7 ways librarians can grow their library skills to meet the needs of today’s libraries

illustration with a librarian reading a book

As the needs of communities evolve, so too must its libraries — and its librarians. These days, librarians go well beyond their core job descriptions, and the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated this change in expectations. Librarians have taken on new tasks ranging from mental health program development to vaccine rollouts. 

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This evolving role of librarians places more and more focus on the tools and resources available to support them as they upskill. As we enter a new year, it’s the perfect time to reassess technical skill sets and look into professional development opportunities.  

Here we’ve identified some tools librarians can use to upskill with a focus on key library skills to help them better serve their communities.  

See also:   

1. Take a free online course 

With an abundance of great online tools and professional courses available for free, it’s never been easier for librarians to upskill flexibly and at their own pace.   

What you can learn: 

Librarians can find online courses spanning any number of valuable topics. For instance, marketing knowledge is becoming more and more beneficial for librarians to keep their patrons connected and informed about library programs and services. A course like, 4 Simple Ways to Beef Up Your Marketing can provide librarians with a practical library-specific marketing crash course to help round out this library skill. 

A modern marketing strategy includes a strong social media presence and juggling several platforms is a skill many librarians have had to build as they go. Getting Hootsuite certified can help librarians be up-to-date and confident as they navigate the digital marketing world.  

Here are some more online course databases to explore:  

  • LinkedIn Learning has over 16,000+ professional video courses taught by industry experts in software, creative, and business skills.  
  • Libraryskills.io is a curated collection of free learning resources designed specifically for library staff. 
  • Wiley Education Services offers an upskills program that includes webinars and resources for employees with a focus on IT. 
  • ALA’s eLearning Catalog includes courses, webinars and customized eLearning content for library and information workers in all types of libraries and related organizations.  
  • Open Learn provides free, open university course materials on many topics including management, finance and report writing. 

2. Attend an external training program or workshop 

Finding opportunities to participate in training or workshops beyond the walls of their own branch is a great way for librarians to expand their thinking, gain new skills and network with their peers.  

What you can learn: 

One area to consider developing as libraries navigate shifting access to funding and new digital resources, is budgeting. Library Juice Academy’s Academic Library Budget 101 course can help librarians stay ahead of the budgeting curve with library-specific information on prioritizing and budgeting for new programs and projects. Or to get started, download our free guide on how to build a library budget. 

Check out these organizations that offer industry-relevant training: 

  • The American Library Association (ALA) 
  • The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP 
  • The Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) 
  • The M25 Consortium of Academic Libraries (M25 
  • North West Academic Libraries (NoWAL) 

3. Conferences and summits 

In the academic library and scholarly publishing sectors, there’s an abundance of professional conferences and summits that offer learning opportunities. Conferences like The ARDC Digital Research Skills Summit and eResearch Australasia Conference are great opportunities to build on important library skills 

What you can learn: 

One particular new area that today’s librarians need to navigate is technology management. As libraries become increasingly digital, shifting from a focus on physical resources to digital assets requires a whole new set of skills. For instance, librarians must stay current on cloud-based storage and the mobile environment to ensure its proper integration into the library’s information systems and portals. They also need to learn about the procurement and implementation process as they look to incorporate any strategic library automation product.  

Conferences can inspire innovation and offer overnight training in these areas. Find a list of highly regarded annual library conferences here. 

4. Academic programs and professional accreditations 

Some staff members may seek more formal study programs such as an academic program, a vocational qualification or a professional accreditation through a fellowship with a professional association. 

What you can learn: 

As the industry evolves, being able to manage change effectively is a top skill for library leaders. Especially throughout COVID-19, libraries have undergone radical change and librarians are on the frontlines of that change, serving the public in the face of entirely new challenges.  

Not only must librarians understand how to manage change that impacts them and their teams, they must develop strategies to engage others in change initiatives — that’s why courses like the IRC Change Management program at Queen's University can be valuable in helping librarians sharpen these skills. 

5. Job shadowing, coaching and mentoring 

A cost-effective way of supporting staff development is to enable knowledge sharing within your library’s own workforce. Not only can teams learn from one another in a cost-effective way, but this type of collaboration has the added benefit of building cohesion among colleagues. 

What you can learn: 

Community engagement skills are critical to the role of the librarian. Public librarians work collaboratively with library patrons, residents, faculty, students and partner organizations to build programming that best serves their communities. Librarians need to continuously develop and nurture their rapport with community members to build trust and understand how they can best support — but these aren’t always skills you can learn from a textbook or lecture. Oftentimes watching how others handle these responsibilities is the best way to grow your skills. 

6. Reading groups

We all know librarians love to read. Encouraging library staff to create reading groups can allow for reflective time to read and discuss topics that impact the industry. 

What you can learn: 

Whether it’s climate change, media literacy or emergency aid, libraries provide physical space and a platform for information and discussion. Advocacy is an important skill for librarians who must lead by example as mentors for their community. Reading groups are a great opportunity to build up these skills with colleagues and invite discussion that can foster critical thinking and deeper understanding of relevant issues. A great place to start these discussions is with the readings found on the Public Library Association Advocacy page 

With so many resources available to build up library skills, librarians are in a great position to prepare for the inevitable change that will continue in the years ahead and set themselves up to better support their communities.  

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