Part 2 Research Findings

0.1. Introduction

2.1.1 (1)A review of the literature, together with high levels of activity on a number of email discussion groups provided sufficient evidence to the SKIP Project Team to suggest that information technology (IT) has already made a considerable impact on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). In addition, several years have elapsed since the reports of Follett, Fender, Fielden, and MacFarlane (2),(3),(4),(5) were published, and it was anticipated that many of their recommendations and findings would have filtered down and become embedded in current practice.

2.1.2 The programme of visits to a sample group of institutions of higher education (see Appendix A) was also expected to reveal high levels of integration of IT into the teaching and learning process; that managers would show understanding of the complex issues facing their services; that LIS staff would be able to demonstrate an awareness of the impact of IT on changes in their roles in the support of teaching and learning; and that they would possess new skills to enhance their roles within the electronic and networked information environment.

2.2 The institutional context

2.2.1 The final target group of eighteen HEIs comprised ten post 1992 universities, five pre-1992 universities, and three institutions of higher education. The original intention had been to achieve a balanced sample of both the ‘old’ and ‘new’ sectors of higher education. This goal was not fully realised, and the final sample consisted of those HEIs who made a firm commitment to host visits and take part in the interview programme. The inclusion of three institutions of higher education provided an alternative perspective on a range of issues. The diversity of the participating institutions had to be taken into account, including the varying factors which impacted on the type of information services offered. Such factors included: institutional missions; size and geographical distribution of the institution; the type of accommodation available for library and computing services; the structure and organisation of information services; the style of management; and the rate of staff turnover.

2.2.2 Each institution has its own particular model of information services which is the product of local, historical, cultural and economic factors. Several heads of service spoke of being hampered by historical legacies, and those responsible for services with very short histories often saw this as a distinct advantage, especially in the process of implementing change. The rate of turnover of staff also has a direct bearing on an organisation’s ability to adapt and implement change. Strong visionary leadership is vital for success, but even the best managers can be hindered by a handful of staff, who either resist and impede change, or who are unable to adapt or learn new skills. For some institutions, geographical location and local demographics have resulted in negligible staff turnover, with the result that “dead” wood cannot be excised, and “new blood” introduced until people retire or move on.

2.2.3 Various models of integrated or converged service were found to exist (see Appendix B). Many of these are in line with Fielden’s models of operational and organisational convergence (see 1.6.5), with the majority conforming to the latter model. Some managers preferred the term ‘integrated’ to ‘converged’, and several stated that they were ‘fairly converged’ or were ‘integrated at organisational level’. Where operational convergence was found to exist it had usually come about as a result of new accommodation being built. In this way both the IT infrastructure and the physical environment for the co-location of library services and computing services staff were provided. Operational convergence, in practice, usually involved ensuring that information or help desks were staffed by those with an appropriate mix of IT and information skills.

2.2.4 The SKIP visits coincided with restructuring and other changes in many institutions. This often made it difficult for the staff concerned to articulate clearly their future skills requirements, or to forecast what their role might be in the new structures or different working environments, e.g. in a new building. Few services were as technologically advanced as had been anticipated from the initial information and assessment, and there was, therefore, less immediate emphasis on the need for staff to have skills in the use of electronic information resources, or network searching. CD-ROM, or services such as BIDS were often the only electronic resources currently available in a significant number of the libraries visited.

2.3 Levels of integration of IT

2.3.1 Few of the institutions visited were able to demonstrate any plans to integrate fully the use of IT into teaching and learning. Some were in the process of drafting Information Strategies, and others were engaged in institution-wide debates on teaching and learning. Whilst change and development was taking place, this had yet to impact significantly on the roles of LIS staff in general. Of more concern was the fact that only a small number of the service heads interviewed appeared to have an adequate understanding of key strategic issues, and be able to articulate clearly a vision of the significance and potential of IT in the future development of their library and information services, or of the likely impact changes in teaching and learning would have on such services. Several expressed considerable scepticism, for example, about the potential of resources available on the Internet, and saw no role for librarians in their organisation, and management. These were described as being ‘at the nursery end of information’ or as ‘just another medium’, perhaps revealing a failure to understand the way in which the Internet differs from other media, and the potential it has for exploitation and development in the context of global information. It is true that the Internet is not a library catalogue, and it is currently largely unstructured, but many projects are in progress in the area of electronic classification,(6) and managers need to be fully aware of the Internet and to acknowledge its further potential as a tool in teaching and learning. Staff need an environment which encourages understanding and use of the Internet both as a publishing medium, and as a source of a wide range of information.

2.3.2 In well over half the institutions visited, IT is still seen by both managers and staff as being concerned solely with library management systems; basic applications such as word-processing and spreadsheets; and CD-ROM databases. In general, the immediate concern is about the ‘micro’ environment of IT with little apparent understanding of the ‘macro’. The key concern appears to be more about the extent to which IT can be used to change the way libraries do things rather than seeing the potential of IT to change fundamentally the role of libraries in the provision of information and support for learning.

2.3.3 In many services IT is still seen as the prerogative of a small number of “specialist” staff, usually those with higher level IT skills, who have often been employed to work in the library systems area. New IT-related posts have been created to carry out developmental work - particularly relating to the use of the Web or the more networked information environment - to which staff with appropriate IT skills have either been recruited, or seconded from other posts.

2.3.4 In those services where general purpose computing facilities are made available in the library on open access, there is a recognition that support has to be provided, and staff need skills to undertake that role. Such skills are concerned with basic IT troubleshooting, and providing support to students in the use of software facilities and electronic information resources. However, the SKIP evidence suggests that a significant proportion of senior managers underestimate, or fail to address, the impact the introduction of such IT facilities has on staff. The respective roles of library and computing staff have not been clearly defined, and training needs have not been addressed. This was especially noticeable in the case of information or help desk staff. Support services will not improve when staff lack confidence and have had little formal training. At present many front-line staff feel inadequately prepared for their role and isolated, especially when faced with frustrated and angry users, who expect duty staff to be able to help them both with the computer equipment, the software and the range of information resources on offer.

2.3.5 In a small number of institutions, however, there was an expectation that all staff, whatever their role, would have a broad contextual understanding of IT, and would possess a basic knowledge of computing systems and the ability to use the core software applications available in the institution. In such cases, these represented the minimum requirement for IT skills which staff working at all levels in the library were required to have. The anticipation was that all staff “would be comfortable with IT”.

2.4 Cultural issues

2.4.1 Each of the participating institutions had a distinctive culture which had evolved over a period of time, and which was often perceived to be immutable, or at best resistant to change. Within such organisational cultures various subcultures persist, such as those in computing and library services or within academic departments. However, cultural barriers had been overcome to a large extent in a small number of library and information services particularly when heads of service had clearly articulated their own distinctive vision of the role of the service, and had secured both a high profile for information services and an influential role within the institution.

2.4.2 At the individual level, the interviews revealed that many staff felt that there was some validity in popular stereotypes, and perceived that computing and library services formed two distinct cultures. These views were found to be common to staff from both professional groups, and were based on personal experience and observation of individuals encountered in the workplace. Although there is a tendency to dismiss these views as largely anecdotal, many staff firmly believed that the two professional groups attracted different types of people, and that, although there were individuals who did not conform to the stereotype, there were many who did. Library staff in several institutions saw their computing colleagues as having different priorities to them, in relation to user needs, and as being concerned primarily with IT systems, rather than the service provided to users. One interviewee stated that computer services staff were ‘unhappy with the teaching and learning dimension’ as they felt their concern was with the provision of the infrastructure. A slightly different viewpoint originated from someone with a technical background, who had considerable experience in both the commercial sector and within higher education. He suggested that computer services staff tended to withhold information intentionally; they were not prepared to share their knowledge with colleagues outside of computer services. He felt that this was counter-productive to the service role and could potentially undermine its effectiveness. Some computing staff described library staff as clinging to outmoded notions of professionalism, and as being over zealous when helping students, who needed to be encouraged to become more independent as learners. The problem of anecdotal stereotyping of this kind is at best unfortunate, but at worst demonstrates the lack of respect and understanding librarians have for their computing colleagues, and vice versa.

2.5 The Changing Roles of Paraprofessional Staff and Library Assistants

2.5.1 The term ‘paraprofessional’ in the context of this report, refers to staff in non professional posts who attract a higher level of responsibility than library assistants. Paraprofessionals and library assistants were interviewed in groups of two to six, and the interviews took the form of focus groups, with the interviewer acting as facilitator. This worked well as it enabled staff to talk freely, and to direct the discussion towards topics of interest to them. SKIP found more diversity amongst this group of staff than any other. Such diversity was the subject of an article by Sykes,(7) who warns against making generalisations about this group of workers, which comprises:


Non Graduates









eager for change

prefer status quo

2.5.2 In several institutions visited by SKIP ‘library assistant’ posts were held by staff with a library qualification, who undertook a range of junior professional and paraprofessional duties. The reason for their appointment at this level was often the result of a lack of opportunities at the professional level. However, staff in these posts were prepared to accept this situation for a variety of reasons, both personal and professional. In other institutions library assistants included graduates, and staff with a range of qualifications, such as City and Guilds, and National Vocational Qualifications. There were many part time library assistant posts, and an equal balance between long service staff and those more recently employed.

2.5.3 The SKIP findings are in line with Fielden’s (8) in relation to increased responsibilities for this group of staff. Tasks and duties, such as cataloguing and interlibrary loans, which were once the prerogative of the professional member of staff, are increasingly undertaken by library assistants.

2.5.4 Paraprofessional staff and library assistants were found to have a diversity of tasks and responsibilities. Several commented on how levels of responsibility varied at given times. For example, at one time they may be carrying out routine housekeeping duties - such as shelving books - whilst on other occasions they might be the only member of staff on duty on a floor, and have total management responsibility. Some of the more tedious jobs, such as spine labelling, may have been contracted out to booksellers, leaving staff to take on new responsibilities, resulting in greater job satisfaction. At one institution a new type of ‘Assistant’ post had been created which involved carrying out subject searches and reference enquiries, and providing support to students in the use of standard applications software. Others reported taking on ‘professional’ tasks such as copyright clearance and student induction. At another institution where operational service convergence was taking place, Library Assistant posts were being redesignated as Information Assistants and included duties supporting IT, library, and media services. The majority of staff had regular contact with students at issue desks and information/help desks, and it is in this role that staff identified a need for training to provide them with the kind of skills and knowledge required when helping users to access electronic information resources, and when using software packages to process course assignments.

2.5.5 SKIP found widespread discontent amongst para-professionals. Many felt undervalued, and referred to themselves as being ‘at the bottom of the heap’. They saw themselves as being left to ‘hold the fort’ - that is to maintain the service to users - a belief which is exacerbated by the increasing absence from the library of professional staff, as a result of the increasing adoption of an academic liaison role. It is also worth remembering, however, that the pace of change has been extremely fast for some HEIs. In one institution visited progress had been made from a ‘Browne issue’ system in 1994 to a technologically advanced learning centre model in 1996. In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that some staff feel overwhelmed by IT, and in many cases struggle to master even the basics.

2.5.6 This group of staff identified a range of factors which contribute to their general dissatisfaction, these include:

2.5.7 On the whole this group of staff were found to be extremely receptive to new ideas. They were flexible, and keen to learn about developments in IT. However, there was little evidence of ‘empowerment’ or of properly targeted training. Part-time staff were particularly ill-served in many institutions, and tended to be overlooked when training sessions or work reviews were scheduled. They thus felt excluded from the mainstream and disadvantaged because they were often poorly informed.

2.6 Skills issues for paraprofessionals and library assistants

2.6.1 IT skills were the subject of much debate and some confusion amongst the staff interviewed. Opinions differed as to how much hardware knowledge and technical know-how is required by LIS staff working in an environment with a high concentration of computing provision. The analogy with driving a car and acquiring IT skills was made by several people: ‘IT is like driving a car - you need to know how it works to perform the basic tasks, but you do not need to know how to take the back off’. This analogy was also taken up by professional staff, and by delegates attending the Project Workshop, and is the one used by the British Computer Society, which recently signed an agreement for the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), providing a Europe-wide qualification of competence in the use of Personal Computers. (9)

2.6.2 Staff in this group frequently expressed unease about the emergence of current CD-ROM technology. Institutions subscribed to a large number of CD-ROMs - all with different interfaces and search engines. New products were frequently being added to collections without the knowledge of front-line staff, who were then faced with requests for help from users. Staff felt they should be offered familiarisation or training sessions on CD-ROMs, as and when they were added to collections. Developments in interface design may render this problem a temporary one.

2.7 Training issues for Paraprofessionals and Library Assistants

2.7.1 The majority of staff in this group emphasised their need for practical ‘hands on’ experience. They particularly wanted assistance from ‘someone who knows the package well,’ and examples, based on typical enquiries, to be used in training, to enable them to relate what they had learnt to actual practice.. Staff wanted time to be set aside and for there to be better access to machines on which to practice and consolidate what they had learnt. Continuous practice was perceived to be synonymous with the acquisition of skills, and gaining in expertise A small number of staff reported that requests for training were regarded as personal failure as staff were expected to be able to cope without training.

2.7.2 Some staff were sceptical about the viability of training as a method of acquiring IT skills. Additionally, the demands of library rotas and the primacy of front line services, often make training difficult to fit into the work schedule. In this context, it is worth noting a recently reported example from the library service at the University of Greenwich, (10) where they found that ‘teaching staff step by step procedures did not lead to the acquisition of novel problem solving skills’. They cite several recent articles promoting ‘on the job’ training and ‘hands on experience’, which have proved more effective methods of acquiring IT skills than conventional training sessions or attendance at courses. The University of Greenwich’s response to these reports was to develop a troubleshooting manual containing common questions listed over a period of time, and phrased ‘in the way in which they (questions) were usually asked’. Staff were then selected to become ‘advanced users’, and they were tasked with solving the problems and noting their answers. Subsequent IT enquiries were directed at these advanced users, who became known as the ‘IT User Support Group’, but the ultimate aim was for members of the group to increase their knowledge, and to share it with colleagues.

IT/information skills (current and future requirements)


searching CD-ROM databases

content of CD-ROM databases

basic troubleshooting on hardware & identifying common faults - referring problems where necessary

basic knowledge of networks, hardware and software*

ability to assist users with generic software (demonstrating and guiding them towards use of ‘help’ pages)*

knowledge of range of available resources

Personal qualities/behaviour


confident with people and with computers

good interpersonal skills

good communication skills

managing student expectations

encouraging/facilitating students to be independent learners

* applies only where available in library/learning centre

Table 1 lists the IT skills, knowledge and personal qualities which library assistants and paraprofessionals identified as requirements for their current roles and responsibilities

2.8 The Changing Roles of Professional staff

2.8.1 There has been considerable debate on the topic of the changing roles of library professionals in the context of the end-user revolution and the widespread availability of electronic information resources. SKIP found evidence of LIS staff increasingly adopting a liaison, or para-academic role, and even a teaching and training role. There were also examples of individual posts being created in IT development and the delivery of IT training.

2.8.2 The Liaison Role: Fielden predicted that the subject or information librarian was one of three roles which were most likely to change in the future. Visits to participating institutions provided ample evidence that the subject specialist role persists, although increasingly it tends to be combined with other functions or responsibilities, especially in smaller institutions.

2.8.3 The liaison role includes the following responsibilities:

The liaison role has become firmly established due to the need for closer co-operation between information professionals and teaching staff in the provision of services in the context of new learning and teaching strategies. Ideally, the role should be a proactive one, which requires a high level of interpersonal and communication skills. Staff also need to be fully conversant with the ‘product’ i.e. the range of services available through information services. The appointment of a ‘named person’, who can be easily contacted by academic staff, was widely reported as being popular and as working well.

2.8.4 The skills required to undertake the liaison role are:

2.8.5 The Teaching and Training role: LIS staff are becoming more involved in teaching information skills and study skills, as well as providing basic induction sessions. In some institutions, teaching staff were not always supportive of information professionals taking on this type of new role. Although academic staff struggle with heavy workloads, they perceive teaching, even when it was in areas outside of their own discipline, primarily as their role, and LIS staff were often seen to lack the credibility to undertake the teaching role. The EduLib programme is a three year development project which aims to ameliorate this situation. EduLib is providing LIS staff with teaching skills, educational expertise, and staff development skills, which will enable them better to fulfil a teaching role within the context of the digital library. (11)

2.8.6 The teaching role increasingly involves LIS staff working in teams with academic, media and computer services staff and in some cases has led to the development of open learning materials, such as workbooks or Web-based materials. Information skills are designed for general use, or focused on the needs of specific courses or disciplines. In the latter case, they often incorporate exercises and examples based on available resources in the subject area, and geared to the teaching methods used. The ultimate goal for many information professionals is for the module to be assessed and validated as part of a formal course.

2.8.7 Practical problems which staff encountered when undertaking the teaching function revolved around the need to persuade academic staff to allocate slots in the teaching timetable for information and study skills modules, and then encouraging students to opt for those modules. Many students need to be convinced of the utility of information and study skills, before they will opt for them. Others will not choose them simply because they are not compulsory or form part of their required assessment. A major adjustment for LIS staff has been in the timing of sessions, and in coping with high levels of demand. Modularisation and semesterisation had led to a demand for inputs which coincide with students assignments. User education has become a more demand led process tailored to the specific needs of students, rather than a one off tour of the library at the beginning of the new academic year.

2.8.8 In order to fulfil the teaching role information professionals need to be able to:

2.9 New roles in IT

2.9.1 SKIP found examples of posts which had been specially created in the area of IT development, which were filled by new or existing staff with appropriate IT skills and knowledge. There were also posts which combined an IT function with other responsibilities. Such appointments had been made in some institutions with titles such as: CWIS (Campus Wide Information Services) Development Officer; Web Master; and Project Development Officer.

2.9.2 However, many staff, especially subject specialists, are expected to have additional IT skills including Web authoring. Subject specialists may have to select and mount a range of information resources on campus wide information systems, which in some cases simply means transferring printed guides to the Web. In some institutions a member of library staff with appropriate technical skills has been given the job of setting up and maintaining the Web site, whilst in others it is the responsibility of computer services, with subject specialist staff providing input by identifying suitable resources for inclusion on the site.

2.9.3 The Netskills Programme is providing a range of courses at various locations on aspects of Internet use and authoring on the World Wide Web. Several of the institutions visited were aware of, or had used, the Netskills WWW interactive tutorial resources - ‘TONIC’ - and many staff were aware that they needed skills in HTML and Web page design. However, this is an area characterised by rapid innovation, as software houses compete to produce the most user friendly authoring tool. The possibility that newly acquired skills can quickly become redundant therefore has to be confronted.

2.10 Skills issues for professional staff

2.10.1 The interviews revealed a high level of awareness of the need for IT skills amongst LIS staff, but there was considerable variation in perceptions of what these IT skills might be, and the level of expertise required:

I feel generally that I don’t understand (IT) sufficiently, and I don’t have a PC at home, and I do question my own skills. Maybe I’m being overly critical of myself, but I’ve managed to knock out a Word document, but its a very slow process trying to familiarise myself with the whole thing.

2.10.2 Staff who possessed a home computer generally tended to be more expert and confident with IT. They were also more likely to be aware of its potential, and often had a good understanding of both PC hardware, and a range of software applications. Many occupied posts which utilised their expertise, or which had been created to make use of their IT skills.

2.10.3 As a generalisation, new entrants to the profession (those who qualified within the past five years), were more confident with IT than their longer serving colleagues. This was not related to age, as mature people embarking on second or third careers, were also confident with IT, and some had substantial experience of IT from previous employment. The issue of confidence in the use of IT was often raised in relation to both staff and students, and this may be what is involved, rather than simply the demonstrable acquisition of specific IT skills.

2.10.4 SKIP asked those who had graduated from courses in information and library studies within the past three years if the course they had attended had provided them with appropriate IT skills - skills which they could immediately put to use in their current posts. Many listed training in software applications, and on-line searching e.g. using Dialog, as the main IT component of their course. The software training had been useful but searching on Dialog was regarded as less useful, other than as a grounding in the development of search strategies. Given the relatively recent development of the Internet, few recently trained graduates had had instruction in its use, a fact which in itself demonstrates the danger of being too specific about IT skills training.

2.10.5 Many of the routine administrative tasks associated with printed resources are now being taken on by paraprofessional staff, leaving qualified staff to develop the new roles outlined above. Professional staff need a combination of knowledge, skills, aptitudes, and personal qualities in order to fulfil their multi-faceted roles. Increasingly, they need to be professional generalists rather than specialists. However, many staff remain unsure as to what constitutes the right ‘skills mix’ to fulfil successfully these new roles, and there is general uncertainty as to how IT skills map onto existing knowledge and skills, or the extent to which traditional skills need to be retained.

2.10.6 Many library skills were developed at a time when libraries were largely repositories of print-based resources, and the main function of staff was to acquire and process locally held resources, and make them available to users, rather than to provide access to remote resources via a complex IT infrastructure. Staff were asked if they felt traditional library skills were still relevant to their new or emerging roles, and whether they mapped onto the electronic, access-based, information environment. The response from many was that they felt that traditional skills were still useful, but they understood that there was a need to adapt them to the needs of the electronic environment. The following represents a selection of the responses:

Knowledge of databases, and how they are constructed is still useful, but people are illogical and information is organised logically. People will expect to type in what they want, and get enough information out - precision recall is no longer required. It is not necessary to find all that exists using very advanced searching skills.

You’ve got to have some idea, not only of how to find information, but how to manipulate it. People coming into it (library work) think its a very cosy job, but it is more liaison - especially at team leader level. Its about management and communication - I rarely touch a book nowadays.

It is difficult, but yes... information gathering skills are relevant and there is still a role for traditional skills. How information is structured is an important skill. Someone coming in now would have some IT expertise anyway, but the elements of information gathering, and how information is arranged - dealing with enquiries - remains the same. The process is the same. An “enabling” attitude is required.

The concept of traditional library skills will remain; the technology might change the practice, but the concepts underpinning the practice will remain the same. A high level of interpersonal skills is now required.

2.11 The Requirements of Managers

2.11.1 SKIP has also been concerned to discover how senior staff and management perceived the IT skill requirements of staff. The literature reveals a growing demand amongst service managers for staff to have comprehensive IT skills. Priestley calls for a national programme for IT training and suggests staff should possess ‘sound generic IT skills and a knowledge of networks’. (12) Collier argues that staff in converged services need higher, rather than different skills.(13) Above all these skills need to be more advanced than those of academics. He notes that librarians are moving into database development, courseware, open learning and academic staff development. Sykes states that all staff need ‘a greater familiarity than they currently possess with microcomputer software and the workings of at least their local institutional networks’ as electronic information resources become more widely available. (14) The first of the two IMPEL projects, based at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, found that there was an urgent need for training in basic computer literacy and IT skills amongst library staff, and the staff they spoke to expressed a desire to receive training alongside their counterparts in computer services. (15) IMPEL also noted that those who do possess IT skills form an ‘electronic elite’.

2.11.2 Senior managers were asked if staff were expected to have specific IT skills, and whether these had been defined. Whilst some managers found it difficult to articulate clearly their requirements, the frequent response was that the requirement for IT skills depended on the needs of the post, though IT skills were often thought to be less important than interpersonal skills since they could be learnt either on the job or through training. IT skills were sometimes equated with understanding the hardware, or knowing ‘what goes on under the bonnet’ - to return to the car analogy:

It depends what you mean by IT skills. I know very few people in information services who need to know how a computer works, but they need to know the limitations of what they are using.

2.11.3 Three heads of service went further and stated that LIS staff should have ‘generic’ IT skills, and two of them suggested that this could be tested by asking staff to load a ‘shrink-wrapped package’ on a PC, and then to report on what the package could do within a couple of days. Failure to complete this task successfully indicated that the person did not have the required generic IT skills. One interviewee added that anyone with a home computer should be able to do this task - thus corroborating the observation that staff with home computers tend to be more comfortable with IT. He also differentiated between the skills that were expected of existing staff and new staff, and the skills which could easily be acquired through training and higher level skills. New staff were expected to have basic computer skills, which would equip them to use e-mail and operate internal systems.

2.11.4 Senior managers were often more concerned that staff possess generalist transferable or interpersonal skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking ability, and customer service skills. They acknowledged that traditional library skills may still be required for certain posts, for example in cataloguing, or what is increasingly being termed ‘database administration’, but they were more concerned that staff had the right personal qualities, and if they did not possess IT skills then they needed to be willing to learn them. The following comment was made by one of the senior managers interviewed:

I think IT skills are skills that you learn. Information handling is based on a corpus of knowledge... and therefore needs a qualification. I think people should learn about the information society, information retrieval etc., as you would learn at library school. IT is just a skill - you don’t need a corpus of knowledge to know how to word process and know what Powerpoint is. I think any graduate should have these skills anyway.

2.11.5 Speaking of Library School graduates, one senior manager commented:

They tend to have ‘doing’ not ‘thinking’ skills. IT skills can be characterised by ‘I know how to word process or I can do on-line searches...the thought processes for tackling a problem are not in place...users tend to come up to you all the time and say: ‘I want something on pink Mongolian elephants and I want it today because I’ve got a project’. Some people cannot process that, and we’ve still got a long way to go. I don’t think IT is especially special, I think it is about how you get people who know how to solve a problem. The rest is training. So maybe some libraries have got too specialised; they train people to do things rather than think about things. I might be wrong here. I think the curriculum has become so overloaded by new things coming in that what they’ve done is to tack on another thing you spend so much time doing the thing that you don’t actually recognise the framework in which you’re doing it. They can’t communicate; they can’t write reports, for example, they are too busy thinking about the detail.

2.11.6 Another felt that information skills were ‘more necessary than ever in a networked environment’, but added that ‘core or central skills need to be extended and adapted’. Library qualifications were seen as ‘desirable’ rather than a requirement by one respondent, as there were: ‘plenty of people without library qualifications who could do the job well’. Another head of service stated that library qualifications were never specified when advertising posts. He could think of only one post (which involved cataloguing and classification), where a library qualification might prove useful. He conceded that a few librarians were needed in ‘the mix’, and that information skills were still useful, but felt that library school curricula had ‘thinned down’ so much that it was no longer appropriate. He acknowledged that it was hard to advise people on what qualification might currently be useful.

2.11.7 This argument was taken even further by another interviewee:

We’ve just advertised the --- post, and I’ve not specified a library qualification. I’ve specified a degree/appropriate professional qualification. I’ve specified knowledge of computerised systems but not library systems, and if somebody out there can convince me that they can do the job, and they don’t have a library qualification at all, I’ll be quite happy to take them. I think library qualifications are overrated.

2.11.8 The comments so far have originated from managers with a library background, so it is worth balancing these against the viewpoint of a head of service with a non-library background:

....I don’t know what they teach at library schools. What I do think is that we’ve moved from the technology phase to the information phase, so I think information skills are much more important than they ever were before. However, whether they are traditional skills, I doubt. I think they are much more about making sense of a great mass of information, rather than organising information, which I suspect the traditional skills are about.

2.12 The Hybrid Post

2.12.1 The concept of the ‘hybrid’ or multiskilled member of staff has been mooted as a possible solution to skills shortages in LIS, and this option has been developed in one or two institutions where people with both information and technical skills - library and computing skills - have been employed in an advisory service capacity.

2.12.2. The literature suggests that such people are still uncommon at the professional level. Birchall et al looked at the personal characteristics of the traditional librarian, and the roles that now need to be filled in the modern technological environment, but they concluded: is a rare person who is at one and the same time at home with technology and able to communicate well with many different types of people...there seems to be a big divide between the kinds of people who gravitate towards an expertise in the technical aspects of the profession, and those who prefer to provide a service directly to users. (16)

2.12.3 In 1992 Sutherland conducted a survey into the management of integrated services in which she examines the creation of hybrid posts as a way forward for the effective delivery of integrated services. (17) In her concluding remarks she states:

the solution to bringing together disparate professional cultures is not through the artificial groupings of working parties but through co-operation in real projects which utilise the skills of both parties to realise a common objective. A change in professional roles to the extent of creating hybrid posts on a wide scale is not advocated. On the whole institutions seem at present to favour a preservation of professional career structures and responsibilities, with additional training to enable an enhanced awareness of the skills of colleagues.

2.12.4 There are other references in the literature to the ‘hybrid’ or multiskilled individual. SKIP set out to discover whether the use of professional hybrids is widespread, and to determine how staff perceive the hybrid in terms of skills and background, and whether they feel there is a case for all staff to attain a degree of multiskilling.

2.12.5 Staff held differing views on multiskilling and hybrid posts. There were those who took a traditional stance who were usually long serving staff working in holdings-based libraries, where there was limited access to electronic information resources. They advocated the retention of specialist skills, and the maintenance of the status quo, and expressed concern that quality and standards were being compromised, and traditional library skills “being watered down” as a result of the introduction of IT based systems. There was some feeling that the profession was in danger of loosing its identity as a result of diversification.

2.12.6 Many staff felt that it was impossible for one person to be expert in both information resources and information technology. They tended to refer to perceived differences in the personalities, culture, and attitudes of library staff and computing services staff, as well as seeing the work as requiring mutually exclusive skills and knowledge. Library staff were users of technology, and as users they did not need to understand computer systems. Computers were ‘a tool’ to help in the retrieval and processing of information, and as users of this ‘tool’ they had no need for high level technical expertise. There was a tendency to see the work of computer support staff in terms of: ‘spanner wielding’; ‘understanding the nuts and bolts’, and knowing how to ‘take the back off’ a computer to get to the inner workings of the machine. This view is very much in line with the ‘content’ and ‘conduit’ models of information professionals described in the literature(18), in which the ‘content’ professional has expertise in the organisation of information, and the ‘conduit’ professional specialises in the technology and systems.

2.12.7 The following comments are representative of the doubts raised by staff in respect of multiskilling:

...different people have different skills - it is not possible to get all the skills required in one person. I’m not interested in the hardware side and don’t need to know how things work.

I can’t install or set up a networked CD-ROM server - I can’t go into the operating system and write a program to put it right if it goes wrong. I personally don’t think I should be a technician. I don’t think I should have to fix things - I’m a manager.

...there is concern that the staff in the IT team will not go out and help students, unless the problem is with the hardware. They won’t be able or want to help with downloading and accessing information - it’s a library and information services problem. We can’t all be multiskilled, and it is impossible to expect everyone to be able to help with everything. We are developing knowledge, such as subject knowledge, and new ways of delivering things via electronic information resources rather than the book. We have to learn quickly - the equipment all has implications, such as memory problems, copyright issues and such. It is a new language, whilst no-one needs a guide to read a book.

2.12.8 New staff, most of whom had been immersed in IT from the outset, were more likely to identify with the need for multiskilling, and to be less sensitive about the erosion of professional and cultural barriers. Some talked in terms of ‘degrees of expertise’, and argued that LIS professionals do not need a high level of expertise to be able to support users. They felt that all that is required is enough knowledge to enable them to answer user enquiries: a converged service there are the two sides - the technical side and the content - and any source of information now that’s produced in an electronic form - if students are accessing it they are going to have queries - either on the technical or the content side, and I think we’ve got to be prepared to answer these.

there are one or two hybrid members of staff who are unusual, gifted people - who are able to teach and have technical expertise. They combine two cultures. There is a lack of understanding on both sides of what people do, especially in converged services, and a conscious effort needs to be made on both sides to understand and acknowledge the skills of the other. For library staff it is part of their job to respond to customer’s enquiries - the students are a priority. With computer staff it’s often a case of ‘I’m busy - I’ll come over when I’ve got time’ - they’re not student oriented or customer oriented.

2.12.9 However, despite the general scepticism voiced by many staff, there are some changes in professional education which may in future provide staff with hybrid qualifications and expertise. A recent development is the postgraduate course in Electronic Information Management at Robert Gordons University, which was introduced in 1997. This course aims to provide information specialists with a greater familiarity with computer hardware and communications technology in response to rising demand for these skills. There are examples of other innovative courses, for example, the degree level course in Information and Computing at Loughborough University, and the postgraduate course in Learning Resource Management at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle. The Newcastle course aims to develop skills in the use of IT for teaching and learning. A full account of the research findings on Departments of Information Studies curricula can be found in Appendix C.

2.13 Other Training Issues

2.13.1 The literature provides a number of examples of the identification of the training needs of specific groups. Sykes highlights certain factors which need to be considered in relation to the training and development of library assistants. (19) These are: the pressure towards ‘upskilling’; the need to cope with constant change; and the trend towards team-based working. Noon devotes a whole chapter to the training of senior managers. (20) He talks about the need for managers to cultivate self-awareness, and to recognise that they too have development needs. However, he argues that courses and qualifications are only a small part of the development process for managers. Corrall also tackles management development, and cites Fielden when referring to the need for ‘high level management skills’ to cope with the technically and politically complex world of the modern academic library. (21)

2.13.2 Managers who were interviewed for the SKIP project, were, on the whole, in favour of training for their staff, though they rarely referred to their own training needs. They felt that in house training was able to meet most of the needs of LIS staff, though funds were made available for staff to attend external courses where necessary. In house training usually consisted of short courses in basic software applications, such as word-processing, electronic presentation and spreadsheets. More recently courses on the use of the Internet and Web authoring/HTML have been added. These are either run in house or as an alternative staff can attend the workshops run by projects such as Netskills. Most in house courses are delivered through institutional staff development and training programmes, with computer services staff often undertaking the training. However, there were often long waiting lists for popular courses, and staff felt that this ran contrary to need.

2.13.3 In the institutions visited, there were no examples of internal courses on the use of CD-ROM databases; staff were apparently expected to teach themselves. Subject specialist staff reported attending training sessions in the use of subject gateways set up under the auspices of the eLib programme. Such gateways included the Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG), and the Edinburgh Engineering Virtual Library (EEVL). One interviewee commented that these sessions ‘provided a good background to searching the Internet and the use of search engines.’ Staff also reported attending training sessions on the Bath Information & Data Services (BIDS), although a Web based interface to BIDS has now been developed which simplifies searching for all users.

2.13.4 Two service heads held stronger than average views on training. One felt ambivalent about the effectiveness of training. He felt staff perceived training to be a panacea for all ills, and that there was too much training on offer. At the other extreme, training was seen as the key to success. The interviewee cited the example of the retail trade, where check-out staff carry out monotonous tasks for long periods whilst maintaining a high level of customer interaction. Her comments are worth repeating in full:

I spend a lot of time in supermarkets and watch the quality of their training. Girls on the checkouts, who have probably been there several hours are doing the most boring jobs, but they manage to stay lively and interact with you, and are using very high level skills of customer interaction, and good communication - verbal and non verbal communication, and they are not paid much. It’s the training which is the key to it all - its investment in training....the training makes them feel the importance of the customer relationship. It’s the same in libraries - every interaction should be special to that person in front of you, however pressurised you are...

2.13.5 The focus here is once again on the need for staff at all levels to have good interpersonal skills and to be customer oriented. The difficulty lies in being able to distinguish between skills and behaviourisms which can be inculcated through training, and those which are directly attributable to the personality and attitude of the individual. Training can make staff more aware of the importance of their interactions with others, but it is unlikely to change someone who is unhappy in their role or has a negative attitude to customer relations.

2.14 Postscript on the Dearing Report

2.14.1 The recommendations in the Dearing Report, (22) if adopted, are likely to further intensify the need to find solutions to the problems confronting institutions of higher education. Key among these is the strong encouragement to increase the use of “Communication and Information Technologies” in support of learning. The forming of partnerships with schools, colleges of further education, and public libraries has also been widely mooted. The aim being to provide students, and other members of the community, with wider access to a range of information resources. The success of such proposals will be dependent on senior information mangers who fully understand the scale and potential of these technologies, and LIS professionals who are at home in the networked information environment.


(1) Joint Funding Councils’ Libraries Review Group: Report. Bristol: HEFCE, 1993. (The Follett Report)

(2) Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. Promoting people: a strategic framework for the management and development of staff in UK universities. London: CVCP, 1993. (The Fender Report)

(3) John Fielden Consultancy. Supporting expansion: a study of human resource management in academic libraries. (A report for the Management Sub-group of the Library Review). Bristol: HEFCE, 1994

(4) The Committee of Scottish University Principals. Teaching and learning in an expanding higher education system. Report of a Working Party of the Committee of Scottish University Principals. Edinburgh: Committee of Scottish University Principals, 1992. (The MacFarlane Report)

(5) Shafer, K. OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Some electronic classification schemes. Available at URL:

(6) Sykes, P. Staff development for library assistants. In: Oldroyd, M. ed., Staff development in academic libraries. Present practice and future challenges. Library Association Publishing, 1996, ch. 7. pp. 81-92

(7) Op. cit [3] (The Fielden Report)

(8) URL:

(9) Windsor, L. Sharing the knowledge through advanced user training. ITS News.(Journal of the Library Association Information Technology Group). Issue 25, May 1997, pp. 19-22.

(10) The EduLib project. URL:

(11) Priestley, J. Beyond Fielden. The changing role of Information Services staff. Relay Number 43 (Spring 1996), pp.6-7.

(12) Collier, M. The context of convergence. In: Oldroyd, M. ed., Staff development in academic libraries. Present practice and future challenges. Library Association Publishing, 1996, ch.6. pp. 68-79.

(13) Sykes, P. Staff development for library assistants. In: Oldroyd, M. ed., Staff development in academic libraries. Present practice and future challenges. Library Association Publishing, 1996, ch. 7. pp. 81-92

(14) Walton, G. Day, J. and Edwards, C. Training needs for staff competencies in a quality library service: relevance of the IMPEL project. European Research Libraries Co-operation: Liber Quarterly, 5 (4), 1995, pp.389 -400.

(15) Birchall, A. Deakin, A. and Rada, R. Knowledge automation and the need for intermediaries. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 26 (4), December 1994, pp.181-192.

(16) Sutherland, P. The management of integrated learning resources. Brighton: Council of Polytechnic Librarians, 1992, pp. 40-66.

(17) Corrall, S. and Lester, R. Professors and professionals. In: Cuthbert, R. ed. Working in higher education. Buckingham: SRHE/Open University Press, 1996, pp. 84-100

(18) Op.cit [6] (Sykes, P.)

(19) Noon, P. Staff development for heads of service/chief librarians. In: Oldroyd, M. ed., Staff development in academic libraries. Present practice and future challenges. Library Association Publishing, 1996, ch. 9. pp. 107-116.

(20) Corrall, S. Management development in academic libraries. British Journal of Academic Librarianship, 9 (3), 1994, pp.209-223.

(21) Sir Ron Dearing. National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education. July 1997.



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