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Tech Skills for New Librarians & Me (seeking advice)

I was recently asked to write a short piece on what kinds of tech skills new librarians will need to have before going out to the job market.  So I got to put together a list of some of the basic skills for librarians regardless of specialization. While compiling the list, I was most surprised at how many technology skills I have counted as basic and how much more there is to learn beyond them.

Basic technology skills for new librarians

  • Computer operating system
    • Downloading and installing programs
    • Connecting an auxiliary device to a computer such as a printer, scanner, etc.
    • Understanding the system settings
  • How to troubleshoot anything
    • Knowing what to ask a library user who reports a technology-related problem whether it’s a hardware or software issue
    • Knowing how to replicate a problem
    • Knowing how to research a solution on the Web
  • How electronic resources work
    • Understanding what a persistent URL is and being able to tell a URL is persistent or not
    • Knowing what authentication and proxy means in the library setting
    • Understanding how an electronic resource is set up for access from a trial to the link placed in different library systems such as OPAC (Open Public Access Catalog), ERMS (Electronic Resources Management System), Open URL Link Resolver,  and the library web site
    • Knowing  how to troubleshoot remote access issues to electronic resources
  • Systems
    • Knowing what different library systems do and how they work together to provide users with access to information resources. (e.g. Integrated Library System (ILS), OPAC, discovery service, openURL link resolver, ERMS, digital repository system, content management system, proxy server, etc.)
  • Web
    • Proficiency in research tools available on the Web
    • Knowing how to properly use the WYSWYG editor in a blog or any content management system
    • Understanding  the difference between HTML and MS Word document
    • Understanding what a web browser does
    • Knowing how to make screencasts (video tutorials) and podcasts
    • Knowing how to create and edit images and video for the Web
    • Knowing what usability is and how it applies to a library
    • Knowing how to write for the Web
    • Knowing how to utilize social media such as Facebook and Twitter
    • Understanding the mobile devices and related technology that are applicable to a library

For those more adventurous:

Here is a random selection of cool technology skills one may want to check out:
(NB. Don’t be overwhelmed. This is by no means a list of required skills)

  • Markup languages such as HTML, CSS, and XML, XSLT, etc.
  • Programming languages such as JavaScript, PHP, Python, Perl, Ruby, etc.
  • JQuery and other similar JavaScript libraries
  • Relational database and SQL
  • Unix
  • Open source CMS (e.g. Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, etc.) installation, customization, upkeep, etc.
  • Proprietary ILS systems
  • Open source digital repository and indexing systems
  • APIs and Mash-ups
  • Semantic Web and linked data
  • Web analytics and statistics
  • Data mining and data visualization
  • And many more as you see the need for problem-solving…

Further reading:

Then vs. Now – some thoughts:

When I was a LIS student a while ago, I couldn’t wait to learn whatever new skills and to apply what I learned to work. I volunteered for all sorts of work to just test things at a real library setting: I made a foreign newspaper database after taking a relational database course, worked on the library’s digital repository system after taking the Digital Library course in which the whole class built a small digital library on the Web from the scratch, made podcasts and video tutorials, etc, etc.  Back then, I was interested in finding out what I needed to learn more. I was never too concerned about what I will do with what I learn. I assumed that I would use whatever I learn.  (Well, that isn’t always the case. And when you have little time to spare, picking what to learn becomes a very important matter. )

Now that I have been a librarian for close to three years being the technology manager of my small library, I realize that my wide-eyed enthusiasm of this kind has somewhat died down. Not because I do no longer love to learn new things but simply because the time I can spare for pure learning has become increasingly scarce. I have learned that often the technology you want (for the reasons of elegance, power, etc.) cannot simply be  brought into your environment because of many local conditions that cannot be changed. I also have learned that one has to be very strategic in managing time that one invests in learning.

One of the many mistakes I made and still make is to pick up random stuff I want to learn and invest time in doing so for a few weeks. All is good up to that point. But the problem occurs when the work gets very busy or some life changes happen.  I get completely swamped by other things. Unless there is a related project at work or an immediate need either personal or work-related, my learning takes a back seat and when I get back to it later on, I find myself starting all over again from the beginning. And of course, as a librarian, my technology-related work can be not-so-hands-on. Imagine writing reports, applying for grants, making inventories, supervising students, etc. Unused skills get rusty fast.

I still haven’t found any good way to deal with this problem. Information and resources for learning new stuff are almost abundant. Finding out what new coll tech stuff is out there to learn is not so difficult either. But setting up priorities and effectively managing my time is now on top of my To-Master Skills list above any particular technology. Many cite Google Time and say to invest at least 20 % of work time to a pet project. But in practice, this is easier said than done.

Should I be worried about my enthusiasm dissipating?  How do you manage to keep learning new things that are not directly related to your work? How do you keep your self-learning and pet project going continuously and persistently?

4 Comments

  1. If you’re looking to add to your coding skills and are sufficiently self-driven take a peek at Mashable’s recent post “4 Free Ways to Learn to Code Online” (http://mashable.com/2011/05/07/learn-to-code-online/)

  2. That’s a great post to read. Thanks, Megan!

  3. Margaret says:

    I just found this post as I was Google-ing through, seeing what I should have learned in library school. I just graduated this month.
    LS… I’ve seen this on job requirements many times, but I don’t know how to go about learning about them. I searched through tutorials and ending up watching a super-long tutorial on Kona. Any suggestions as to how a new graduate who has never previously heard about ILS learns about them?

  4. Margaret, are you planning to be a systems librarian working the backend of an ILS? If so, I recommend learning through work on the job. There is no other way unless the system is open-source, and most ILSes are proprietary. But if you are looking for a position in public services, all you need to know is the public end of the system. This can be easily learned by taking a look at various OPACs. Hope this helps and good luck!

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