Further Questions: What technology proficiencies do you look for?

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

This week’s question is:

Are there basic technology proficiencies you look for? How do you expect candidates to communicate these to you? I realize this may be different for different positions, so please feel free to speak generally or to specify what roles you are speaking to.

Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: I would say that it totally depends on the position, but we usually want someone who is familiar with an ILS (of some kind) and understands what a discovery layer is. Otherwise, we run completely on Google Suite, so an understanding of Google Suite can be somewhat important, but not required. What’s more important, which we do ask, is how someone both learns and teaches a new technology. The approach to learning and the awareness is very important. It’s important that someone can quickly adapt to new technology and learn new skills, understanding that there won’t necessarily be a training course available, but that for so many things, Googling how to do something works really well! 

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College:

This is a pretty broad question. These days it’s hard to think of a position that does not require at the very least some ability to use ubiquitous tools like email or word processing.  One strategy we use when we advertise for positions is to ask candidates to “show evidence of” how they are proficient with various forms of technology or even with skills like collaborative work. What we look for are examples of projects or other work rather than a candidate responding by just telling us they are proficient. Proficiency is a hazy term. The examples people provide (we are heading into good cover letter territory) are really helpful ways for a committee to evaluate candidates and it is possible to follow-up with questions if a candidate moves forward in the search process.

We have some positions, including ILL and acquisitions work, that do not require any prior library experience and so we don’t have requirements for experience or proficiency with specific technologies. For other positions we may ask for experience using a type of system (modules of an ILS, e.g.)  but we generally require proficiency with the specific technology products we use. We would be more interested in the candidate’s experience in learning new skills and using new technology.
This is a somewhat vague answer to a broad question. It did give me the opportunity to think about the challenges of trying to define what “proficient” means and how it is demonstrated.

Kathryn Levenson, Librarian, Piedmont High School: I look for comfort with Microsoft Office, Google sheets, docs. We have 3 more specialized systems but we can teach Follett, Schoology, & our accounting software. If they can create nice graphic signage, that is plus. Also, they ahould be able to trouble shoot problems with printers, photocopies, AV, Chromebooks, before we have to call the Tech Desk.

Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: We have two questions this week, but for me, I have to take a longer look. The first question is: “Are there basic technology proficiencies you look for?” and the second is: “How do you expect candidates to communicate these to you?”

“Are there basic technology proficiencies you look for?”

When the internet first became popular for general support, professional networking, and training -“Who has and will share basic tech skills lists?” was a constant request on institutional lists, e-lists for associations, functional lists, and vendor lists as well as regional and type-of-library discussions. So besides “Are there basic technology proficiencies you look for?” the issue was much broader….so questions included:

  • What advanced technology competencies do we look for?
  • Is there any way other than hearing or reading on a resume or in HR questionnaires “I can do x and y” is there a way to test or assess any presence and levels of presence, and experience, etc.
  • Besides vendor training, are there any quality free or fee web resources where people CAN get basic training? advanced training? for self or staff training for their job or in preparation for another job or even a job interview?
  • What can we reasonably require of candidates? For any job? At the basic level? medium or advanced level? What certifications can we require or should we require?
  • How can we insert both preferred and required tech competencies as well as the expectation of keeping current into job descriptions, position advertisements? Interview questions?

Originally, there were MANY lists out there and were typically divided by type of library or at the very least were focused by functional areas such as circulation or office productivity. I should also say that organizations need to do three things:

1. Managers need to be honest and decide on their own levels of tech proficiencies so whatever tech competencies they do prefer or require they couple a competency with a proficiency level such as “awareness” of, “familiarity with” or “advanced.” And these level descriptors should be clear such as “working knowledge of” means different things to different people and instead managers could say “successful candidates should have at least x years of experience working at a circulation desk using an online circulation system,” etc.

2. Managers should question their need to require high proficiency levels or certifications with the salary they are providing. It might be possible to seek “awareness of ” with a statement saying “the expectation is that successful candidates will be willing to learn advanced software activities in x software package with the support of the organization.”

3. Managers must decide on basic tech skill sets for all employees and then parse out those required competencies for not only functional areas but employee levels. 

The second question is: “How do you expect candidates to communicate these to you?”

If the organization’s application does not ask the candidate for competency levels then candidates might add that information to either their resume or the organization’s forms. What I think this question is really asking though is “how can you tell if an applicant has what they say they have?”

  • First organizations should state the skill levels they want in advance. 
  • Second they should insert words such as “demonstrable” or “evidence of” signaling that the applicant may well be asked specific followup questions if not be expected to “test.” And while most organizations don’t “test,” questions can be inserted into interviews that are assist in providing information such as:
    • In using an excel spreadsheet program to x, which formula works best for sorting by x?
    • We are thinking of including training for SCANS tech requirements for our workforce information literacy (IL) training to match our state’s required student learning objectives. What tech areas are best to begin with when looking at the current IL standards and the federal SCANS tech competencies?
  • Thirdly organizations should consider asking for products or links to content such as online guides applicants have created, a summer reading manual that an applicant created or worked to create as part of a team.

A manager’s first step should always be – as we all know – to determine not only what tech they want – but what tech must be required given the 2022 organization as well as the tech that might well be needed in the next two years – to provide the tools and competencies to provide opportunities for the employee to be successful. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or via Vulcan mind meld. If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.


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