Colleagues at my previous pow are used to hearing me rant about minimum technology competencies for library staff. There’s been interesting debate recently in the biblioblogosphere about exactly what competencies are core – what must library staff know in order to be able to serve their patrons effectively in a 2.0 world?
Emily at Library Revolution (one of my favourite library blogs) got the conversation off to a great start with a list that included tasks as simple as cutting and pasting (yup, evidently she has encountered some librarians whose skills in this area are a little lacking). Read her original post, and the comments – it’s worth the effort. The to-and-fro in the biblioblogosphere quickly escalated, with many bloggers coming up with their own competency lists, many of which centred on web 2.0 skills.
I’m unashamed to admit that I haven’t attempted to do a number of the things that were listed in posts prompted by Emily’s. This here librarian has not shot a single video in her time, nor put together any screen casts, nor even recorded a pod cast. So by definition, I guess I don’t possess those competencies right now. And I consider myself to be something of a ‘geek’…
I’m not about to argue that minimum tech competencies should not be at the top of our agendas. In fact, I think a minimum standard of technical skills should be an absolute non-negotiable. But what I would say is this: while the possession of competencies is important, in my mind, what is more important is that we create fun learning environments for ourselves and our colleagues, so that the process of adding tech competencies to our toolkits is not a needlessly daunting one (hello Learning 2.1 – loving the tag line! ). Our workplaces should foster a culture of continuous professional development which recognises the importance of building tech skills. We need to get excited about technology, and get our colleagues excited about it too. We should encourage each other to play, (and not just with fancy, whiz bang 2.0 stuff, but with ‘basic’ things Emily mentions in her post, too). While I might not be able to do some of the things that are listed by my peers as minimum tech competencies, what I do have going for me is that I have zero fear when it comes to playing with technology. The bottom line is, I’m not afraid to break stuff. That’s the kind of approach we should be encouraging: play, make mistakes, fix your mistakes, don’t be afraid to ask for help, have fun. Yep, I’m a digital native, a self-assured Gen Yer, and a self confessed technology addict, so perhaps my lack of fear is a product of those characteristics. But surely we can do something to take the fear out of playing with technology for our less techno-obsessed colleagues?
A colleague and I recently ran a one hour training session designed to introduce reference staff to a few of the web 2.0ish things we use on a daily basis: the corporate IM client; web based or integrated IM (alla meebo); social networking for fun and for professional hookups; and social bookmarking. The result? People seemed genuinely excited about what they could do with some of these technologies. Sure, some people came out of the session saying that Facebook just wasn’t for them, but those same people could see the real benefits of, for example, del.icio.us. We set them a homework mission, encouraged them to play, and let them know it’s ok to abandon the bits that didn’t work for them.
Which leads me to my next point: with web 2.0 stuff, I’m a strong advocate for active abandonment. Try stuff out, and if it doesn’t work for you, then give it the flick. But please, try it out, because we need to understand the spaces and tools that are available to us for service delivery in this increasingly interactive online service environment. And we also need to understand the ways our users are interacting with each other and with the information landscape, in order to learn lessons about how they might want to interact with us.
And the most important thing of all: tech competencies are not just for ‘techie’ librarians. They’re just as important for the librarians who staff reference desks (you never know when a user will need help with a ‘basic’ computer competency), and for cataloguers (because web 2.0 tools and concepts have a role to play in the future of information organisation).
[the virtual librarian steps off her soapbox]