Librarians and Technology Skill Acquisition: Issues and Perspectives

Article excerpt

Libraries are increasingly searching for and employing librarians with significant technology skill sets. This article reports on a study conducted to determine how well prepared librarians are for their positions in academic libraries, how they acquired their skillss and how difficult they are to hire and retain. The examination entails a close look at ALA-accredited LIS program technology course offerings and dovetails a dual survey designed to capture experiences and perspectives from practitioners, both library administrators and librarianss who have significant technology roles.

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A recent OCLC report on research libraries, risk, and systemic change discusses what ARL directors perceive as the highest risks to their libraries. (1) The administrators reported on several high risks in the area of human resources including high-risk conditions in recruitment, training, and job pools. The OCLC report notes that recruitment and retention is difficult due to the competitive environment and the reduction in the pool of qualified candidates. Why precisely do administrators perceive that there is a scarcity of qualified candidates? Changes in libraries, most of which have been brought on by the digital age, are reflected in the need for a stronger technological type of librarianship--not simply because technology is there to be taken advantage of, but because "information" by nature has found its dominion as the supreme commodity perfectly transported on bits. It follows, if information is your profession, you are no longer on paper. That LIS is becoming an increasingly technology-driven profession is both recognized and documented.

A noted trend particularly in academic libraries is a move away from simply redefining traditional or existing library roles altogether in favor of new and completely redesigned job profiles. (2) This trend verifies actions by library administrators who are increasingly seeking librarians with a wider range of Information Technology (IT) skills to meet the demands of users who are accessing information through technology. (3) Johnson states the need well as

   We need an integrated understanding of human needs
   and their relationships to information systems and
   social structures. We need unifying principles that
   illuminate the role of information in both computation
   and cognition, in both communication and community.
   We need information professionals who can apply
   these principles to synthesize human-centered and
   technological perspectives. (4)

The questions then become, is there a scarcity of qualified individuals to fill these technology-driven librarian roles in our libraries and if so why? How are qualifications acquired and what are are they, besides a moving target? There appears to be two major convergent trends influencing this uncertain phenomenon. The first is what is perceived as "lack of awareness" and consensus about what the core of LIS needs to be or to become in order to offer real value in a constantly changing and competitive information landscape. (5) The other trend centers on the role of LIS education and the continuing questions regarding its direction, efficacy, and ability to prepare future librarians for the modern information professions of now and the future. While changes are apparent it appears many LIS programs are still operating on a two-track model of "traditional librarians and information managers" and there are enough questions in this area to warrant further investigation and inquiry. (6)

Literature Review

Most of the literature pertaining to the readiness of librarians to work in increasingly technical environments, centers on LIS education. This certainly makes sense given the assumed qualifications the degree confers. Scant literature focuses solely on the core of the librarians' professional identity, workplace culture, and institutional historical perspectives related to qualifications; however, allusions to "redefining" LIS are often found in LIS education literature. …