Special Libraries & 21st Century Competencies


A recent subscriber to this Blog is a military librarian, which brought to me “front and center” a reminder of the special library and librarian. I feel really bad, being career uniformed military in my former life, that I have essentially overlooked special libraries and librarians in this discussion of 21st Century Libraries. It was totally unintentional and not intended to be a slight in any sense. Special libraries have a special place in the library community and deserve as much inclusion as any library, or librarian.

Stephen Abram stated that; “Special librarians are more about communicating the value of the individual professional and the profession than the actual physical library (although that can be part of it). It can be all about the personal and professional relationship of trust and respect with your management, end-users and colleagues and that isn’t always measurable while it can still be very powerful!” THIS is a skill that every librarian needs in the 21st Century Library.

The Special Library Association has published Competencies for Information Professionals of the 21st Century, Revised edition, June 2003 that provides an extensive list of librarian competencies that can easily be adopted by ANY librarian in ANY type library.

Professional Competencies relate to the practitioner’s knowledge of information resources, access, technology and management, and the ability to use this knowledge as a basis for providing the highest quality information services. There are four major competencies, each augmented with specific skills:
A. Managing Information Organizations
B. Managing Information Resources
C. Managing Information Services
D. Applying Information Tools and Technologies
Applied scenarios illustrate many of the myriad roles and responsibilities that IPs perform in organizations of all types.

Among the list of competencies and scenarios for application by IPs (information professionals) is –

D. Applying Information Tools & Technologies
Information professionals harness the current and appropriate technology tools to deliver the best services, provide the most relevant and accessible resources, develop and deliver teaching tools to maximize clients’ use of information, and capitalize on the library and information environment of the 21st century.
D.1 Assesses, selects and applies current and emerging information tools and creates information access and delivery solutions
D.2 Applies expertise in databases, indexing, metadata, and information analysis and synthesis to improve information retrieval and use in the organization
D.3 Protects the information privacy of clients and maintains awareness of, and responses to, new challenges to privacy
D.4 Maintains current awareness of emerging technologies that may not be currently relevant but may become relevant tools of future information resources, services or applications

Applied Scenarios
• IPs are active partners with technology vendors, providing feedback, suggesting improvements, and keeping the needs of the clients in the forefront
• IPs maintain awareness of emerging technologies through reading professional and popular documents, participating in peer dialogs, and attending courses, workshops, and conferences.
• IPs are prepared to advise all levels of the organization on how technology trends will affect the organization and the clients.
• IPs lead technology initiatives in their organizations by forming partnerships, obtaining buy-in of upper management, overseeing the project management life-cycle, and communicating to all critical levels of the organization.
• IPs test, select and use new technology tools as they are developed.
• IPs maintain awareness of the latest policy and legislative initiatives that will impact privacy, accessibility, and openness of information use and transfer, and of technology deployment.
• IPs educate others in the use of information tools and technologies in a variety of ways, from training people in finding the information they want on the Internet or in proprietary databases to integrating information tools into their clients’ workflow or curriculum.

In the Conclusion, the report states;

These are the competencies of Information Professionals for the 21st century. They have their roots in the past and reach far into the future. These competencies form the basis for growth in the information age. IPs recognize and embrace the expanding nature of the field and the challenges facing them.

Although the core of the profession remains the same, the methods and tools for information delivery and the scope of the enterprise continue to grow and change dramatically. While maintaining their client and content-centered approach, practitioners increasingly require advanced knowledge of information technology to realize their full potential. Continually emerging opportunities will propel the prepared professional into as yet unseen realms of advanced information retrieval, interpretation, synthesis, product development and virtual services on a global scale.

[Emphasis added.]

SLA has also developed Personal Competencies with Applied Scenarios as defined by the Competencies Development Committee in January 2004. These are well worth reviewing for the serious professional interested in improving their personal competencies.

So, the library and librarianship communities have much to gain from each segment, and in the 21st Century, COLLABORATION is one of the major tenets. We hear A LOT about the need for “communicating the value of the individual professional and the profession” in 21st Century Library conversation, but not a lot about how librarians accomplish that. Let’s collaborate!

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