Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Library & Information Professionals’ Competency

(Keynote address delivered by Marcial R. Batiancila*, President, PLAI-Southern Tagalog Region Librarians Council during the 2010 PLAI-STRLC Summer Conference in Palawan)

Fellow officers and members of PLAI-Southern Tagalog Librarians Council, fellow librarians, guests, and friends, good morning. Magandang umaga Pilipinas!

I feel much honored to be with all of you as we begin this three-day summer conference here in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. It has been a month that I kept on pondering on what I might discuss in this keynote address. Such dilemma, prompted me to consider some important or critical issues that affect the practice of our profession in this modern world.

In this keynote, I will try to address the following questions:

  1. What makes a competent library and information professional?
  2. What competencies do we need to succeed in this technology-driven environment?
  3. Do these competencies are enabling us to make our services receptive, effective and apt to the needs of our constituents in this ever changing Information Age?

In defining of what makes a competent library and information professionals, we must consider the definition provided by the standards for Philippine Librarianship. This definition will be based on the roles and functions librarians should be able to perform. Section 5 of RA 9246 strongly reiterated that librarianship shall deal with the performance of the librarian's functions, of which these competencies of the librarian include in-depth knowledge of print and electronic information resources, organization and management of information services, technical knowledge as well as professional expertise.

In addition, here are some of the competencies that we can consider as crucial to synergizing library and information services, viz: collection development skills, cataloging and classification, reader’s advisory skills, library operation skills, communication skills, information problem solving skills, knowledge of information sources, information technology, public relations skills, marketing skills, patron service skills, subject expertise, and knowledge of curricula.

More so, Richard J. Naylor (2001) had identified the advantages of developing and improving core competencies in libraries such as :

  1. Better human resource planning. Instead of trying to fit the person to the organization, work from the organization and ask, "What do we need? What would we like?"
  2. More effective training programs. Training programs designed to meet future needs are effective.
  3. A list of critical technological capabilities. Besides knowing which are our critical capabilities we also know which are not; resources can be spent wisely.
  4. An opportunity for a strength-weakening analysis. Answering questions about what we do well and knowing what threats and opportunities we face is critical to planning.
  5. Help with outsourcing options. Since organizational functions interact, there may be unintended consequences to outsourcing components of core competencies. For example, outsourcing bookkeeping may be sensible or it may be depriving us of valuable information about our purchased materials.
  6. Guidance for development or change. Once a system of core competencies is functioning, it provides a road map for development. Having a list of critical skills allows us to see how we might improve them to our advantage.
  7. Vision of the whole organization. The global perspective of core competencies allows us to study what we're really good at. Knowing where we excel allows us to better exploit our advantages.
  8. Innovation is required for survival. Core competencies help to identify specific behaviors in the organization that are appropriate to strategy design.

What do we need now are not just competent library and information professionals but also a more competitive one – a professionals who possess the expected competencies, training, knowledge and expertise. Sad to note, that not all professionals have the competitive advantage over the other. How one can be competitive? Does the education provided is reflective to the actual practice and realities? Or, it is just confine to the theoretical perspective of the library practice. To address this particular issue, the library and information profession must develop a culture of excellence, innovation and technical expertise. H.S. Siddamallaiah and C.R. Karisiddappa (2009) suggested to bridge this gap between theory and practice, LIS education requires three component viz. a) core knowledge of library science, b) application of IT and c) a knowledge of organization behavior and management including domain knowledge of the host organization.

However, today, we are in a world of which technology is at the core of all facets of operations in all types of industries including libraries and other cultural heritage institutions. What competencies do we need to succeed in this technology-driven environment? Quoting Meredith Farkas (2006), so what skills should new librarians have in this first part of the 21st century. At first, she was thinking about specific technology skills like HTML, network administration, PHP and MySQL, etc. While those are certainly important, what she really think library schools aren’t teaching students is the “big picture” topics; how to really be able to keep up with technology, make good decisions about its implementation, use it and sell it to others.”

Does the Philippine LIS curriculum include courses in ICT applicability to libraries and information centers? Are LIS graduates are technology literate? What about those practitioners? Do they have the necessary technological skills and competencies? Quoting the American Library Association (2010) library and information professionals must know the underlying principles on how these technologies work and are proficient in the use of a variety of these technologies in creating, maintaining and operating Web-based information systems. This too is an ever-evolving challenge, as the specific tools continually change. Thus, the most important technical competency librarians can acquire is the ability independently to pursue further learning concerning information handling technologies. And, must :

  1. demonstrate the ability to scan the environment for technological trends relevant to library and information services;
  2. describe how and why electronic information technologies have affected library services;
  3. demonstrate understanding of the nomenclature, principles and application of electronic information handling hardware and software (including adaptive technologies);
  4. demonstrate proficiency in creating accessible web-based information resources using contemporary techniques and following relevant federal and state guidelines;
  5. demonstrate knowledge of relevant technical standards and standard-setting bodies;
  6. demonstrate proficiency in evaluating technology products for their appropriate application;
  7. read with comprehension functional and evaluative descriptions of advanced technologies; and,
  8. assess the economic and service benefits derived from the application of technology to library and information services.

This issue should be of interest to all library and information professionals and most importantly, we must embrace this change. In this technology-driven world, not only technology related competencies are critically needed but also include other form of competencies such as business/organizational competencies, and the like.

Do these competencies are enabling us to make our services receptive, effective and apt to the needs of our constituents in this ever changing Information Age. To answer this, I have quoted M. Farkas (2006) ideas, "..but if librarians can adapt to and embrace change, can easily learn technologies, can keep up with changes in the profession, can plan for new services and evaluate old services, can develop services that meet the needs of all stakeholders, can evaluate technologies, and can sell their ideas and market services they will be better able to meet the challenges of changing user populations and changing technologies.”

The development of professional competencies may enable us to work efficiently and be able to survive in the new world of libraries and information services. Thus, the development of core competencies are about our skills, knowledge, and personal attributes that contribute to individual's success. There is a dire need to update library and information professional’s competencies to include current and emerging technologies. In this case, all professionals are expected to have these set of competencies and must play a more pro-active role as equal partners/collaborators with the scholars, scientists, industrialists, and academicians and the like.

Indeed, we are thinking machines with higher order intelligence and competence. The challenge now, is for us to embrace a new form of competence viz a viz learning the new concept of a technologically mediated information services.

*due to some technical glitches of video & audio synchronization, the video conference from the campus of Tallinn University, Estonia where he is presently located was not possible and instead Ms Audrey Anday, as the Council Vice-President and Conference Chair, timely decided to just read from an advance text copy of Mr Batiancila keynote address to the participants.

Works cited:

No comments: