:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

The Digital Librarian Shortage


   Recently, both First Lady Laura Bush and the Institute of Museum and
   Library Services pledged support for librarian recruitment in response
   to a shortage of library professionals. Nowhere is that shortage more
   acute than in positions that require a high degree of technical
   knowledge and experience. Very few librarians, for example, can explain
   the similarities and differences between ASP and PHP (both methods of
   creating dynamic web pages) and why you may want to use one or the

   Anyone who has recently tried to recruit knowledgeable staff knows what
   I mean. It's difficult to find librarians who are conversant with
   technology and who also are willing to work at the salaries we offer.
   In order to fill the jobs we have, some organizations have resorted to
   hiring tech-savvy librarians into a nonlibrarian classification--simply
   to offer better pay.

   Libraries are also driven in the other direction--to hire nonlibrarians
   into positions that may have been originated for librarians. However,
   tech-savvy persons hired from the corporate sector may find it
   difficult to adjust to the mission and organizational style of a
   nonprofit service organization. Also, they lack the professional
   training and instilled values that come from librarianship training. In
   the end, neither of these solutions are healthy for our profession.
   Reversing the trend

   What we can do is take our professional responsibilities seriously.
   Would you want to visit a doctor who did not constantly read the
   medical literature to keep up-to-date? We have no valid excuse for not
   knowing enough about information technology to do our jobs well.

   No, all librarians need not know how to code software. But they should
   know what software is capable of doing, when a program could be easily
   written to accomplish a task, and what skills someone needs to write

   This kind of knowledge is crucial to good public service. You cannot
   imagine practical solutions to problems if you are not aware of the
   universe of possibilities. You won't be able to take user needs and
   translate them into functional specifications for technical staff
   unless you understand the underlying technical infrastructure and what
   it can do.
   New jobs, new organizations

   We must recast some of our professional positions to highlight the many
   technical competencies that we increasingly require and see that they
   are reclassified to an appropriate salary scale. Then, we should
   aggressively recruit technologists into the field of librarianship as
   well as advance those within our ranks who have those skills.

   Some library schools have begun to meet the challenge of training
   technically adept professionals. For example, the University of
   Michigan School of Information offers such courses as "Introduction to
   XML" and "Usability Methods in Web Site Design." The school also offers
   a practicum in "digital librarianship."

   We must create organizations that welcome and foster those who are
   technologically savvy. But, as Colin Steel and Mechthild Guha point out
   in "Staffing the Digital Library in the 21st Century," "many of the
   middle to senior staff in our libraries were brought up in the more
   constrained environments of the role of the librarian." They may not
   naturally value the contributions of tech-savvy staff as much as they
   value book selection and traditional reference service. This may be
   because we are an old profession. In "The Age Demographics of Academic
   Librarians," Stanley Wilder found that "librarians, particularly
   academic librarians, are older than professionals in all but a handful
   of comparable occupations."
   Retooling yourself

   How do you become a digital librarian? For starters, crack a book or
   two on technical topics. But rather than reading these books from cover
   to cover, skim them and only read sections that give you a sense of
   what the technology can do and what associated technology it requires.
   Look for books that explain concepts rather than nitty-gritty details.
   Again, you want enough knowledge not to implement a solution yourself
   but to give guidance to someone who will.

   Go to workshops and training sessions that provide a high-level view of
   what a particular technology has to offer, what hardware and software
   it requires, and sample applications. Find a colleague who knows what
   you want to know, and ask for some mentoring. Get on an electronic
   discussion list and ask a question or two. Whatever you can do to
   expand your technical skills will make you more valuable in your
   present position and more employable for future ones.

Link List

   The Age Demographics of Academic Librarians

   IMLS Responds to Librarian Shortage

   Laura Bush Addresses Nation's Critical Shortage of Librarians

   Library Staffing Considerations in the Age of Technology

   Staffing the Digital Library in the 21st Century

   University of Michigan Database