Wednesday 20 July 2011

What we know, what we need to know

 Recently I found myself talking with some colleagues from academic libraries about the importance of qualifications and training. Inspired by some recent recruitment we have been undertaking, we turned to wondering about whether people should hold a full librarian based qualification to be considered for appointment in a tertiary library position. Many librarian level positions express a desire for applicants to be eligible for Associate membership with ALIA  as a proxy for  some form of Information Management qualification. In this digital age the skills that are required for many positions are based around technology, data management, IT, web design and online access. Additionally, some libraries take more of a corporate business approach in the promotion and delivery of their services and resources. So should professionals outside of the information management field be included in the staffing of today’s libraries or is it still imperative to have strong ‘traditional’ training?

How do we as library professionals learn the necessary ‘traditional’ skills such as the reference interview and information retrieval for clients if it has not been the main focus of our degree and training? I think back to when I started working in libraries. I was half way through my information management degree and lacked experience. Databases, information retrieval and the library world were still so foreign to me. I must have bluffed my way through my degree to this stage. My assessment tasks were full of imposed theories and concepts. Realising the difficulty of even landing a job interview without experience I started volunteering my time in areas that I thought would help me.

Luckily I scored my first library position working for an Interlibrary Loans department; an opportunity which I now realise was perfect in starting me out in my library career.  I was thrown in the deep end having to locate and deliver a wide range of resources quickly across a myriad of discipline areas. More coincidently my work was being mirrored by the courses that I was studying at the time. Putting the theories into practice made so much more sense. This experience holds me up to this day.

Reflecting on this experience and my career to date there have been a few key influences that that have given me the confidence, skills and experience that I now put into practice as a librarian. 

·         A learn by doing approach: Being throw in the deep end with queries and tasks on unfamiliar topics has been one of the greatest growth experiences. This includes having to plan for in-depth research consultations, classes and answering on the spot reference question in unfamiliar subject territory. 

·         Mentoring: Peer mentoring and working collaboratively with ‘experts’ in particular areas has provided me with such a wealth of knowledge. I have done this both formally and informally and have gained so much from other people’s ideas and experiences. 

·         Training: Training opportunities, involvement in resource development and product demonstrations is what I find tops off the learning and profession growth experience.
It has been a collection of training, experiences and support that has provided me with the necessary tools in my library career so far. We need to have flexibility when it come to ‘qualifications and training’ to accommodate the fast changing nature of today’s libraries.

What are the experiences and training that you hold up as main influences in your career? 

Bruce Munro is an ALIA Sydney committee member

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