Updating Competencies for Federal Librarians: Identifying the Competencies Needed for Librarians Working in the Federal Government Has Proved Helpful in a Range of Tasks, Including Writing Job Descriptions and Performance Plans

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The Federal Library and Information Network (FEDLINK) of the Library of Congress is a consortium of federal agencies that work together to encourage optimum use of the resources and facilities of federal libraries and information centers. FEDLINK does this by promoting common services, coordinating and sharing available resources, and providing continuing professional education for federal library and information center staff. (For more information, visit www.loc.gov/flicc/.)

FEDLINK has 10 working groups that support the vision and mission of the consortium and focus on areas that are central to the field of federal librarianship. The FEDLINK Human Resources Working Group (HRWG), for example, develops strategies to support professional personnel standards and recruitment initiatives.

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Developing the Competencies

In 2007, Roberta I. Schaffer, then executive director of FEDLINK, charged the HRWG with creating the original competencies for federal librarians. For more than a year, a working group (of which I was a member) met at least once a month for a full workday to develop these competencies.

We began by reviewing competencies from a number of library-related organizations, including SLA, the American Library Association, the American Association of Law Libraries, and the National Library of Medicine. We then began to develop competencies that reflected the federal nature of our library positions.

We decided that the competencies, which consisted of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs), should be divided into two groups: shared competencies and functional domains. Shared competencies are those that are common to most people in the library profession and that all federal librarians should have, regardless of their level of expertise in the functional competencies. They include such abilities and skills as reading, applied learning, listening, and problem solving.

Functional domains, on the other hand, are KSAs that are tied to the functions performed by librarians and are categorized as basic, advanced, and expert. The functional domains we created in 2007-2008 were the following:

* Agency and Organization Knowledge;

* Collection Management;

* Content Organization and Structure;

* Library Leadership and Advocacy;

* Library Technology Management;

* Reference and Research; and

* Specialized Knowledge, Skills and Abilities.

Each domain had several sub-domains; for example, the Agency and Organization Knowledge sub-domains were Agency and Organization Context and Culture, Federal Laws and Regulations, and Agency and Organization Regulations, Policies and Guidelines. Within each sub-domain were a series of KSAs arranged by level of expertise.

Starting Over

The process of developing the competencies was grueling, but our intensive meeting schedule was one of the reasons we were successful. We discovered we needed the face-to-face interaction and the time to get thoroughly immersed in the process.

Halfway through the process, we realized we were falling into a trap. Most positions for federal librarians are defined by "grades" (for librarians, the grades are 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15) that determine the pay a person receives and the level of work he or she performs. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the U.S. Government's human resources department, establishes the grades, and all federal employees are supposed to work on tasks defined by their grade and pay levels. Even in federal agencies that have moved to a more fluid pay-band system, the tasks within the pay band define the work an individual can perform.

Federal employees are accustomed to "pigeonholing" someone into a grade or pay-band level. Our working group found that when we asked for input on competencies from the federal librarian community, many people confused the tasks that are associated with a specific pay level with competencies. …