Tag Archives: Information technology

Researcher’s Corner: Education, Training and Recruitment of Special Collections Librarians

This post presents research by Kelli Hansen. As in Eamon Tewell’s research on jobs for Academic librarians, you’ll see that she finds that entry-level positions are scarce.  However, she also identifies characteristics and skills that candidates can cultivate to improve their chances, and I’m intrigued by her findings about the increasingly multi-disciplinary nature of these jobs.  I hope you enjoy this post, because I’m very proud to be able to share it with you.

This project started as a student paper in Michael Laird’s class on Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Texas at Austin in spring 2009.  Some of our readings raised questions about employers’ expectations of new special collections librarians.  I was preparing to start my job search at the time, and I wondered whether some of the answers could be found in position advertisements.  Here’s what I found out.


For the purposes of this study, I was only interested in job ads for entry-level special collections librarians.  It was difficult to define entry-level because very few job advertisements suitable for recent graduates openly represent themselves as such.  Unexpectedly, it was also difficult to define special collections and even librarian.

In the end, my criteria for including advertisements were as follows:

  1. One year of experience or less; or, length of experience not specified; and
  2. No supervisory duties over other professionals; and
  3. Position assigned to special collections or rare books (with at least 50% of job duties in one of those areas); and
  4. Title and requirements that reflect training in librarianship (as opposed to training in archives, conservation, museum studies, or digitization).

I did not keep track of a total population of job advertisements because I did not intend to estimate the percentage of jobs available to new graduates.  I only wanted a snapshot of the skills and experience employers were looking for in entry-level applicants, and the responsibilities and environments recent graduates could expect in their first positions.

I had a hard time locating advertisements, primarily because of the ephemeral nature of online postings. Eighty-eight position announcements, culled from various print and electronic sources from 2004 to 2009, fit my criteria and were included in the study.


After I collected all of the advertisements, I broke down statistics for features like salary, professional status, geographic location, and institution type.  I found that the largest number of positions was in the Northeast.  The median salary was $40,000, and academic or research environments made up the overwhelming majority.  Over 75 percent required a single master’s degree – either the MLS or a master’s degree in a subject area.  About 30 percent of the advertisements specified that another advanced degree, in addition to the library degree, was preferred.  Almost half of the advertisements required the candidate to have some experience (of an unspecified amount), and over seventy percent of the advertisements stated that experience of some sort was preferred.

In order to measure more subjective requirements, I also did some basic text analysis on the qualifications sections for common keywords, which I classified into broad categories based on the white paper Competencies for Special Collections Professionals.   In the qualifications, keywords varied widely.  The most common single keywords were history, cataloging, and technology.  The competencies with the highest frequencies were Teaching and Research and Public Service, followed closely by Cataloging and Processing and Information Technology.

When I analyzed the duties sections of the advertisements in the same way, there was much less variation.  The most frequent single keywords for duties were reference and research.  The category with the highest frequency was Teaching and Research, appearing in 73 percent of advertisements.  However, the following categories all appeared in 72 percent of the advertisements: Management and Administration, Promotion and Outreach, and Public Service.  Cataloging and Processing was represented in 70 percent of advertisements.


To summarize very briefly, I reached some of the following conclusions:

  1.  Entry-level positions in special collections are scarce, and they aren’t so entry-level.  Like many library jobs, there’s an overwhelming preference for candidates with some prior experience.  Nearly a third of hiring institutions also prefer candidates with additional graduate education.  These facts indicate a very competitive job market.
  2. The job advertisements reflect overlap among libraries, archives, and museums.  There has been much talk about library-archive-museum convergence over the past decade, and the job announcements confirm that idea.  It may be useful for job seekers to cultivate skills and experience in all three areas.
  3. Institutions seem to be looking for candidates who are both generalists and specialists.  Most of the skills mentioned in the advertisements – reference, research support, instruction, cataloging – apply to librarians of all stripes.  However, the position responsibilities and requirements suggest that aspiring special collections librarians need to combine comprehensive library skills with specialized knowledge of subject areas and materials.

The Future

The full version of this research was published in RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage in September 2011.  I only touched on the surface with this article, and there’s still a lot to find out about hiring and training librarians in this field.  Feel free to contact me with any comments or questions.

Kelli Bruce Hansen earned her MSIS from the University of Texas at Austin in December 2010, and her MA in art history from the University of Missouri in 2003. Currently, she’s a librarian in the department of Special Collections and Rare Books at the University of Missouri Libraries, where she focuses on instruction, outreach, and reference. She can be contacted at hansenkb@missouri.edu.


Filed under Archives, Northeastern US, Researcher's Corner

Further Questions: What are the most important “tech skills”?

This week I have another question from a reader.  I asked people who hire librarians:

Everyone says it’s important for candidates to have “tech skills”. Can you please explain what, exactly, tech skills are?  I realize it varies depending on position, but what would you say are the most important programs and proficiencies for candidates, and why?

“Tech skills.” OK – I expect anyone I hire at any level (clerk to professional) to know the vocabulary of computers – that is, words like icon, program, mouse, hard drive, disk, thumb drive, monitor, cable, etc. so they can explain to the repair person more than just “the little girl in the corner isn’t coming up.” (Oh yes. Exactly)

I expect anyone I hire at any level to know basic mouse use, keyboarding (don’t have to be fast but should not “hunt and peck”), how to set up and use an email program, how to use a word processing program to write, find and print documents; and familiarity enough with using computers to learn the online catalog and circulation system, change the printer paper, turn on and turn off the equipment properly, and know to look to see if it is plugged in when it won’t turn on.

Then, for the professional staff, all should be able to learn our ILS system and have the technical skills sufficient to teach it to others as well as the technical skills to do basic computer upkeep – download and install upgrades, keep the security system updated, and basic computer installation (taking it out of the box, plugging in all the parts, and making it work). Also the skills and background knowledge to easily learn and teach the operation of other equipment as necessary – microfilm machines, digital projectors, fax machines, etc., and explain to a patron how to download an audiobook or an eBook from our collection.

If we start talking a special technology person, it gets very intense up to taking apart and fixing, but basic “tech skills.” There you have it.

And if we want to talk tech skills in the generic – it doesn’t hurt knowing how to plunge a toilet or change a light bulb – just saying.

– Dusty Snipes Grès, Director, Ohoopee Regional Library System

Tech skills for my public library mean two things. 1) What we used to call BI back in the day. Especially for public service librarians, I don’t want to hire anyone who would not have the sufficient skills to understand and to train the users in basic computer skills (how to set up email, how to look for a job, how to use software, basic search strategies). 2) Any librarian or library staff member needs to be able to troubleshoot minor software issues and to understand and follow the instructions of our IT staff when troubleshooting and repairing over the telephone. Where I have worked in the past, getting timely service from IT may be impossible. I don’t want our public computers to sit idle any longer than necessary.

– Melanie Lightbody, Director of Libraries, Butte County

Laurie PhillipsAs you say, the exact skills and the level of expectation will vary depending on the position but there are some good general rules of thumb where technology and libraries are concerned. What we mean is that the person should have the ability to learn and adapt to changes in technology quickly and easily. For tech services, I need people who are willing and able to use software to track and analyze data. Using Excel or similar software to be able to show trends and analysis is crucial. And, as I mentioned, you need to be able to quickly adjust when software is upgraded or changed. You also need to be comfortable enough with technology and software that you can demonstrate it to faculty and students and troubleshoot their problems. At the very least, you should be proficient in using Office, but then there are so many other possibilities to understand and learn – system software, vendor websites, presentation software such as Camtasia, web authoring software, and on and on. Catalogers should be comfortable with how systems use data to interact with one another. Not that you need to know every kind of software, but you should be completely comfortable with learning and adopting new software and technology.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

For reference positions, I would think Web searching would be very important.  Familiarity with ILS and OPAC selection and use is important.  For cataloguers, familiarity with online resources (such as the Library of Congress online catalogue and authorities, MARC21, and OCLC) are a priority.  How to use MARCReport and other automated aids is helpful.  Ability to program would be a plus.

– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Emilie SmartTech skills vary by department I’m sure, but the absolute minimum required to work in the Reference dept at my library are:

Proficiency in MS Office applications (extra points for Access proficiency).  In other words, know how to format a document, change its font, insert an image; understand how a spreadsheet works, plug in a formula, sort by various schemes; create a birthday card or a newsletter; create a basic powerpoint presentation.  We assist patrons with these skills every day.

Be able to write basic html code from scratch (no Dreamweaver or other html editor).  This includes inserting URLs and images, creating tables, creating ordered and unordered lists.  You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve asked an interviewee if they know how to write basic html and they tell me, “I know how to use Dreamweaver…”   Yeah, but can you clean up the mess you made with it?  We maintain a lot of library website real estate and staff must have a basic knowledge of html in order to do this efficiently and effectively.  But even if you never have to actually write code, it helps to speak the same language as the webmaster.

Understand the basic workings of a computer.  Understand basic computer terminology.  Understand files — what they are and where they live on the computer.  Understand how to save, copy, drag…  We instruct patrons daily.

Understand basic internet functions:  upload, download, social media in all its varieties, forums, email, texting, RSS…  Know what an embed code is and where to put it.  We help patrons with this all the time and we use all of these things ourselves.  A basic understanding is essential.

Know how to edit an image, i.e., resize or crop at the very least.  See above.

Know what ebooks are and how to access/use them.  Familiarity with a variety of devices is great too.  We have Overdrive; our patrons have every device on the planet — and don’t know how to use them.  Staff MUST be able to help them out.

Know how to search a database whether you’ve used it or not and be able to recognize or describe features that you expect to see in a database (saved searches, permalinks, citation assistance, etc.).  We have loads of databases covering the entire Dewey range and we often have to instruct patrons on how to use databases that we don’t use regularly.  It helps if you know how databases work, how they are organized, and what features to look for.

Know how to get on a wireless connection.   Know how to set up a projector to use with a computer.  Know how to skype.  Know how to use a smartphone and/or tablet.  Things we do on a regular basis for outreach, programs, reference…

Basically, the more you know about computers, software and the internet, the better.

– Emilie Smart, Division Coordinator of Reference Services & Computer Services at East Baton Rouge Parish Library

Marge Loch-WoutersIf it’s a generalist position (adult reference; children’s reference), we like to see people who are proficient in the Microsoft office suite; understand and can use Adobe; aren’t afraid to drive a computer around; understand wikis; can upload files; read blogs or have a blog; are proficient and aware of social media as it relates to libraries and can open a printer, pull out the cartridge and replace it.  Bonus points if the candidates have used ipads/itouch/iphone/kindles and nooks. We have tech support in other positions in the library.  For the generalist, our expectation is that we don’t have to teach or encourage them to know what are essentially “basics” for us.

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

I agree with your reader in that which technology skills are needed can vary quite widely with the type of job and organisation – from online subscription database sources for a private sector business researcher, to library management systems at a public library, Moodle/Blackboard or other VLE systems in academia or MS Sharepoint or other content management or EDRM systems to manage records or an intranet.
Something that is becoming a necessary skill in common across lots of different roles and environments are web2.0 and social media skills.  Whether used for internal communication, organising workflow or sharing files, or for external advocacy and marketing, facility with these technologies is rapidly becoming a core ability.
Over time, there will probably be other systems and technologies becoming common place, so I would say the most vital skill of all is the confidence and curiosity to experiment and play with these as they arrive, so that librarians remain at the forefront of information handing and can best help their patrons.
– Nicola Franklin, Director, The Library Career Centre Ltd.

Terry Ann LawlerIf we are totally honest with ourselves, sometimes even WE don’t really know what we mean by ‘tech skills’.  For example, sometimes, it just means ‘can you move a mouse and navigate google?’

Usually, what I mean is that I want someone who has more than the average ‘checkmyfacebookandemailtentimesaday’ person.  I need someone who isn’t afraid to troubleshoot a printing problem, who can replace a CPU and who already knows how to search a database including advanced searching.  You probably don’t have to know where a sound card plugs in, but it would be nice.  It grueling to start a new employee and find out that they can’t navigate basic computer systems and are afraid to click anything for fear of breaking the computer.  It is very hard on my staff and myself to train a new employee in basic computer skills at the same time as we are training them in building safety, copy-write, library policies, ILL, etc. 

I also, usually, mean that I want someone who can work in MS Word and Excel and other popular software programs at more than a basic level so that they can help customers with their resumes or other issues.  And, I want someone who has some knowledge of Internet resources that are helpful.  Most college graduates today can do these things.  If you find that you can’t, you should probably take a class or two.  In fact, there may be some for free at your local library;)

I don’t normally put tech skills into my hiring matrix criteria unless I’m down to being the only person in the building who can replace a monitor.   However, when it is mentioned on a resume, that perks up my eyes.  If you have tech skills, or have taken classes or are certified, I highly recommend putting that in your resume in the skills section.  Even if you aren’t using the exact same computer systems and software, I can at least see that you have the ability to learn those things and you probably know enough to carry you through new systems.

– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading! And I encourage you to try here that after-reading breath freshener, the com-mint.

*Edited 8/10/2012 11:15 AM PST to add response from T. Lawler.


Filed under Further Questions