Balancing Needs and Resources in Developmental Offerings in an Academic Library

By Jill Crawley-Low
Science Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

The University Library at the University of Saskatchewan is fortunate among academic libraries in having had more than a decade of continual investment in training and development with active support from library leaders. About a decade ago, the Dean of the library recognized that sending people away to workshops did not result in expertise and skills returning to the organization in a sustainable and shareable way. Nor was leaving for external training possible for all employees. It became apparent that a new approach was needed. A variety of offerings delivered in-house and customized for library employees evolved into three different streams. Over time, the organizational culture shifted to one in which engaged employees expected to have access to continuing learning opportunities. Guided by the strategic plan, the library is preparing to review its existing training and development program with the goal of balancing the needs of employees with the resources that are available.

The University Library’s training and development offerings have evolved into three predominantly in-house streams. The first stream includes single-session offerings on a variety of topics. For example, the Learning and Development Committee annually develops a program of single sessions delivered over the course of a year.  Another example is Sustaining Leadership Learning designed to continue leadership learning with one-off sessions that complement the multi-part programs.

The second stream includes multi-part programs with a specific focus delivered over a period of weeks or months. An example is the Library Leadership Development Program, which consists of six components delivered over several months with a focus on leadership for self, team, and organization. The single-session and multi-part programs described above were developed in-house. An example of an externally developed multi-part program is Indigenous Voices, which seeks to share knowledge and experience in Aboriginal education with employees. Indigenous Voices is customized for employees of the University Library. These are just a few examples of the more established training and development opportunities available in the University Library.

The third stream of informal training and development opportunities has recently developed as an unexpected result of a change management initiative with a 3-5 year timeline. Teaching and learning; research support; and collections were identified as priority areas set to position the University Library to respond quickly to changes in the information landscape locally or in the profession. The third stream is evolving because each of the thematic plans includes action items to gather feedback from users and employees and, further, to share those learnings.

For example, the Research Support Plan, which includes activities to position the library as the definitive source of expertise and advocacy for open access on campus. The working group asked library employees for feedback on the usefulness of resources the group is creating on the concept of open access. Currently, the group is sharing knowledge about open access by presenting educational sessions, which all employees are encouraged to attend.

Library employees have become accustomed to easy access to sessions/programs on a variety of topics delivered in-house. The concept of improving oneself and contributing to the goals of the organization is firmly entrenched in the library’s culture. Attendance at training sessions is balanced with maintaining services objectives. Happily, quantitative evidence of the value of this sustained period of access to training and development opportunities appears in employee engagement scores rising from year to year. Anecdotal evidence includes reports from employees who enjoy building relationships at training sessions with colleagues from different work units. Employees who learn together are a tightly knit group, able to show resilience in the face of continual change in the academic sector. Newcomers to the organization take the development opportunities as a given, and expect to be included in the shared leadership/training experience.

With the plethora of training and development opportunities presented in a climate of reduced budgets, it is timely that the University Library is preparing to review its offerings in order to balance programming costs with the obvious developmental benefits. The shift in organizational culture has created ongoing demand for training and developmental opportunities for employees who are engaged in learning about themselves and their colleagues. By placing the review and coordination of programs in the strategic plan, library leaders are acknowledging the importance of training and development for employees and the organization.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Changing roles and changing needs for academic librarians

by Dr Danny Kingsley, Head of Scholarly Communication, University of Cambridge
Claire Sewell, Research Skills Coordinator, Office of Scholarly Communication, University of Cambridge

The Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) has joined the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Research Network, and as part of this commitment has prepared the following blog which is a literature review of papers published addressing the changing training needs for academic librarians. This work feeds into research currently being carried out by the OSC into the educational background of those working in scholarly communication. The piece concludes with a discussion of this research and potential next steps.

Changing roles

There is no doubt that libraries are experiencing another dramatic change as a result of developments in digital technologies. Twenty years ago in their paper addressing the education of library and information science professionals, Van House and Sutton note that “libraries are only one part of the information industry and for many segments of the society they are not the most important part”.

There is an argument that “as user habits take a digital turn, the library as place and public services in the form of reference, collection development and organisation of library resources for use, all have diminishing value to researchers”. Librarians need to adapt and move beyond these roles to one where they play a greater part in the research process.

To this end scholarly communication is becoming an increasingly established area in many academic libraries. New roles are being created and advertised in order to better support researchers as they face increasing pressure to share their work. Indeed a 2012 analysis into new activities and changing roles for health science librarians identified ‘Scholarly communications librarians’ as a new role for health sciences librarians based on job announcements whilst in their 2015 paper on scholarly communication coaching Todd, Brantley and Duffin argue that: “To successfully address the current needs of a forward-thinking faculty, the academic library needs to place scholarly communication competencies in the toolkit of every librarian who has a role interacting with subject faculty.”

Which skill sets are needed

Much of the literature is in agreement about the specific skill set librarians need to work in scholarly communication. “Reskilling for Research” identified nine areas of skill which would have increasing importance including knowledge about data management and curation. Familiarity with data is an area mentioned repeatedly and acknowledged as something librarians will be familiar with. Mary Anne Kennan describes the concept as “the librarian with more” – traditional library skills with added knowledge of working with and manipulating data.

Many studies reported that generic skills were just as much, if not more so, in demand than discipline specific skills. A thorough knowledge of advocacy and outreach techniques is needed to spread the scholarly communication message to both library staff and researchers. Raju highlighted presentation skills for similar reasons in his 2014 paper.

The report “University Publishing in a Digital Age” further identified a need for library staff to better understand the publishing process and this is something that we have argued at the Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) in the past.

There is also a need to be cautious when demanding new skills. Bresnahan and Johnson (article pay-walled) caution against trying to become the mythical “unicorn librarian” – an individual who possesses every skill an employer could ever wish for. This is not realistic and is ultimately doomed to fail.

In their 2013 paper Jaguszewski and Williams instead advocate a team approach with members drawn from different backgrounds and able to bring a range of different skills to their roles. This was also the argument put forward by Dr Sarah Pittaway at the recent UKSG Forum where her paper addressed the issue of current library qualifications and their narrow focus.

Training deficit

Existing library roles are being adapted to include explicit mention of areas such as Open Access whilst other roles are being created from scratch. This work provides a good fit for library staff but it can be challenging to develop the skills needed. As far back as 2008 it was noted that the curricula of most library schools only covered the basics of digital library management and little seems to have changed since with Van House and Sutton identifying barriers to “the ability of LIS educational programs to respond” to changing needs such as the need to produce well-rounded professionals.

Most people working in this area learn their skills on the job, often from more experienced colleagues. Kennan’s study notes that formal education could help to fill the knowledge gap whilst others look to more hands-on training as this helps to embed knowledge.

The question then becomes should the profession as a whole be doing more to prepare their new recruits for the career path of the 21st century academic librarian? This is something we have been asking ourselves in the OSC at Cambridge. Since the OSC was established at the start of 2015 it has made a concerted effort to educate staff at the one hundred plus libraries in Cambridge through both formal training programmes and targeted advocacy. However we are aware that there is still more to be done. We have begun by distributing a survey to investigate the educational background of those who work in scholarly communications. The survey was popular with over five hundred responses and many offers of follow up interviews which means that we have found an area of interest amongst the profession. We will be analysing the results of the survey in the New Year with a view to sharing them more widely and further participating in the scholarly communication process ourselves.


Wherever the skills gaps are there is no doubt that the training needs of academic librarians are changing. The OSC survey will provide insight into whether these needs are currently being met and give evidence for future developments but there is still work to be done. Hopefully this project will be the start of changes to the way academic library staff are trained which will benefit the future of the profession as a whole.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

This article was originally posted on Unlocking Research, the blog of the University of Cambridge Office of Scholarly Communication on November 29, 2016.