Having visited a number of libraries across various sectors and compared the various services, provisions and space that they are able to provide, I thought it would be of interest to attempt to produce a matrix diagram of the skills that each needs to ensure success in their sector. My aim was to highlight any key differences between librarians and information professionals across various sectors, and more importantly, highlight the similarities and key criteria that are needed to operate as part of any information service or library.
I started to plot the matrix diagram using 5 columns. Four of these columns were for the special, university, national and public sectors. The fifth would contain the skills needed to operate in that sector successfully. Whilst I realise that the four sectors are in no way representative of the many areas that libraries and information services operate in, I wanted only to compare libraries in areas that I had visited to avoid making any presumptions. The initial chart looked as below.
Once I started to compile the chart, I realised that it was inherently flawed for a number of reasons. The first problem that I encountered was trying to make a list of the skills I witnessed in those libraries. If I wanted to be comprehensive, then the list would end up roughly as long as CILIP’s draft Body of Professional Knowledge. If I were to summarise, then I felt I would be misrepresenting key aspects of the work carried out.
The second problem I encountered was how to attribute these skills to the various sectors. Whilst I have visited a lot of libraries, and met a wide range of staff, I have by no means encountered the full range of library and information staff that are present in these organisations. I had agreed with myself that I would only record skills that I had seen when visiting libraries or information units to avoid presumptions. Whilst it felt noble at the time, I realise now that one only really sees a small proportion of what staff do – i.e. the customer facing aspect of a librarian’s role.
For instance, when I answer an enquiry at work, the user will only see the manner in which I present myself and the service, and the end product of their query; be that the results of a press search, compiling some research for them, or updating a piece of legislation. They do not see the search strings compiled, the information literacy skills used to work the databases, or the work that has gone into organising our catalogue, and these are only a small proportion of our roles. A user at the enquiry desk will not know the work undertaken in providing training to users, negotiating licenses, compiling current awareness, developing our intranet pages or investigating new technologies to make their roles easier. Other areas of the firm will see these, as we are sure to work with other departments and to promote the work that we do, but that enquiry desk user will not.
When I visited other services, I was the equivalent of that enquiry desk user, and that is why it would be wrong of me to compare and contrast the skills of librarians in a table, reducing skills and technical abilities to a tick box. Instead I will continue to learn about other sectors and the work that others do in a more in depth manner – reading blogs, building relationships at networking events or by studying professional publications.