The changing role of librarians in Finland can first be seen in the 2016 Proposal for a New Library Act. The Act lessened proficiency requirements for the field and promoted libraries as open event venues engaging citizens with different backgrounds into societal dialogue.
The debate following the New Library Act presented difficult questions for the library field, students, and the organizations teaching library- and information services (LIS) regarding the future of library education and the image of memory institutions.
The LIS teaching organizations need an understanding of the competencies demanded in libraries at the moment and in the future, and a vision on how and where these competencies are taught.
Revising the curriculum
The students faced with the reality of digital resources de-skilling traditional library work need to know what value LIS studies provide. Where should students heading for the library profession steer their studies, and with what terminology should the acquired skills and competencies be marketed to employers?
A while ago I participated in a working group set up by Turku University of Applied Sciences that used service design methods to achieve an understanding of the future skills needs in libraries. The focus was to revise the curriculum for the library and information services (LIS) study programme.
The working group arranged a workshop themed ”library know-hows” for library professionals. The conversations in the workshop were documented, summarised and analysed. From the analysis emerged core substance competencies, meta-skills and specialisations skills relating to leadership, pedagogy and ICT.
Skills for future library professionals
The core substance competencies discovered were
- assemblage work and information retrieval,
- pedagogical, juridical and societal know-hows.
Meta-skills gathered from the discussions were
- people and team skills,
- tolerance for instability,
- self-management and
- problem-solving skills.
According to the service design process, these were then worked into five different personality characters with varying skill profiles. The characters serve as frames of reference in creating the new curriculum, and were named Developer, Social Education, Marketing, ICT, Leadership and Financial Administration. All five were meant to serve both students and faculty in their effort to aim their work towards contemporary directions.
Maybe a bit surprisingly, traditional library skills like assemblage work and information retrieval were prominently visible and valued in the materials the workshop produced. The working group started with the assumption that this kind of traditional know-how was seen as outdated, but was proven wrong. On the positive side this reflects how traditional library work is still seen as valuable and relevant and needed in the libraries. At the same time, it raises questions on how future-oriented libraries are. Are libraries equipped enough with foresight?
The second surprise was how valued pedagogical skills were across the board as libraries from children´s libraries to the Library of Parliament stressed the importance of pedagogical skills. On a quick analysis, this understandably reflects the renewed library mission in promoting youth literacy and also, maybe a bit more less self-evidently, the changing workplace.
An increasing amount of expert-oriented work is done in networks where facilitating collaboration with a pedagogical touch enhances the employee experience. The meta-skills in the data stem from the same changing and individualising working life.
Towards more multidisciplinary LIS education
The key-takeaways from the material could be postulated so that libraries are still timid in looking outside their own field for new skills, but the pressure to do so has been recognised. Libraries value the basic “library stuff” but would like to see applicants coupling them with something else as well. This puts the LIS education in a position where multidisciplinary education and the freedom to choose complementing fields of study becomes a clear advantage.
The five different personality characters created, were meant to facilitate and encourage multidisciplinary curriculum choices and highlight the up-and-coming skills needs in the library field. The LIS education should be well in-line with broader trends shaping up the higher-education, relating to multidisciplinary and freedom of choice, as it actually might benefit from them.