PROFESSIONAL COMPETENCIES AND SKILLS FOR LIBRARY AND INFORMATION PROFESSIONALS: A PRESENT-DAY SCENARIO

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1 PROFESSIONAL COMPETENCIES AND SKILLS FOR LIBRARY AND INFORMATION PROFESSIONALS: A PRESENT-DAY SCENARIO ABSTRACT Dr. S. Thanuskodi Associate Professor & Head i/c Department of Library and Information Science Alagappa University, Karaikudi, India The term 'Competency' is defined in various ways. A decade ago, competency was considered in terms of personal characteristics and was judged in terms of character, virtue, innate abilities. In the present day, competence is considered more in terms of skill-oriented behavior and observable actions. Competency is defined by Council of Europe as the set of knowledge and skills that enable an employee to orient easily in a working field and to solve problems that are linked with their professional role (Webber, 1999). Over the years, librarians have successfully established practices and skills to handle the storage, retrieval and dissemination of information. While the traditional skills such as classification, cataloguing, indexing, user education are relevant even in the present age, the library professionals should acquire skills to deal with information in the new electronic environment. In addition to the technical skills, librarians should also possess good interpersonal and management skills to become more effective managers of information. In order to fulfill the key information role, the new era librarians require Professional and Personal competencies. Professional competencies relate to librarian's knowledge of various information sources, technology, management and research and the ability to use these areas of knowledge for providing library and information services. Personal competencies represent a set of skills, attitudes and values that enable librarians to work efficiently; be good communicators; demonstrate the value-added nature of their contributions and survive in the new world of work. The LIS educators have a greater responsibility to incorporate these various competencies into the LIS curriculum. Keywords: Competencies, skills, Library & Information Professionals (LIP), Information Technology, LIS Curriculum, Library Schools. 1. INTRODUCTION Library science (often termed library studies or library and information science) is an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary field that applies the practices, perspectives, and tools of management, information technology, education and other areas to libraries; the collection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information resources; and the political economy of information. The first American school for library science was founded by Melvil Dewey at Columbia University in Historically, library science has also included archival science. This includes how information resources are organized to serve the needs of selected user group, how people interact with classification systems and technology, how information is acquired, evaluated and applied by people in and outside of libraries as well as cross-culturally, how people are trained and educated for careers in libraries, the ethics that guide library service and organization, the legal status of libraries and information 1

2 resources, and the applied science of computer technology used in documentation and records management. There is no generally agreed-upon distinction between the terms library science, librarianship, and library and information science, and to a certain extent they are interchangeable, perhaps differing most significantly in connotation. The term library and information science (LIS) is most often used; most librarians consider it as only a terminological variation, intended to emphasize the scientific and technical foundations of the subject and its relationship with information science. LIS should not be confused with information theory, the mathematical study of the concept of information. Library and information science can also be seen as an integration of the two fields, library science and information science, which were separate at one point. Library philosophy has been contrasted with library science as the study of the aims and justifications of librarianship as opposed to the development and refinement of techniques. 2. LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SCIENCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY The digital age has transformed how information is accessed and retrieved. The library is now a part of a complex and dynamic educational, recreational, and informational infrastructure. The evolution of the library sciences maintains its mission of access equity and community space, as well as, the new means for information retrieval called Information Literacy Skills. All catalogues, databases, and a growing number of books are all available on the Internet. Information literacy is the ability to "determine the extent of information needed, access the needed information effectively and efficiently, evaluate information and its sources critically, incorporate selected information into one s knowledge base, use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose, and understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally." 3. EDUCATION AND TRAINING IN LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SCIENCE Academic courses in library science include collection management, information systems and technology, research methods, cataloguing and classification, preservation, references, statistics, and management. Library science is constantly evolving, incorporating new topics like database management, information architecture, and information management, among others. Most professional library jobs require a professional postgraduate degree in library science, or one of its equivalent terms, library and information science as a basic credential. In the United States and Canada for instance, the certification usually comes from a master's degree granted by an ALA accredited institution. Therefore, non-scholarly librarians have an originally academic background. In the United Kingdom, however, there have been moves to broaden the entry requirements to professional library posts, such that qualifications in, or experience of, a number of other disciplines have become more acceptable. In Australia, a number of institutions offer degrees accepted by the ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association). 4. ROLE OF LIBRARY PROFESSIONALS Library is a social institution and provides information for education, inspiration and recreation for the enlightenment of the personality of an individual. Libraries also provide support to the social, economic, educational cultural, technical and technological growth and 2

3 development of a society and are considered as an indispensable part of the society. We find libraries of different hues serving all sections of the society and have thus achieved important position in a civilized society. Libraries are service oriented institutions serving as bridges between knowledge generator and knowledge seeker. In the present Information Age the society thrives on availability and exploitation of information. Naturally, the role of libraries and the ways they offered services in traditional environment are progressively being substituted by roles and ways under the impact of Information communication Technology (ICT). The competencies that library professionals were required to acquire, as a consequence, witness changes day in and day out. The tasks they used to perform manually, the materials they used to handle just in print and the services they used to offer conservatively are being challenged by smooth and efficient application of ICT in whole gamut of library operations and services. Naturally, in order to be enterprising library professionals are called to demonstrate commitment to the values and principles of the profession and augment their competencies with ability to exploit ICT in their operations and services. Chopra while writing about the characteristics of the library profession rightly says: Librarianship calls for a unique combination of various kinds of academic attainments and personal qualities. A librarian is an administrator without being any less a scholar. He is a scientist without being any less a theoretician. He is a lover of books and he is equally interested in people. He is a scholar, practitioner and a person with an eye on the technology, because all technological advances affect the libraries and their social relevance. These complex qualities call for a comprehensive training. To be relevant to the merging social environment the librarian of today is called upon to offer traditional services with a blend of new sources and services available in cyber space. Consequently, he requires elaborate managerial and technological ability of a high order and meticulous devotion to details involved in increasingly demanded and multifaceted library services. Librarianship of today thus is multidisciplinary and encompasses the various fields of human endeavor like management sciences, computer sciences, mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, history etc. Every profession exists, sustains and flourishes on the basis of a range of competencies that it evolves for its practitioners. These competencies, as Murphy puts it, are the interplay of knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes required to do a job effectively from the point of both the performer and the observer. Webster s Third New International dictionary has defined competencies as the quality or state of being functionally adequate or having sufficient knowledge, judgment, skill, or strength (as for a particular duty or in a particular respect). Griffiths talks of competencies in terms of three components viz, knowledge, skills and attitudes i.e. knowledge and understanding of the academic discipline, skills and the moral values and professionalism. Skills involve the ability to perform the various psychomotor tasks and interaction with others. Professional attitudes compromise the emotive commitment to professionalism and the willingness to perform professionally. Thus competencies are the capabilities existing and attained by a person in order to perform his duties effectively and efficiently. 5. PROFESSIONAL TRENDS IN DIGITAL AGE The library and information profession both national and international level have taken a sea change which has necessitated to restructure and revamp library and information 3

4 science education integrating both knowledge and skills (technology, management and communication) (Lalngaizuali, 2010). The changes are quite visible like: 5.1 Information Society to Knowledge Society Transformation of society from agriculture based to information and knowledge based is an important dimension and leading towards Knowledge society. Information and knowledge considered as essential constituents and endeavors to empower and enrich its people. Knowledge is used as a powerful tool to drive societal transformation. A learning society is committed to innovation and has the capacity to generate, absorb, disseminate and protect knowledge to create economic wealth. Libraries: gateways to knowledge and Library and information professionals as knowledge managers are expected to play a vital role in collecting organizing and disseminating information to users at large. 5.2 Library Professionals to Information and Knowledge Professionals Technological advancements and its application in libraries and information centers have changed the information management skills of the professionals. Professional competencies in the emerging areas like Library Automation, Database Creation and Retrieval Techniques, Multimedia Applications, Networking, Design and Development of Library Website and Digital Library, adoption of Formats and Standards (CCF, UNIMARC, UK-MARC, MARC-21, Dublin Core), Content management, Knowledge Management have compelled the library professionals to be reoriented as information and knowledge professionals thereby collecting, organizing and disseminating information to users effectively and efficiently. The informational professional harnesses technology as a critical tool to accomplish goals and not limited to librarian alone but knowledge manager, information officer, web developer, information broker, content manager etc. The major professional competencies required for information professionals relate to the practitioner s knowledge of information resources, access, technology and management, and ability to use this knowledge as a basis for providing the highest quality information services. The major competencies /skills required for information and knowledge professionals are a) Managing information organizations, b) Managing information resources, c) Managing information services and d) Applying information tools and technologies. 5.3 Traditional Library to Digital Library Growth and development of libraries and application of information and communication technologies have renamed the traditional libraries through functioning, management and services as Automated Library, Electronic Library, and Digital Library. The growth and popularity of Digital Library has been primarily for three reasons. A) Access: The unlimited access to information resources by the users anywhere, any time and any format, B) Content: Variety and huge quantity of contents, C) Cost: Eliminating duplication of money, manpower and material. 5.4 Library Cooperation to Resource Sharing Library Networks/Consortia Information explosion, paucity of financial resources, variety of information requirements of the users and problem of space necessitated libraries and information centers to go for resource sharing among the participating libraries. In 1980 s a number of Library and Information networks were established namely Information and Library Network 4

5 (INFLIBNET), Ahemedabad 2. Developing Library Network (DELNET), New Delhi followed by many other local library networks such as Calcutta Library Network, Madras Library Network, Bombay Library Network, Ahemedabad Library Network etc. The objectives of all these networks were supposed to provide information resources to its clientele through OPAC, Database, Document Delivery and other network based information services. 5.5 Collection Management to Content Management Libraries once upon a time emphasized on acquisition/ collection development/ information resource development have turned in to content development in the age of digitization. Libraries today are giving more emphasis on website development and uploading their information resources to provide better access with more contents and less cost. Content development in electronic environment is a challenge for information professionals not only to build up professional competencies but widening scope of information management, identifying information sources and providing effective information services. Content managers/developers make use of this technology to deliver the best services provide the most relevant and accessible resources, develop and deliver teaching tools to maximize client s use of information and capitalize on the library and information environment of the 21st century. 5.6 Conventional Learning to Web Learning/E-Learning A dramatic sea change is taking place around the globe with regard to teaching and learning process. The traditional mode of imparting education is being replaced by web based/ online education supplemented by multimedia educational resources. Web based education provides: increasing access to learning resources improving interactive teaching and learning environment increasing student convenience reducing educational delivery cost 5.7 Open Access, Open Source and Open Library Open access provides opportunities to promote open exchange of ideas and information among the scientific community and society at large thereby removing the limitations of subscription costs, licensing agreements and copy right. Open access has led to institutional repositories and promotes equity. Open source is development technology which offers practical accessibility to a product (information and knowledge). Libraries and open source software promote learning and understanding through the dissemination of information. Open source offers opportunities, but poses a number of challenges for the LIS professionals and for its suppliers. Open library provides free and open access to knowledge. 6. COMPETENCIES OF LIBRARY AND INFORMATION PROFESSIONALS There is great variety of competencies necessary to accomplish the role of the professional librarian. Competencies are contextual varying with the environmental conditions. Hence they are to be formulated at different levels and continuously modified. Close coordination is required between library & information professionals, educationists and employers to formulate competencies. Library associations at international, national and 5

6 regional levels are playing an important role in this regard, so as to bring an overall improvement in the profession (Shabir Ahmad Ganaie, 2005). An extensive and in depth analysis of literature on the subject reveals that library & information professionals (LIP) should possess competencies related to: Philosophical Competencies Library and Information Science Professionals should know the mission and role of the library in the community and the mission of libraries in general. Library and Information Science Professionals should understand the responsibilities and relationship between different departments in the library e.g. technical section, public services and administration. Library and Information Science Professionals should understand that his /her library is a part of large library system and thus cooperation and resource sharing is to be introduced. Library and Information Science Professionals must know the ethics and values of library profession Technological Competencies Library and Information Science Professionals should be able to demonstrate basic skills in the use of appropriate software and hardware applications for library functions and services. Using online databases, the Library professionals should be in a position to help the elite user community with comprehensive retrieval, providing retrospective search, ready references, bibliographic verification and selective dissemination of information (SDI). The professionals should have an ability to think in a logical way for searching of databases. Resource sharing, in the present age of information & IT, is also the need of the day. The Library and Information Science Professionals should have enough skill to profitably utilise the emerging gamut of IT by acquiring skills in handling machinery & gadgets to handle the information explosion to improve productively, rationalize staff effects and to improve the control, increase the speed, range & depth of information services, which facilitates co-operation through resource sharing. Today, IT environment is changing rapidly and bringing in absolvent of earlier technology. Therefore, the Library and Information Science Professionals should catch-up and stay with the contemporary state of art of IT Educational / Professional and Personnel Competencies Library and Information Science Professionals must seek out and participate in continuing education opportunities in order to keep skills current and up to date. He should be able to integrate new techniques and methodologies into everyday practice. Library and Information Science Professionals should be open to self evaluation and thoughtful evaluation by superiors, peers & customers in order to become a contributing employee. Library and Information Science Professionals must know how information is organized and accessed within his /her library and as such should have thorough knowledge of the collection in the library. 6

7 Library and Information Science Professionals need to be engaged in research, research guiding & teaching to, research scholars and students. For their purpose the Library and Information Science Professionals must be skilled enough to convince the users by talking on his level of the subject and he should have confidence as information provider. The Library and Information Science Professionals will also have to deal with various groups of people for application of new technologies in Library and commenting the Library through existing networks. LIP should have skill in writing as well as in oral presentation. Library and Information Science Professionals have to acquire skills & competencies to function as logical thinker with analytical approach and problem solving decision maker with inquisitive, carrions, imagination & creative skills which enable him to manage, organize, supervise, and communicate with different groups of people. He should have also good public relationship Customer Service Competencies Library and Information Science Professionals must understand customer needs and preferences for information which build and drive the selection of resources and services. LIP must understand information seeking behaviors and should facilitate the customer's successful information retrieval. LIP should act as a user advocate during the development of information products and systems. Library and Information Science Professionals should tailor services and information products to support the user needs. Library and Information Science Professionals should act as a consultant to the parent organization and community on information issues Administration and Leadership related Competencies Library and Information Science Professionals should provide a nurturing climate for staff and an encouraging attitude for their growth and development. LIP should be able to develop and implement policies and procedures for the efficient and effective operations of library functions. LIP should continually adjust programmes and services to respond to social changes and service opportunities. Library and Information Science Professionals should assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges to the organization and develop strategies for dealing with them effectively without compromising vision, mission and values Information Literacy Skills Library and Information Science Professionals should understand the flow of information in society. Library and Information Science Professionals should judge accuracy of information gleaned from traditional / web based resources. Library and Information Science Professionals must understand basic copyright principles, especially as they relate to electronic resources. 7

8 Library and Information Science Professionals should understand information issues such privacy, freedom of speech and preservation of information especially as applied to an electronic information environment. 7. CONCLUSION In the context of the advancement of information technology, library and information science professionals are faced with the challenges they encounter in the provision and dissemination of information essential for over all development of human society. The institution that is known as library around the globe has been witnessing changes all through the ages. It is not a new phenomenon. Today the library and information science professionals are imperatively to function, in addition to his conventional practices, as information analyzer, interpreter, facilitator, consultant, advisor etc. Concepts like automated libraries, electronic libraries, digital libraries, virtual libraries point in this direction. Naturally, in this new environment the LIP has to spice his/her competencies with the fast emerging ICT to act both as librarian and cyberarian in this fast growing new environment. The challenge of the next decade will be for consolidation rather than growth of education and thus courses will be accepted and established. There is a lack of literature in library and information science on 'future studies'. It is need of the day to restructure LIS curriculum. New information technology has brought in many changes in the practices of almost all the professionals. REFERENCES Choi, Y. and Rasmussen, E. (2006). What is needed to educate future digital librarians. D-Lib Magazine, 12 (9). Retrieved from Chopra, H.R (2002). Professional characteristics of librarianship. In library and information studies in retrospect and prospect. Edited by J.LSardhana. Vol 1. Concept publishing company, Delhi. Lalngaizuali, (2010). Library and Information Science Education in North East Region: A Critical Study (Doctoral dissertation, Mizoram University, 2010). Retrieved from Morgan, S (1996). Developing academic library skills for the future. Library Review, 45(5), Ross, L. and Pongracz, S. (2008). The library is dead, long live the library! The practice of academic librarianship and the digital revolution. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(2), Saleh, A, G. (2012). Employers expectation of library education in Nigeria. Library Philosophy and Practice. Retrieved from Shabir Ahmad Ganaie, (2005). Library & information Science Profession and professional competencies. Trends in Information Management (TRIM), 1(1), Tanner, S. (2001). Librarians in the digital age: Planning digitization projects. Program, 35(4): Varalakshami, R.S.R 2006). Educating 21st century LIS professionals needs and expectations: A survey of Indian LIS professionals and alumni. J. Edu. Lib. Inf. Sci., 47(3),

9 Webber, Sheila (1999) Competencies for Information Professionals. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science, 26(1). About the Author Dr. S. Thanuskodi is presently working as Associate Professor and Head i/c in the Department of Library and Information Science, Alagappa University, Karaikudi, India He has around 18 years of professional experience in the field of Library and Information Science. He started his career as Librarian in the Central Law College, Salem. He holds B.Sc. M.A., B.Ed., M.L.I.S., M.Phil., Ph.D., and M.L. (International Law and Constitutional Law) Degrees. His areas of interest include Information and Communication Technology (ICT), User Studies, Bibliometrics, Webometrics, Research Methodology and Digital Libraries. He has written 18 chapters in the textbooks of Library and Information Science and published more than 72 research articles in the national and international journals. He has contributed around 38 research papers in national and international conferences/seminars. Apart from this, he has authored 1 book and edited 5 books to his credit. He has guided 18 M.Phil. students for theses research work and 8 Ph.D. research scholars doing research under his guidance. He is life member of Professional bodies such as IIPA, ILA, IASLIC, IATLIS, SIS, MALA and SALIS. He is an Editor-in-Chief of International Journal of Advanced Library and Information Science and Editorial Board Member for several national and international peer reviewed journals including Library Philosophy and Practice (LPP). He is also the Publication Officer of Alagappa University and Chief Editor of University News Letter Azhagu. 9

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