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Retooling Library Staff to Take on the Future, Where a State of Flux is the New Normal

By Rudy Leon | Dec 01, 2011

At the time of writing Rudy was the Technology Training Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


Before getting my MLS, I studied religion. I was interested in origin stories, and in understanding how people built their worlds and interacted with them via religion. In teaching, critical thinking was always the lesson. Understanding the fabric we are embedded in is the key to moving forward. There are many parallels between how I approached the study of religion and how I approach learning in libraries.

Libraries have to change to serve the changing needs of our users; that means changing staff skill sets just as much as it means changing services to meet how students learn and faculty teach.

I am the Technology Training Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I've been in this position for six months; before that I was the Learning Commons Librarian for over two years. Neither of these positions existed 10 years ago.

In myriad ways these positions are the same, with different audiences. In the Learning Commons, I developed programs and services that optimized learning, and delivered them in student-friendly ways. I focused on identifying unfilled technology needs, and building programmatic solutions to fill them. As technology trainer, my audience has shifted from undergraduate students to library staff. I still identify gaps in current offerings and skills, prioritize outreach, and identify my users' needs and communications preferences. I am still designing programs with built-in affordances toward learning and preparing learners for filling their own future needs.

In both cases, the job is about preparing the designated audience to take on the future. The ways we will work, learn, and consume and produce information/data/knowledge are rapidly changing, and this state of flux is the new normal. Libraries have to change to serve the changing needs of our users; that means changing staff skill sets just as much as it means changing services to meet how students learn and faculty teach.

Preparing for the future is about being aware of current skills gaps, and being open to what might be possible. I take a big-picture approach, and view the library as an organism with interdependent parts. I create opportunities for both oblique and direct learning. I am comfortable with change and ambiguity, and I keep all of that within the scope of an idiosyncratic but clearly articulated purpose.

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