Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Competencies: Do We or Don't We?

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Competencies: Do We or Don't We?

Article excerpt

Maybe We Don't Need a Competencies List ...

Although I am a firm believer that every organization can benefit from documenting competencies--be they technology-oriented or otherwise--there are some valid concerns to address before jumping wholeheartedly into a training program based on competencies. Here are some situations in which to question the usefulness of such a program in your own library:

* The library has no way, due to extreme monetary or personnel shortages, to provide any kind of time or funding for staff training--in-house, buddy system, peer training, hired trainers, external training sources, or even free e-learning. If this is the case in your library, as it is in very few (fortunately), you have bigger problems to worry about-such as keeping your library open at all.

* All staff members are completely trained and knowledgeable about every aspect of the job and every technology you are currently using and self-motivated to continue learning on their own, with no external prompting or formal training program, as technologies change and new systems are introduced.

As long as your library doesn't fall into either of the above categories, it is well positioned to benefit from a competencies-based training program. (And if you fall into the second, please send me a detailed explanation of how your library has achieved this miracle status.)

Some library leaders are afraid to train their staff members to use technology, especially advanced technology. I have heard more than one library director say something akin to, "But if we train our staff on things like podcasting, Web design, and digital-imaging technologies, they will be swayed by higher pay of private industry for the same skills and leave the library." This seems to be a fairly widely held belief, both for existing staff and newly minted Master of Library Science degree holders. Bruce Massis wrote in 2001:

   Meanwhile, universities are turning out librarians
   who are increasingly fluent in information
   technology. This is a plus for the profession, but
   it presents a hidden danger as well: that librarians
   will be drawn to the for-profit world not only
   by higher salaries but by increased opportunities
   for further education. (1)

People who work in libraries work in them because of some inner drive to do good--to work in the nonprofit community to better society. Nevertheless, it is true that, once trained to a particular level, some may see the financial lure of the commercial world and leave us. We will most likely never, despite our sincerest wishes, be able to meet the salaries of the private sector. But we can compete in the second area Massis mentions: "opportunities for further education." (2) If we continue to offer our staff opportunities to grow intellectually, improve their skills, and contribute meaningful work to the organization, I think the fears of people leaving for other industries will prove to be largely unfounded. Regardless, the fear of creating a super-staff member who may be tempted to profit from his or her skills elsewhere is not a valid reason to not train staff on technology.

Benefits of a Competencies Program

Implementing a program to create a list of technology competencies can bring a variety of benefits.

Create Clear Expectations from Management

A clear set of competency descriptions can help employees understand managers' priorities. "The uncertainty of knowing whether your expectations are in sync with management objectives can be unsettling, to say the least," notes Romaine. (3) When employees understand exactly what managers expect from them, they are much more likely to perform at a level consistent with those expectations. Competency descriptions can also help managers understand what is expected of the people they supervise, especially for situations in which a nontechnical supervisor is supervising technical staff. …

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