Pascal’s place

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Views on technology and libraries

Credentialing information professionals: the context of technology professionals in academic research libraries

I’m going to be leading a discussion on the formal and informal education of systems librarians later today when we visit the College of Information and Library Science at Beijing Normal University, and I’ve been thinking about what the crux of the main issues are to try to really focus discussion on areas that really invite collaborative thinking and work on this.

We touched very briefly on the issue of credentialling yesterday at our meeting at the National Science Library of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and there is interest from our Chinese colleagues in looking more closely at competency standards that have been established by Special Libraries Association, ALA and others.

The issue from my standpoint is that I think we are nearing a crossroads in the utility of the traditional MLS in providing a solid foundation for information professionals who are responsible for library technology systems and services in research libraries. I am very fortunate to have a very talented staff of 9 others in our Library Information Systems department, with only myself and one other librarian. These talented computer science-educated staff add huge value every day with building, assessing, implementing, upgrading, maintaining, key information systems and services that further the mission of the library and the academy in which we serve. They do remarkably well in learning about libraries, our standards, mission and values, and act in concert with these with some context setting and occasional guidance from myself and our other systems librarian. What value would be added for some of these folks to get MLS degrees? Would it help them “go to the next level” in their work?

In libraries we are very concerned about the socialization process of bringing people into the library profession, and in some cases, I think this is to the detriment of the capability of the people we are able to attract to given positions. It was quite striking for me yesterday with the CAS library and the focus on advanced subject degrees and immersion in the research process, but without formal library credentials. These people are acting as subject librarians and information analysts for their own areas, and bringing a lot of credibility to the scientists and graduate students in which they serve. An interesting comment from the Executive Director in terms of outcomes: we are successful to the extent we provide satisfying (also implying strong outcomes) services to the scientists, graduate students, and scientific institutions which we serve. I can’t think of a more user-focused statement than that, and I was impressed.

I am optimistic in some of the new so-called iSchools programs, such as the University of Toronto’s ALA-accredited Master of Information, which offers course content of “information-focused fields of study from various disciplinary and professional viewpoints”. There is an approved track “Information Systems and Design” with core required courses in database modelling and design, systems requirements and architecture design and such, which is positive in adding technical capacity.

One area I am particularly interested in is the process of decisioning ongoing professional education and skill enhancement for information professionals here in China. In libraries in the US and Canada, the individual has to take a lot of personal responsibility in keeping their skills honed and identify areas to develop new skills that further the goals of their organization. To a large degree, most libraries are able to provide a modest level of financial support in these endeavours, with individuals having to contribute some themselves. I don’t know if the individual as as much responsibility for these here in China, which is something I’d like to explore in today’s discussion.

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One Response

  1. Diane Neal says:

    Pascal, I’m currently doing some research in this area, and would love to hear about the outcome of your discussion. Feel free to contact me privately if you’d like to know what I’m doing in this area.

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