20 July 2007

Am I a Librarian 2.0?

I don't hear my colleagues talk much about librarian competencies, even though we're surrounded by clinicians for whom competency is a serious career issue. Let alone the so-called Library 2.0 competencies, which some people I know view as a derisory notion. In the health library biz we are acutely aware of the preponderance of technology in our work, and we hustle as diligently as David Beckham with his personal trainer to keep up with the unceasing digital whirr.

Most of us, that is. We all know fellow workers who fit the adage "To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer." We anxiously observe them jabbing about with the mouse as they struggle with elementary software routines, stretching a bikini's worth of skill over their variously sized talents. Experiencing an in-service with a few of these types (or worse, asking for their help at the Reference Desk) is like a long wait for a delayed flight in Purgatory's airport lounge.

"Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it."
Once upon a time we breathed in the smell of beeswax and parchment in drafty scriptoria, and measured our competencies in terms of the cut of our quill pens and the quality of our uncials. Today we inhale digital oxygen and cut code. Library 2.0, as the borrowing from software marketing implies, represents a natural development from what went before. It is not just a smattering of adventitious embellishments. I know this in my html'd heart, but I don't yet see it given the significance it has for me in the elegantly worded charters, protocols, standards and guidelines of my profession.

Interested in measuring my own knowledge and performance against some standard (if I were younger this might be called ambition), I want to record in this post my web wanderings and stretch out a more generous swatch of spandex from the fabric of information I discovered.

I'll start by defining terms. In a CLA-approved contribution,
Competencies for Change, Jennifer Slouter (Leddy Library, University of Windsor) defines competency as a "framework composed of the skills, knowledge and abilities required within a profession/industry to operate effectively and perform the necessary functions of the job. These can include personal attributes and learned skills." While acknowledging the importance of tech skills, she stresses (too much at the expense of technical mastery, IMHO) the importance of personal attributes such as flexibility and critical thinking. Yet it's hard not to agree with her conclusion: "While knowledge and skills must be learned as responsibilities or environments change, our ability to inhabit personal competencies and spin all iteratively is key to success in any library environment." Beautifully put and quite true. I am all for perky and prodigiously cultivated librarians. But if truth is beauty, why can't you get your hair done in the library and find an attractive personality to explain how to display your shared Google Reader feeds in your blog?

Between 1.0 and 2.0
The current Standards for Hospital Libraries (2002) and its 2004
revisions mention "evaluating new information technologies and assessing their application to library management and services" and "performing mediated searches of Internet and KBI resources." But for competencies they refer us to SLA's Competencies for Special Librarians of the 21st Century. Browsing through this document one comes across a few examples of information technology skils, such as creating a home page and linking it "to other sites of interest on the Internet." It all means well, I'm sure; but doesn't it sound just a bit dated?

Over at the UBC Health Library Wiki there is a fine list of core reference competencies for health librarians. It sticks pretty much to standard electronic resources, although there is a nice link to resources on blogs, podcasting and RSS feeds. But no mention of our Librarian2.0.

Of course, for our Librarian2.0 these competencies have developed from a foundation of fundamental computer skills such as those enumerated in Library Revolution. But I find such lists slightly embarrassing. The ability to type is not listed as a competency, because it is taken for granted. In the same way librarians shouldn't have to debate any longer about knowing how to copy and paste a word-processed sentence. Yeesh.

I'll also give a brief mention to a still relevant two-year-old list from The Shifted Librarian, 20 Technology Skills Every Librarian Should Have. No doubt there are other documents I have missed, but this gives me the lay of the land.

So what about today?


Earlier this month the Cool Librarian asked how to overcome the growing divide between the techie camp and their fellow librarians. At the end of an entertaining and informative discussion of competencies her answer is a blunt: "Hell, I don't know." What we do know is that today something essential to librarianship is missing without an active knowledge of technology and the infinite variety of its practical implementation. That hole in your head had better be for jacking into cyberspace, or you should see a doctor.

In a recent post
David Lee King prefers to refrain from calling them tech competencies at all, and I agree with him. It is impossible now to separate out the tech components of our work, which combine with our intellectual labour into an imbricated whole.

David provides a comprehensive list of skills:

Specific 2.0 skills:
  • write and post to a blog
  • add photos and videos to a blog post
  • embed a widget into blogs and social networking accounts (like MySpace)
  • social network knowledge - basic understanding of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. and the ability to explain them to others
  • create, upload and edit photos, short videos, podcasts, and screencasts
  • use IM in different forms
  • use and explain rss and rss readers to others
  • send and read sms text messages
  • edit an avatar’s appearance
  • basic console gaming skills (multiple formats preferred)
  • ability to do basic HTML editing - an understanding of (X)HTML and CSS
  • know how to pick up a new device (mp3 player, mobile phone, etc) and figure out how to use it
  • the ability to assess and learn the basics of a new digital service or tool within 15 minutes of fiddling around with it
“Big Picture” 2.0 skills:
  • understand how everything above works in a library setting
  • understand how everything above complements a physical, traditional library
  • and most importantly - the ability to tell the library’s story, through various media - writing, photography, audio, and video
Suggestions from commenters:
  • ability to understand the difference between a dynamic URL and an permanent URL
  • knowledge of OpenURL
  • basic understanding of social bookmarking (e.g., del.icio.us) and citation management tools (RefWorks, Zotero)
  • awareness of grey literature and the invisible web
Of course, a Librarian2.0 is also comfortable with at least one operating system and a wide range of software. A key to "twoness" in my opinion is the ability to "conduct" a suite of applications, both web and non-web, to achieve professional goals and objectives.

The 13 Things

Now compare all this to "The 13 Things" from the University of Michigan. Actually consisting of about ten distinct competencies, this list is looking for a catchier title. The competencies are tied in to workshops being offered this summer to participating librarians:
Blogs & RSS
1) Create a blog using MBlog or another blogging platform.
2) Set up an account on Google Reader (or another feed reader of your choice) and subscribe to two library-related and one non-library-related blog via their feeds.

Social Tagging
3) Create a del.icio.us account (link to it from your blog post). Post (and tag!) three URLs related to Web/Library 2.0.
4) Create a flickr account (link to it from your blog post). Join the MLibrary2.0 group. Explore flickr and add a few pictures to your favorites.

Social Networking
5) Create a Facebook account and join the MLibrary2.0 Facebook group.
6) Consider how the library could use Facebook for outreach or for reference; make a wall or discussion post about your thoughts in the MLibrary2.0 group.

Next Generation OPACs
7) Play with one of the Next Generation OPACs. Do a variety of searches and explore features not available in a traditional catalog. Make comments in your blog about your experience.
8) Perform a set of searches in at least three of the Next Generation OPACs. Make a blog entry about your experience. Compare the features, capabilities and usability of the interfaces and make a prioritized list of the features you would most like to see in Mirlyn.

Podcasting & YouTube
9) Find & subscribe to three podcasts you are interested in using iTunes, Google Reader, or another program.
10) Create a YouTube account. Find a library-related video and add it to your favorites. Embed this video in an entry in your blog.

Firefox Extensions
11) Install LibX and Zotero for Firefox on your home or work computer.
12) Use LibX to locate a book/article that is of interest to you, and use Zotero to save it to your personal library. Extra credit for adding tags.

Wrap-up by blogging the experience and maintaining the blog
13) In your blog, reflect on your experiences with Web/Library 2.0 and what you have learned. Consider keeping your blog alive past the 13 things by continuing to post your thoughts on libraries.
I liked Michigan's inclusion of next-generation collaborative catalogues, like LibraryThing. It's a good thing they didn't add a Thing on setting up a SecondLife account, because, the thing is, I don't see the point of SecondLife ... yet. I lose marks because I have yet to embed a video in a blog post; and perhaps because I'm Canadian I'm leery of writing on someone's Facebook wall. It seems somehow intrusive, even illicit. But then, Canadians tend to have an exaggerated idea of our own unimportance. And finally, will someone please tell me what the point of Twitter is?

I'm really pleased to see a library take a systematic approach to fostering Librarian2.0 competencies. That means a lot of workshops, a lot of earnest exchanges in the Tim Horton's line-up, a lot of lunch chat. It means collaboration and cooperation, a team environment, and what academics like to call collegiality. In Health Library 2.0 what would we add to the above lists? Perhaps third-party PubMed tools and knowledge of medical wikis. I'm looking forward to 3.0 and 4.0, which I'm sure are just around the virtual corner.

"I'm not young enough to know everything." (J.M Barrie)
From all these
Librarian2.0 competencies I now have a framework I can build on. It has taken a while for me to develop the skills that most fourteen-year-olds seem to acquire automatically along with puberty and pimples. It's not easy to keep up with the young ones, who never seem to mistake their CSS for RSS, always know how to find something cool at bittorrent sites, and drink their code straight. Me, I can't even think straight. But it's a great time to be a librarian.