24 Apr 2013

#irelibchat Summary: Competencies and Skills in LIS, 23rd April 2013

Thanks to everyone who joined in with another very busy #irelibchat, and it was particularly encouraging to see so many first-timers (hopefully they will be back for more :)).

The depth of discussion surrounding the competencies, skills and attributes of the modern LIS professional clearly shows the interest we all have in our professional development. It's a complex and divided area in some case however, and as one participant tweeted at the end: "I feel like we only scraped the surface!"

Gillian Kerins suggested the topic was also very timely as the LAI Professional Standards Taskforce is currently looking at library competencies. When the work is complete, it is planned to put the competencies on the website for members to access.

Perhaps the standout point from the discussion was the broad range of competencies and skills that people mentioned. These included: presentation and public-speaking skills; financial management skills; being comfortable with IT (particularly HTML); being community-oriented and user-oriented; being able to build and develop strong relationships; marketing, promotion and advocacy skills; and project management skills among others. Several participants also suggested you should not be afraid of making mistakes, and be able to persevere and try again. Personally I think this is crucial; once you learn from them, making mistakes is a sign that you are not afraid of innovating or trying to improve things. Failure usually gives you a lot more insight than success does.

One point raised was the difference between a solo-librarian role, where you need to have a basic level of a multiplicity of skills, compared to a more specialist role like a systems librarian or cataloguer, where you require a substantial depth of knowledge and expertise, but may not necessarily need marketing, financial, or teaching skills so much, or even at all. @usernameerror suggested personality type can play a role in determining people's preferences for either extreme, which is something i would also agree with. I definitely like the variety and challenge of a more general role and having to learn new skills outside your comfort zone, but having said that, I still like being able to build up a deeper knowledge in a couple of areas that I am personally interested in (for me: service evaluation, research and bibliometrics). Others are far more comfortable working in a more niche role - and it is great to have these experts to call on when you need an answer! Indeed, not being afraid to ask your colleagues fr help was another competency suggested by @mbreen2.

An interesting debate emerged over whether we should be focusing more on our unique LIS competencies, and collaborating with other professionals when needed e.g. for financial, or marketing expertise. Specialisation is obviously more efficient (if you'll forgive the economics reference, see Adam Smith and the Division of Labour!), but may not be practical, particularly for solo librarians, or those working in very small organisations. Some day to day level of these competencies is needed, but perhaps not a real expertise. This was an idea beautifully illustrated by @Joeyanne as "I can edit existing web page but can’t build [a] site". Also some familiarity with these areas also helps us to collaborate better with professionals outside our own field (@trimroy).

So can anyone 'learn' how to be a librarian or an information professional? "It's about a mindset. You have to have an innate sense of curiosity and you can't teach that" (@MariaMernagh). "Everyday should be a school day - especially after you leave library school" (@usernameerror). Clearly, no matter what specific skills a particular position may require, a key attribute is a commitment to CPD and lifelong learning. This will give you the flexibility and capacity to take on new and emerging roles and skills, which is particularly important is such a changing profession as LIS.

We are looking forward to the next #irelibchat which will probably be the last before the summer break, so all suggestions for the topic for discussion are welcome - tweet us @libfocus.


  1. So sorry I missed this. Intriguing selection of skills, I completely agree with the "sense of curiosity"! There's also lateral thinking which I think is crucial to any librarian. And listening skills (bordering on intuition) when trying to identify exactly what a user wants based on what they are asking for. No slight on the user, if they don't know it's out there then they can't know to ask for it!

  2. Thanks Anne - yes it was a very varied discussion with great participation from everyone. Listening is of course a crucial one also, and something that is harder than it looks!