This report summarises the work undertaken by the SKIP (Skills for new Information Professionals) Project. The research was funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) under the Training and Awareness area of the Electronic Libraries (eLib) programme.

The rationale for the project was the changing teaching and learning environment, and the impact of information and communications technology on the roles and skills of staff working in library and information services in the higher education sector.

The research involved a programme of visits to eighteen institutions of higher education. Several institutions had either recently implemented change, involving re-structuring and/or building programmes, or were in the process of change. New buildings provide staff and students with a technologically rich environment, but they also act as a catalyst for change within the organisation. Other institutions had traditional library services with limited IT facilities where Computer Services were responsible for providing computer workstations located in laboratories scattered around the campus.

SKIP therefore found considerable variation in the type and level of IT skills required by staff, and their roles within the institution. The extent to which IT had been integrated into the learning environment, and the role of information services in providing an integrated information and IT environment to support this, were the key determinant of staff skills and roles.

SKIP found that many staff operate in a culture which inhibits change and innovation, and more importantly, which prohibits people from establishing good working relationships with colleagues in other services or departments. Separate ‘computing’ and ‘library’ cultures were found to persist even in integrated or converged services.

However, cultural change has been effected in several institutions as a result of the strong, focused leadership and the vision of the Head of Service. Here staff are presented with a coherent framework in which to work, where roles and responsibilities have been clearly defined, and time and thought has been given to staff development and training.

The SKIP evidence confirms that information professionals are adopting roles in teaching and training, learner support, and liaison with Faculties or Schools. IT skills are important and are valued, but they need to be constantly updated and can quickly become redundant due to the pace of technological change, but personal qualities, such as flexibility and the ability to communicate, were more highly valued by many senior managers. The type and level of IT skills required by staff depended on the requirements of the post, but in general all new staff are expected to have skills in using standard applications software, and be confident with IT. Staff providing front-line support to student workstations require additional skills. These include the ability to troubleshoot hardware problems, and to provide guidance and advice on software packages and electronic information sources.

Staff were often critical of training in terms of when, how, and by whom it was delivered. They often felt it failed to satisfy their immediate needs. Service managers therefore need to assess the training needs of their staff, and look for new methods of delivering training. This might include the provision of on-line courses, which are not constrained by attendance at a specified time and place. They also need to acknowledge that staff will need to update their skills at regular intervals, and need to be encouraged to adopt a lifelong learning approach to continual professional development, and to take responsibility for their individual learning.

Information professionals need to develop a portfolio of skills which will equip them for the electronic and networked environment. For example, IT skills would need to include Web authoring, and accessing and evaluating resources on the Internet. These skills need to be set within a contextual framework, so that staff are aware of the role of information and communications technology in higher education, and in relationship to society as a whole. A deeper understanding of the role and potential of technology in the delivery of mass higher education may help to dispel fears about IT and constant change, and help staff to identify areas where they have a role to play rather than focus on fears of redundancy or obsolescence.

Trends in higher education which will impact on the skills requirements for all staff include: growth in student centred learning, distance learning, and technology supported learning; increased use of the Internet; partnerships with other information providers; and a gradual erosion of distinct and separate roles for teaching, computing, research and information staff, as changing patterns of teaching and learning, and increased use of technology, begin to take effect.

The report concludes that professional qualifications will become less important when recruiting new staff or redeploying existing staff. Managers will look for staff with appropriate skills, knowledge, and expertise to do a specific job, but they will also be looking for staff with the right personal qualities and attitudes which are crucial to success in a service environment.

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The Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) was funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)
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