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The impact of electronic publishing on library services and resources in the UK

3.3.3 Staff knowledge and skills

Quality of access depends on the infrastructure, tools and expertise of staff, who will have to identify needs, allocate resources (or advise on their allocation) and both provide information and help users to organise their own information sources. In addition to in-depth subject knowledge and technical skills, the information specialist's changed role of advisor, instructor and facilitator requires oral and written communication skills and strong interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to train inexperienced users and other library staff.

As this role extends further into operational management of resource provision for particular client groups, involving negotiations with suppliers, oversight of the installation and testing of new electronic information systems, management of the implementation and launch of new products and services, and continuous monitoring and evaluation (including cost/benefit analysis), a wider set of management and business skills will be needed at the operational level. At the same time, the technical demands of the job are expanding, with information specialists typically expected to be competent in the use of a wide range of software (communications and bibliographic management packages; word-processing, spreadsheets, graphics and desk-top publishing) and to keep abreast of developments in copyright and data protection legislation.

A particular challenge for library management arises with the trend towards end-user access or self-service facilities and the need to provide on-the-spot help from library enquiry desks. This development means that all enquiry desk staff need to acquire sufficient competence and confidence to support electronic information systems, including the ability to search the range of databases on offer and to solve basic technical problems - skills hitherto concentrated in a smaller group of specialist staff. Staff training needs to be seen as a continuing programme, to take account of the frequency with which new databases are introduced and existing systems upgraded. Weekly or fortnightly sessions for all established enquiry desk staff may be necessary simply to keep up with the changing range of services. New recruits will need a much longer induction period than they did when resources were largely print-based. The drop in demand for mediated searching is also making it difficult for those in more specialist roles to develop and/or maintain the required level of searching skills.

For business information professionals, the loss of their monopoly on database searching will put more emphasis on their ability to add value. Writing, layout and design skills will be needed to transform the raw material of research results into a finished report, incorporating graphics and statistics created from downloaded numeric data. A basic knowledge of economics and business (including the ability to read company accounts) will be necessary, as well as good written and oral communication skills, making full use of audiovisual presentation facilities.

The traditional skills of cataloguing, classification, subject indexing and thesaurus construction (and the theoretical knowledge underpinning their application) will regain importance as the difficulties of navigating the multiplicity of networked information resources become more critical (see also section 3.7.3). Currently available search and retrieval tools are inadequate and there has been insufficient recognition of the potential contribution of professional librarians to remedying this situation. The present widely differing practices of departments of information and library studies (DILS) in covering this core element of basic professional education in sufficient depth give cause for concern for the future. The same theoretical underpinning is in any case essential to enable staff to become proficient searchers and competent in carrying out comparative evaluations of electronic information products and services.

Finally, the access model is generally reckoned to be more staff-intensive than the holdings one, although there may be some consolation in the fact that current rates of inflation of salaries are somewhat lower than those of printed publications.

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