Friday, July 06, 2007

Tech Competencies and the Growing Divide

WARNING! This post will not have any answers, just simply bring up more questions. I'm good like that.

As I am continually bitching about the frightening lack of tech skills not only in my own library, but in the entire state, I read with great interest the "Minimum Competencies" list posted at Library Revolution, and the "Basic Competencies of a 2.0 Librarian" over at David Lee King. I am relieved to say that I only missed one competency on each list - I wasn't sure of "obtain an IP address" as that could mean a couple different things (and even then I still wasn't sure I could do it unprompted, so I looked it up, practiced, and now it's in my skill box), and on David's list, I am completely void of "basic console gaming skills."

The first thing that struck me about the lists is how different they are in terms of skill-level. Yes, I get that David's list is geared towards "2.0 librarians" and Emily's list is more of a general basic computer skills list, but, still. Actually, I think that the fact that they are so different is very telling; obviously, as a profession, we have people who don't have even the most basic of computers skills (while I think our professional staff has mastered Emily's list, I doubt that many of our support staff has), and we have people who have been online for years.

If we want to meet in the middle, and perhaps be even broader than either of the above lists, we have the 20 Technology Skills Every Librarian Should Have (plus Jenny's additions) list that Jenny Levine posted nearly two years ago. I think this list still holds up well, is librarian-specific, covers a broad range of skills, and is reasonable.

But, no matter what list you like, or create for your own staff (because as we all know, different libraries have different needs), the big question is, "How do we get non-tech staff to understand - and care - that these skills are needed in order to perform our jobs well?" Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for this - but I think it is the most frustrating aspect of the job for anyone with tech skills who works in an essentially non-tech library.

Is mandatory professional development/re-certification the answer? I don't know how it works in other states, but here you get your MLS/MLIS, and, um, that's it. There's no recertification process, and, in many cases, some libraries don't push prof development due to a lack of funds (I was unable to attend ALA this year because the library couldn't afford to send me, and on my $225 a week pay, I couldn't afford to send myself). And some libraries don't push development because of the sheer unwillingness of some staff members to learn anything that they think is "useless," "unnecessary," or simply "beyond them." So, what we end up with is professional librarians who got their degrees not only before "web 2.0" and "library 2.0," but before computers were commonplace, who haven't either wanted to, or had had the opportunity to "keep up."

Yes, I am purposely painting with broad strokes here, but this is exactly where things get sticky - if not downright hostile. I don't believe I am exaggerating when I say that there is now an entire legion of "traditional" librarians who are odds with the "new breed" librarians, and vice-versa. Non-tech librarians don't want to hear us tech librarians go on and on about things they have no interest in - and worse yet, things they feel are irrelevant to their jobs as librarians - and we tech librarians get unbelievably frustrated when our libraries ban things like MySpace (like my library does, and let me tell you, I get sick to death of policing the terminals because any kid who wants to get on MySpace knows exactly how to jump our filters), and are told that we need to keep our mouths shut because we haven't yet earned our chops.

Personally, I think there's a serious lack of communication between the two "sides." Though I have never, ever, heard (or read) any of my techie librarian friends say the traditional library arts (print reference, reader's advisory, subject headings, etc) are "useless" or "unnecessary," I've heard (and read) several non-tech librarians say they we don't value these things; I think that's an incorrect assumption. However, I think as tech librarians, we do need to be careful with our tone, and realistic with our expectations. If a person has had little experience with computers or the internet, it is safe to assume that it will take a while for that person to get up to speed. What comes easily to us after years of noodling around online may take a whole lot longer for a tech newbie to master - and we techies need to keep that in mind.

Which brings me to my last point/observation: this divide is not a "top-down" problem in most cases, and I believe that that reality only adds to the hostility/frustration cycle we currently have going on. What we have is new (and this often translates into "young") librarians coming into jobs with (oftentimes) a more well-rounded skill set than some of the veterans. It's rarely a good thing when a boss or superior discovers that their subordinate is better-equipped for the current demands of their jobs. It stinks to feel like the new kid on the block could displace you, and it also stinks to feel like people dislike you because you "know too much."

So what's the answer? Hell, I don't know. Personally, I think we need better communication between the two camps, we need to push professional development (of all kinds) if not outright recertification, we need to rid ourselves (all of us) of the chips on our shoulders, we need to understand that we can learn from each other, and we need patience.

Because the bottom line is this: today's patrons want and need services of a traditional, and a technological, nature. And the sooner that everyone gets on board with both aspects of the job, the better it will be for our patrons, our libraries, and our careers.

1 comment:

Carleen said...

Great post. I agree, I think it's important to be realistic about our expectations, and to be patient as other staff members open up to these ideas.