Library Assistants – their future role

On 1st June 2011 I attended an event organised by WESlink (West Midlands HE Library training group) which looked at Library Assistants and their future role. This was a manager’s workshop and a few months before the same session had been run with Library Assistants. The structure of the event meant there was feedback from the library assistant session, an update of changes that were occurring at Warwick University followed by small group discussions around what changes were happening at each institution and the (potential) impact on a library assistant; skills required, type of person needed, and what staffing models should be implemented.

In terms of the changes and challenges being faced by academic libraries it was a similar and familiar picture and below are some of things discussed:

 Wordle - library assistants

It was interesting to hear about the positive things that were happening at other universities, for example, the library at Newman University College is moving into a new building in time for the start of the new academic year and at Warwick they have developed an app for the iPad to record enquiries when staff are roving out on the library floor.

Concerns that Library Assistants have about their role were also talked about. A common experience was that when a library assistant left the role would not be filled or the post would be changed to term-time only. At some places students were being employed to participate in projects such as discards or to staff IT help desks. This begged the question of whether the days were number for a library assistant. To partly address this and develop the skill levels of library assistants some institutions have adopted a rotational approach so, after say 12 months experience in Document Supply the library assistant will move on to Technical Services or  Collection Management or another site to consolidate their knowledge and experience. From my experience this is a good thing, when opportunities arose for me to move departments within the library I took this up and it has given me a good overall view and understanding of working within an academic library and how things fit together.

I think the main thing I took from the discussion is that there are exciting but unsettling times ahead working in libraries. I have been following some of the #SLA 2011 tweets on twitter and there were two comments I read today which resonate with this WESlink session I attended:

 

@annenb Getting rid of librarians because everything is online = getting rid of accountants because everyone has a calculator on desk. #sla2011

 

@theREALwikiman

If I could sum up the common message of most (or all) of the library thought-leaders I’ve heard speak, it’d be… #sla2011 (1/2)

 (2/2) Libraries & librarians are actually on the cusp of an incredible opportunity, so let’s not stuff it up, & let’s be BRAVE. #sla2011

 

Things have changed, things are changing, things will continue to change and staff who work in libraries and information need to be flexible, adaptable, forward thinking and accept that change happens (which can be difficult), so change within an organisation needs to be communicated well, managed effectively and sensitively.