of York library. A project on Understanding Academics helped the library understand its users, enhancing the communication and support they could provide.
Oxford Brookes University’s Robert Curry’s presentation on collaboration also focused on understanding users, asserting that the academic library needs to relate its expertise to the contexts and objectives of its users to be effective. In particular, finding out others’ concepts of ‘information literacy’ enables better communication when sharing information literacy based skills and training.
Hard skills and digital development
The hard skills and tools used in LIS workplaces are constantly developing. As such, it is often the willingness to try out and learn new things that is crucial to LIS professionals rather than specific technical expertise.
A particular skill explored by Julie Glanville from the York Health Economics Consortium was text mining, which is a valuable tool for systematic reviews and developing search strategies. Applying text mining tools to groups of records enables users to extract key terms, cluster related records, and more. Using this technology effectively still relies on strong ‘traditional’ LIS skills such as accurate record-making, as the tools need accurate data to provide meaningful results. This is an example of changes building on rather than replacing traditional skills.
A potentially significant change in the future of academic libraries is the development of AI, perhaps leading to the ‘intelligent library’, impacting how we search for resources and interact with users. Andrew Cox from the Information School presented on this topic, suggesting that LIS professionals need to anticipate this change and begin developing AI literacy. Particular challenges include the need for transparency and data protection.
What does this mean in practice?
Despite the many changes explored throughout the conference, many presenters noted the way in which current frameworks for LIS skills, such as the CILIP PKSB, provided scaffolding for adapting rather than entirely reworking current concepts of skills. By applying current skills in different ways to new contexts, LIS professionals will be able to respond effectively to change.
A workshop session provided participants with the opportunity to consider how future changes might take shape in their own workplaces. To apply the concepts discussed to your own practice, you might consider:
● How do the concepts apply to your context and priorities?
● What skills are required for addressing change, and where are the skills gaps?
● What do individuals, institutions and the LIS community need to do to move forward?
To read about the conference in more detail, search for #CILIPFutureSkills on Twitter.