Skills And Competencies Of A Librarian
The learning objectives of MLA courses are designed to improve the performance of specific MLA competencies. Course listings include tags for each competency area, and also provide a specific course catalog for each competency (a course may be listed twice if it teaches to two or more competency areas). Instructors must use the competencies when they submit a course to be reviewed for approval to offer MLA CE credit.
skills and competencies of a librarian
Librarians are educators. We help others, but we also enable people to be self-sufficient. What we teach continues to evolve, from how to use resources, to how to critically appraise research articles, to how to organize data collections. As the world becomes more and more an information space, there will be additional opportunities to teach information management skills. We also share our expertise with one another. Our teaching role requires that we be skilled in pedagogy and the use of technology-enhanced learning.
Academic libraries are challenged to keep pace with major changes and trends in the fields of library and information science and higher education generally. Changes in technology are impacting patron expectations of when, where, and how resources and services are accessed, including access to instruction and degree programs. Shifts in pedagogy are driving a need for tools and the physical and virtual spaces to support active and collaborative learning. Vast increases in information and data sources and changes in scholarly communications are impacting how scholars find and use information and require people to organize, manage, and provide access to those sources. Information and related literacies such as news literacy, digital literacy, and so on continue to be recognized as essential skills for college students, offering opportunities for librarians to support the educational mission of the college by providing instructional support in these areas. At the same time, stakeholders ranging from accreditation organizations to the federal government to parents and students are increasing their scrutiny of higher education and demanding evidence that these institutions are achieving their missions and goals. In turn, campuses are looking to departments, including libraries, to gather and analyze data to demonstrate their contribution to these missions and goals and their value to the campus community.
These trends have implications for the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that current and emerging information professionals need to succeed in the academic library workplace and, in turn, will impact curricula as iSchools strive to prepare emerging professionals to meet these needs. Some of the trend areas build and expand on the traditional library functions of collecting and organizing information and facilitating access through reference and instruction services, while others suggest the need for entirely new skill sets. Further, academic librarianship encompasses many roles and responsibilities, and the specific knowledge and skill sets needed could vary depending on job functions. Through a nationwide survey of information professionals and LIS faculty, this study explores the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) currently in demand for academic librarians. Specifically, this study examines the following questions: Which KSAs are specific to academic librarianship? How do those KSAs compare to those expected of information professionals in other areas of the field? What KSAs are considered core for academic librarians, regardless of their specific position or job functions? The results of this study will be of interest to academic library directors, campus administrators, and others concerned with trends in academic libraries, as well as LIS students interested in academic library careers. The results of this study could also be of interest to LIS faculty as they review and develop curricula to prepare emerging academic library professionals.
The emphasis on information literacy and library instruction in these surveys suggests the importance of pedagogy and instructional skills for academic librarians, a suggestion that is confirmed by several studies. One study of job ads found a steady increase over 40 years in reference services positions in academic libraries, including instruction as a core area of those jobs.16 Robert Detmering and Claudene Sproles found that nearly 98 percent of academic library reference jobs included responsibilities for information literacy and instruction.17 Russell Hall confirmed that academic library directors identify instruction as highly important, finding that more than a quarter of librarians with instructional responsibilities spend 50 percent or more of their time on instruction.18 Other studies have focused on the need for skills related to distance learning and designing and delivering online instruction.19
The survey consisted of a list of 53 skills, aptitudes, and knowledge areas broken down into five categories: general, communication, user services, management, and technology (see appendix A for full survey). The list of skills was compiled from LIS literature, professional competency statements, and job postings. The purpose of the survey was to discover not just which skills and knowledge areas are considered important, but which are core to the field, meaning that every graduate of an ALA-accredited program should have some grounding in the area. Thus, respondents were asked to rate each of the KSAs on the following scale: Core (ALL MSLIS graduates should have a strong foundation regardless of area of concentration/career path); Very Important (most professionals will need to know/be able to do this); Important (many professionals will need to be familiar with this skill/content); Specialized (only professionals in specialized positions are likely to need this skill/knowledge); and Not Important. The survey concluded with demographic questions, and an open-ended question asking respondents if there were any skills omitted from the original list that should have been included.
The survey resulted in more than 2,400 responses from all five distributions of the survey. This article reports the findings from the academic librarians who participated in the survey, with comparison to the total population. Specifically, this report focuses on the following questions:
Surveys always run the risk of responder bias. It is possible that people who chose to respond to the survey share characteristics that differ from those who did not respond and that those differences skewed the survey outcomes. In particular, although the originating institution posted the survey to listservs and distributed it to area employers, including internship and field work supervisors who might not be alums of the program, the majority of respondents to this survey are primarily alumni and faculty of five iSchools in the United States. It is possible that these respondents have more traditional approaches to LIS and might not be reflective of the wider field. Indeed, the results indicate that the survey does not include many respondents without an MSLIS and thus does not represent the growing population of non-MLS degree holders now working in the field. Finally, the vast majority of respondents were from public and academic libraries, indicating that the survey results might not reflect the preferred skills and qualifications of information professionals working in less traditional settings. Thus, care must be taken in generalizing the results of this survey too broadly.
Out of 53 skills and knowledge areas, 10 were ranked as core by 50 percent or more of academic librarians: knowledge of professional ethics; evaluating and selecting information sources; cultural competence; reflective practice grounded in diversity and inclusion; interpersonal communication; writing; customer service; search skills; interacting with diverse communities; and teamwork. Figure 2 shows the percentage of academic librarians who ranked each of these skills as core.
One aim of this study was to compare core KSAs as identified by academic librarians to those ranked core by all other information professionals. After eliminating the 830 academic librarians from the responses, there were 1,624 respondents representing public, special, school, and corporate libraries, various archives, and some nontraditional settings such as database vendors. Looking just at the nonacademic librarian responses, 11 KSAs were ranked as core by 50 percent or more of participants. These included the 10 selected by the academic librarians, as well as reference interview skills, which were identified as core by 53 percent of nonacademic librarian respondents. Only 45 percent of academic librarians ranked the reference interview as a core skill. While academic and nonacademic respondents ranked nearly all the same KSAs as core, they often did so at somewhat different rates. In fact, chi-square tests revealed that seven of the 11 skills showed a statistically significant difference in the rate at which each group ranked the KSAs as core. Table 1 shows the top 11 KSAs along with the percentage of academic and nonacademic librarians ranking each as core and whether there was a statistically significant difference in the ranking.
In a similar way, the fact that KSAs associated with trend areas, such as data management, evaluation research, or design thinking, were not identified as core skills does not necessarily mean that they are unimportant. As noted above, many of the skills not ranked as core were still rated as highly important. For example, while only 16 percent of academic library respondents rated data research management as core, an additional 66 percent said it is very important or important. Likewise, only one-third of respondents said that the ability to carry out evaluation research is core, but another 60 percent ranked it as very important or important. There are two possible implications of these findings. The first is that not every emerging academic librarian needs to be grounded in these particular KSAs, but many librarians will need to be familiar with them. As with technology, the suggestion is that the extent of knowledge or ability necessary is more dependent on job function.