November 20, 2014

A License to Skill

classroomIn many of the talks that I have given over the years I have taken pains to point out a key fact about library budgets: the vast majority of any library’s budget the budget for most libraries goes to staff. Usually I use this as a way to put investment in computer hardware in perspective. That is, should your most expensive resource (staff, duh) be forced to waste time dealing with inferior equipment? No, I would assert. It’s just stupid. [correction made to correct an overstatement]

But that, of course, is merely the tip of the iceberg. It’s also one of the easiest problems to fix, since all it requires is better equipment. A much more difficult way to squeeze the most out of your most expensive investment is to build additional skills. And yet that is exactly what nearly all libraries should be doing.

Why? Because hardly any job in a library is the same as it was even just a few years ago. The kinds of tasks we are doing may be quite different than they were when we were hired. Doing these new things effectively often requires building new skills.

Therefore every library manager needs to have a plan for constant staff retooling. What makes this difficult is that people can have a variety of ways in which they learn best. Some learn best in a formal class. Others need only a few good books and some time to experiment.  One of your first steps, then, is to help your staff determine how they learn best and find avenues for learning based on those preferences.

Sure, I’m talking about a lot of work. But isn’t your single largest investment worth it? Of course it is. Now get out there and start using your license to skill.

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Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.

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