I recently heard from a student who was enrolled in my academic librarianship course in 2006. Having graduated the student is now in the market for an academic library position. He is focusing on reference and instruction positions geared to entry-level librarians. With a few interviews under his belt he is questioning the priorities of the academic libraries where interviews have occured, and I have to wonder myself just exactly what it is that employers are expecting of recent MLS program graduates as they enter the job market.
While not consistent in each interview experienced, thus far this job seeker was asked about his degree of expertise with cold fusion, linux, camtasia, and other web programming tools. Since when did reference and instruction librarians take over the systems office? I’ll be the first to acknowledge that reference and instruction librarians need to be tech savvy, especially with educational technology. So the ability to create screencasts is reasonable, but I question the expectation that a relatively new library graduate should have expertise with a product like Camtasia or Captivate. That’s something most librarians learn on the job while developing screencasts for web-based tutorials. Don’t even get me started on cold fusion or linux.
More surprising, on some interviews for reference and instruction positions, the candidate has received few or no questions about teaching philosophy or techniques are used to create an active learning environment. Some potential employers have not even included a demonstration of teaching skills in the interview process. It strikes me as odd that someone interviewing for an instruction position would not be asked to demonstrate their skill as an instructor. Is this individual just experiencing some odd hiring situations, or is there a developing trend for prioritizing technology over teaching and learning when recruiting new academic librarians?
So why is this happening? My own interpretation of this job-seeker’s experience is that the legacy librarians have woken up to the reality that integrating new technology into the library, or at least leveraging new technology to develop important new services, is critical to the library’s survival. But are they willing to learn how to use these technologies themselves? No. In these libraries the obvious solution is to hire new librarians to traditional positions, but give them vastly different responsibilities from those of the legacy librarians who have held these positions for years . This strikes me, and probably you as well, as a generally bad idea. For a new academic librarian just entering our workplace, and who seeks a reference or instruction – not a systems – position, expecting these higher level computing skills seems like a recipe for a staffing disaster. If your library needs systems and web programmers, and no one on staff is willing to learn these skills, then it may be time to create unique staff positions for non-librarian professionals that can bring these skills to the organization.