Tech-Savvy Librarian Versus (Library) Technologist: Understanding the Future Role of Librarians in Technology Practice

Re-envisioning the MLS: Perspectives on the Future of Library and Information Science Education

ISBN: 978-1-78754-885-5, eISBN: 978-1-78754-884-8

ISSN: 0065-2830

Publication date: 17 May 2018

Abstract

Purpose – As the role of technology in libraries has broadened and expanded, tech-savvy librarians and non-librarian technologists are increasingly working side by side in complex digital environments. Little research has explored the key differences between these roles and the implications for the future of the Master of Library Science (MLS) and its variant degrees, particularly as technologists from various backgrounds increasingly enter the information field. This chapter contrasts the technological responsibilities of the two groups to build an understanding of the necessity of the MLS in library-oriented technology work.

Keywords

Citation

Maceli, M. (2018), "Tech-Savvy Librarian Versus (Library) Technologist: Understanding the Future Role of Librarians in Technology Practice", Percell, J., Sarin, L., Jaeger, P. and Bertot, J. (Ed.) Re-envisioning the MLS: Perspectives on the Future of Library and Information Science Education (Advances in Librarianship, Vol. 44B), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 153-178. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0065-28302018000044B009

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


Introduction

Information technology is the undercurrent driving the emergence of many of the challenges and changes presented in the Re-Envisioning the MLS report (Bertot, Sarin, & Percell, 2015), which emphasizes the absolute necessity of tech-savvy librarians in today’s world. For Master of Library Science (MLS) educators, practitioners, and students, many open questions remain in understanding the roles and responsibilities of librarians in the context of information technology and how these activities relate to those of other technology professionals. Building our knowledge in this area is key to both understanding the present and positioning the field of library and information science (LIS) for the future.

A significant body of prior research has described the necessary and ever-changing technology skills in the workplace, technology education efforts occurring both in and out of formal academic settings, and challenges in educating and continually updating the skills of tech-savvy librarians. As noted in the report, successful information professionals must demonstrate both useful skills and a confident, flexible, and adaptive approach toward learning technology on the job, that is, aptitude and attitude (Bertot et al., 2015). These complementary strengths are of particular importance in working with information technology, as educational organizations often struggle to keep pace with fast-moving technological innovation in the workplace.

From the top down, influential library organizations have pushed for a move toward more generalizable technologies. In a publication on the future of bibliographic control, a Library of Congress working group noted the need to “move the current library-technological environment away from being a niche market unto itself to one more readily understandable by present and future data creators, data modelers, and software developers” (Marcum, 2011, “Approach,” para 3). As this broadened approach is applied across the various technological aspects of librarianship, the difference between a tech-savvy librarian and technologist working in a library becomes increasingly blurred.

The Re-envisioning report acknowledges that an MLS may not be relevant or necessary in all cases, particularly in technology-focused areas such as information technology, information systems, and design. Without a deeper empirical understanding of this issue, the role and value of an MLS degree (and its variants) in an increasingly technical information field is unclear. To that end, this chapter will explore the following research questions:

  • RQ1. What technology skills do librarian positions require as compared to library technologist positions?

  • RQ2. What are the recent trends in the MLS technology curriculum?

  • RQ3. What technology skills and concepts do current information professionals desire to learn?

Informed by the findings of the research questions, the overall implications for the future of the MLS will be considered, particularly in understanding the current technological niche that MLS-educated librarians have carved out for themselves in contrast to other library technologists and how well aligned this is with the current technology curriculum.

Literature Review

The questions posed in the Re-envisioning report are the latest in a long history of critical reflection as to the state of the information field and its role in a fast-changing world, with information technology an ongoing topic of research interest. Several influential publications emerging in the mid-2000s advocated for a closer, critical look at the relationship between information science, information technology, and the information professions (e.g., Dillon & Norris, 2005; Gorman, 2004; Markey, 2004). In recent years, many researchers have built our understanding of the current state of technology in the information field through attention to many of the same dimensions explored in this chapter: curriculum, employment, and practice.

In exploring the curricular aspects, Singh and Mehra (2013) assessed a diverse set of stakeholder perspectives relating to the technology curriculum in LIS, finding technology skills to be paramount, yet raised concerns about the current state of technology coverage in LIS educational practices. Related research clarified the most commonly covered technology competencies: database design and development, web design and development, digital libraries, broad introductory technology courses, systems analysis, and metadata (e.g., Hu, 2013; Maceli, 2015a; Riley-Huff & Rholes, 2011; Singh & Mehra, 2013).

Riley-Huff and Rholes (2011) recommended greater consistency of topic coverage across programs and more advanced technology course offerings. Enhancing coverage of key topics was also suggested by several related studies. Singh and Mehra (2013) suggested courses in core web tools, technology policy, public access computing, and hardware, while Hu (2013) advocated for a strong technology set of core courses covering database and systems management and information organization and services. Several studies also looked deeply at the skills broadly needed by librarians (e.g., Gerolimos, Malliari, & Iakovidis, 2015; Tzoc & Millard, 2011), and, while these studies did not focus specifically on the technology aspects, there was general agreement that technology skills topped the list of necessary qualifications. However, none of the existing research addressed the skills employed by other technology-focused roles in libraries for comparative purposes. In addition to hands-on technical skills, Farkas (2007) noted that future tech-savvy information professionals must also be skilled in managing and evaluating technologies. In working with technology more generally, research cautioned that the LIS demographic may need particular support in overcoming incoming negative attitudes toward technology (e.g., Maceli, 2015b; West, 2007).

In addressing the employer perspective, Riley-Huff and Rholes (2011) found that the most commonly sought technology-related job titles were systems/automation librarian, digital librarian, emerging and instructional technology librarian, web services/development librarian, and electronic resources librarian. Mathews and Pardue’s (2009) study on required employer competencies, analyzed librarian listings to assess the most popular skills: web development, project management, systems development, systems applications, networking, and programming languages. In the same year, Choi and Rasmussen (2009) took a closer look at digital-librarian-titled job advertisements, finding that digital library systems, web design and development, and library automation systems were most frequently required.

Further research work compared the technology curriculum against job requirements to identify gaps and opportunities. Tzoc and Millard (2011) found general alignment between curricular offerings and job advertisement requirements, with programs being strong in database design and management, web application development, and web design and web standards, but found disparities in the programming, content management systems, metadata, and XML/XSLT offerings. Maceli (2015a) found the areas of web design/development and digital collections (such as working with XML, metadata, and archives) to be well aligned with job advertisements, but noted a surprisingly high number of user experience (UX) courses given the frequency of related positions in librarianship.

Research Study Design

Data from several sources were analyzed to address the research questions stated above: job advertisements (RQ1), American Library Association (ALA)-accredited programs’ technology course changes (RQ2), and survey responses of LIS practitioners (RQ3).

First, extending prior work of the author’s (Maceli, 2015a), job advertisement data from http://jobs.code4lib.org – which collects job advertisements relating to all areas of technology within libraries – were analyzed to explore the frequency and correlation of the necessary technology skills for information professionals with and without the librarian title. The complete set of job advertisements posted in 2015 was analyzed, consisting of a total of 1,006 positions. Of these positions, 316 were librarian-titled positions (202 of which explicitly required an ALA-accredited degree), with the remaining 690 consisting of non-librarian technology-related positions. To conduct the analysis, a text mining approach was used to explore the librarian and non-librarian data sets for comparative purposes. The text mining framework provided by the tm package (Feinerer & Hornik, 2015) in the R language (R Core Team, 2014) was used to create a term-document matrix, allowing for exploration of the frequency and co-occurrence of technology-related terms within job advertisements. Key technology terms (e.g., digital, web, and metadata), as presented in Table 2, were then compared with the two groups, looking at their correlated terms and overall term frequency. In addition to allowing community viewing of job advertisements, the jobs.code4lib.org site also allows volunteer editors to tag job advertisements with the relevant skills. As a complement to the text analysis on the raw job advertisements, the frequencies of editor-assigned tags were tallied across both librarian and non-librarian positions to gain a human perspective on the data set.

Second, changes to the technology-related course offerings of the top 25 ALA-accredited programs (American Library Association [ALA], 2016a; U.S. News & World Report, 2013) were gathered on a monthly basis by an automated research tool developed by the author. Using a web scraping approach, the tool extracted course titles from the various programs’ public course catalogs; each month’s results were stored and compared with the prior months’ curricula to identify any technology course changes, such as courses added or removed. A coding scheme developed through inductive qualitative analysis of course catalogs in a previous study (Maceli, 2015a) was then used to capture the general topic of each course for analysis, for example, “user experience,” “metadata,” etc. To ensure inter-rater reliability in coding, data were first independently coded and then compared for agreement by a team of two raters. During the two-year period of study, 2015 and 2016, a total of 48 technology-related courses were added across all programs studied, with 36 courses removed over the same period. These data and the associated topic codes were aggregated across all programs to identify overall trends and to contrast against previous baseline findings.

Finally, to build understanding of the final research question addressing technology wants of current practitioners, a secondary analysis of data collected in a 2016 survey of practitioners’ technology aspirations (as detailed in Burke, 2016) was conducted. The original survey obtained 1,488 responses from LIS practitioners in a variety of roles, with questions exploring their use of technology, applications of technology within their organizations, and the technologies and skills they desire to learn. To build on this work, a secondary analysis was performed on these data, oriented toward identifying technology needs currently not well represented in MLS education and comparing these needs to current job advertisements. Prior research on this data set (presented in Burke, 2016) identified frequencies and popular technology wants. The secondary analysis presented in this chapter furthered this work by using a text mining approach (in the same fashion as the analysis of job advertisements detailed above) to explore collections of commonly needed technologies/skills to assist in pinpointing general areas of importance and delve deeper into the many qualitative text responses.

Results

The results of the analysis of each data set will follow, with a more holistic exploration in the subsequent Discussion section.

Job Advertisements

As detailed earlier, 1,006 jobs posted to jobs.code4lib.org in the whole of 2015 were analyzed; 316 posts were librarian-titled positions, with the remaining 690 posts seeking to fill non-librarian technology-related positions. The most common job titles for librarian and non-librarian positions are presented in Table 1.

Table 1

Most Common Job Titles for Librarian and Non-Librarian Job Advertisements.

Librarian Job Titles Non-Librarian Job Titles
Systems Librarian Digital Archivist
Digital Initiatives Librarian Web Developer
Metadata Librarian Rails Developer
Digital Projects Librarian User Experience Designer
Digital Scholarship Librarian Digital Library Developer
Emerging Technologies Librarian Application Developer
Digital Services Librarian Data Specialist
Discovery Services Librarian Systems Administrator
User Experience Librarian Digital Library Programmer
Data Services Librarian Digital Asset Manager

Total term frequencies were calculated in both data sets of job listing text, and the unambiguous technology-focused terms were selected for further analysis. The top terms noted in both librarian and non-librarian job advertisements were similar, but order and frequency varied (Table 2).

Table 2

Technology-Related Term Frequencies Appearing in the Top 35 Terms in the Librarian and Non-Librarian Job Advertisements.

Librarian Job Advertisements Term Frequency Non-librarian Job Advertisements Term Frequency
Digital 1,406 Digital 2,963
Data 677 Data 1,287
Systems 529 Systems 1,213
Metadata 450 Web 1,119
Web 416 Technology 958
Technology 339 Software 932
Metadata 741

A further analysis of the job description text explored which technology skills and knowledge are often required in combination, using the common terms identified above as a guide. The following figures visually represent terms that are positively correlated and thus tend to co-occur within job advertisements. This approach can be useful in obtaining a richer view of the skill sets desired and their typical combination in job advertisements.

Figs. 110 show the terms commonly co-occurring (correlation coefficient of 0.30 or higher), with several of the most frequent words listed in Table 2. First, the correlation plot for the particular term in the librarian job advertisements is presented, followed by the correlation plot for the same term in the non-librarian job advertisements. Plots are displayed for the following terms: digital, web, metadata, software, and systems.

Fig. 1 
Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Digital.”

Fig. 1

Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Digital.”

Fig. 2 
Non-Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Digital.”

Fig. 2

Non-Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Digital.”

Fig. 3 
Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Web.”

Fig. 3

Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Web.”

Fig. 4 
Non-Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Web.”

Fig. 4

Non-Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Web.”

Fig. 5 
Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Metadata.”

Fig. 5

Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Metadata.”

Fig. 6 
Non-Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Metadata.”

Fig. 6

Non-Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Metadata.”

Fig. 7 
Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Software.”

Fig. 7

Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Software.”

Fig. 8 
Non-Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Software.”

Fig. 8

Non-Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Software.”

Fig. 9 
Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Systems.”

Fig. 9

Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Systems.”

Fig. 10 
Non-Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Systems.”

Fig. 10

Non-Librarian Job Listing Terms Correlated With “Systems.”

Finally, the most common editor-assigned tags for librarian and non-librarian positions were identified to assess what requirements readers determined to be most prominent in the job advertisements. Table 3 presents the top 25 most common tags assigned to job advertisements, with tags that appeared in both the librarian and non-librarian columns in bold.

Table 3

Top 25 Most Common Tags Assigned to Job Advertisements, With Tags That Appeared in Both the Librarian and Non-Librarian Columns in Bold.

Rank Librarian Job Advertisement Tags Non-Librarian Job Advertisement Tags
1 Metadata JavaScript
2 HTML PHP
3 XML XML
4 Dublin Core Archive
5 JavaScript Ruby
6 PHP Python
7 MARC standards Metadata
8 Integrated library system Java
9 Data management Drupal
10 Digital preservation MySQL
11 Institutional repository Ruby on Rails
12 Drupal HTML
13 Cascading Style Sheets GNU/Linux
14 Metadata Object Description Standard Encoded Archival Description
15 Archive Digital preservation
16 Scholarly communication Cascading Style Sheets
17 Resource Description and Access Dublin Core
18 Encoded Archival Description MARC standards
19 OCLC Integrated library system
20 Library science Digital library
21 CONTENTdm Metadata Object Description Standard
22 Librarian SQL
23 SQL Perl
24 Project management Git
25 DSpace Management

Changes to Technology-Related Course Offerings

Table 4 describes the number of courses added and removed for each topic area in which a change was noted over the two-year period studied. The numbers reflect an aggregate of the changes from the top 25 ALA-accredited schools studied such that larger topic trends could be identified. These topic areas are a subset of the full list of topic area codes that were developed in the previous study and represent only the topic areas in which change was identified. Although the previous study identified a total of 93 general topic areas (Maceli, 2015a), only the 35 topic areas listed in Table 4 demonstrated change over the studied period. All courses conformed to the topic areas identified in the existing coding scheme developed in the 2015 study, with no new additions to general topic areas noted. The number of courses in bold indicates the topic areas with the largest change, either in courses removed or added.

Table 4

Course Changes Grouped by Topic Area.

Topic Area # Courses Added # Courses Removed
Archival systems +0 −2
Big data +2 −1
Content management systems +0 −1
Data analysis +3 −0
Data curation +1 −0
Data management +1 −0
Data mining +1 −0
Database design and development +0 −3
Digital collections +2 −1
Digital curation +2 −0
Digital humanities +2 −0
Digital libraries +3 −1
Health informatics +1 −0
Informatics +2 −0
Information retrieval +0 −2
Information security and assurance +2 −1
Information science +1 −0
Information systems +1 −4
Information visualization +1 −0
Informetrics +1 −0
Introduction to information technology +0 −3
Knowledge management +0 −1
Library technologies +1 −0
Metadata +1 −0
Mobile application development +1 −0
Network analysis +1 −1
Programming +2 −1
Scientific informatics +1 −1
Social media +4 −0
Systems analysis and design +2 −2
Technology and older adults +0 −1
Technology management +0 −3
User experience +6 −2
Web design and development +2 −2
Wireless networking +1 −1

Due to the inherent difficulties of web scraping frequently changing websites, several programs’ websites could not be consistently scraped, bringing the total number of schools analyzed down to 18 of the top 25 by the end of the two-year period of study.

Technology Skills Desired by Current LIS Practitioners

Survey results for the open-ended question, “What technology skill would you like to learn to help you do your job better?” from John Burke’s (2016) survey were analyzed using a text mining approach in R. Of the 2,216 total respondents, 1,488 submitted an answer to this question. Burke (2016) reported the most popular responses to this question, including: programming/coding, web design, makerspace technologies and 3D printing, video editing, and social media. Fig. 11 lists the top 25 technology skills mentioned by participants in their responses, as calculated through text mining tools. The terms “coding” and “programming” were combined for analysis, as both refer to the same general competency.

Fig. 11 
Top 25 Desired Technology Skills Mentioned by Participants.

Fig. 11

Top 25 Desired Technology Skills Mentioned by Participants.

To better understand the context of these terms, the data set was clustered in order to visualize the commonly desired skill sets in combination. The hclust package in R was used to perform hierarchical agglomerative clustering. Clustering assists in organizing, understanding, and categorizing a large data set when the categories are not known in advance. This can also be beneficial in term disambiguation – for example, in understanding what the broad term “creation” might be referring to specifically. Fig. 12 displays the resulting dendrogram from the clustering process. Terms that join together lower in the graph can be considered more strongly related in that respondents were likely to mention those terms in combination.

Fig. 12 
Dendrogram Representing Clusters of Technology Skills Desired by Respondents.

Fig. 12

Dendrogram Representing Clusters of Technology Skills Desired by Respondents.

Several of the competencies mentioned in Burke’s original report appear in the dendrogram, notably web design, social media, and video editing. Further skill sets derived from the cluster analysis include database creation, mobile apps, statistical analysis, website development, online learning, and advanced Access/Excel. It appears that many participants used the general terms “programming” or “coding” without mention of the distinct technologies they desired to learn. However, a handful of specific programming languages appeared in the top technology skills shown in Fig. 12, including PHP, JavaScript, and Python. Web design skills, such as HTML and CSS, also appear.

Discussion

The following section will explore the implications of the aforementioned results, aligned with the three research questions.

RQ1. What Technology Skills Do Librarian Positions Require Compared With Library Technologist Positions?

The job listing analysis suggests that tech-savvy librarians and library technologists are fundamentally tasked with many of the same challenges, as demonstrated by the top job listing terms in Table 2: digital, data, systems, metadata, and the web. However, a deeper inspection of the commonly correlated terms reveals a clear difference in responsibilities in this area between librarians and non-librarians. It is worth noting that job advertisements often represent an idealized candidate (and one that may not even exist). So, more accurately, these data indicate a clear difference in employer expectations of the work such roles perform or should perform.

To begin, this analysis looks at the areas in which both roles seem to have significant overlap and little difference. In “digital” work (Fig. 1), librarians are asked to bring expertise in best practices and workflow for collection management and preservation initiatives and projects, with knowledge of common descriptive standards. Non-librarian practitioners share many of the same responsibilities (Fig. 2), with an additional focus on born-digital materials and a slightly different set of descriptive standards emphasized.

In “web” work (Fig. 3), librarians are asked for knowledge of common front-end web technologies (such as HTML, JavaScript, and CSS) as well as familiarity with usability, accessibility, and web design practices. The non-librarian practitioners are asked for a similar skill set (Fig. 4), but going slightly deeper into the web development stack, with server-side languages like PHP making an appearance in the correlated terms and less emphasis on accessibility. Given that common user experience job titles appeared in both the librarian and non-librarian job advertisements (e.g., “User Experience Librarian” and “User Experience Designer”), it appears that user experience responsibilities fall to both groups.

The remaining plots demonstrate a greater divergence in required skills. Not surprisingly, for librarian positions there are many terms strongly correlated with “metadata” (Fig. 5); this includes a frequent need for many descriptive standards, authority control, and XML generally, oriented around classification, bibliographic, and cataloging practice. At the bottom of the plot, a relatively new technique, “linked” – referring to linked data – appears to have become a commonly required skill set. In contrast, the non-librarians (Fig. 6) have a much sparser plot that represents a subset of the librarian requirements, oriented around a handful of cataloging and classification standards. The term “linked” appears here a well; the growing area of linked data may be one in which librarians and non-librarians are commonly collaborating.

Regarding the systems side, the term “software” is noticeably different across the two groups. For librarians (Fig. 7), the software focus appears to be on the integrated library system (ILS), with a clear emphasis on troubleshooting both hardware and software. This is likely knowledge applied in assisting users and patrons, either on-site or remotely. “Software” for non-librarian practitioners is distinctly broader and deeper. Development practices such as software testing and using (or perhaps contributing to) open-source software are evident, along with programming for the web (with Ruby) and Java. Similarly, for the “systems” term, librarians (Fig. 9) have a focus on the ILS, with mention of terms such as “server” and “integration” that may speak to work more on the developer side. Finally, for non-librarians, “systems” is clearly concerned with supporting infrastructure to run necessary software – again, ILS is prominent here, requiring knowledge of a diverse set of operating systems on an administrator level.

The editor-assigned tags (Table 3) add another dimension to understanding these skills. At a glance, it is clear that many of the tags are the same across both groups. Tags relating to web design and development (e.g., HTML, JavaScript, and PHP) appear high in both lists, supporting the previous findings of significant overlap in web-related skills. Extracting the skills that are unique to each group yields an interesting view (Table 5).

Table 5

Unique Tags Assigned by Editors to Librarian and Non-Librarian Positions.

Unique Librarian Tags Unique Non-Librarian Tags
Data management Ruby
Institutional repository Python
Scholarly communication Java
Resource description and access MySQL
OCLC Ruby on Rails
Library science GNU/Linux
CONTENTdm Digital library
Librarian Perl
Project management Git
DSpace Management

It is readily apparent that the non-librarian positions are tasked with (as a whole) end-to-end knowledge of computing systems and applied skills – from working with operating systems, to databases, to a variety of programming and scripting languages generally oriented to web and software development. Developer workflow tools, such as Git for version control, are also represented. In contrast, the unique librarian tags reference popular software such as common digital repository tools as well as “softer” skills such as project management, a need emphasized in prior research (e.g., Farkas, 2007). Given the mention of specific software, it is likely that librarians are being asked to engage with such tools on a user level as opposed to having familiarity with the tools used to build the software itself, as is represented in the non-librarian tags.

Overall, this analysis paints a picture of librarians engaging with complex technology tools on a user level, often being responsible for helping others with such technology tools, and participating in web design and user experience activity on generally equal footing with non-librarian technologists. The non-librarian technologists are asked to bring hands-on programming, database development, and systems administration skills while also having the knowledge and ability to work with metadata and descriptive standards common in the library technological landscape.

RQ2. What Are the Recent Trends in the MLS Technology Curriculum?

Slightly less than a third of the technology topic areas identified in the prior study (Maceli, 2015a) had changed during the period of study. For the purpose of this study, the data were aggregated across all programs to enable identifying larger trends. The most significant topic area changes from Table 4 were extracted and are presented in Fig. 13 for discussion.

Fig. 13 
Topic Areas With the Most Significant Course Changes in the Two-Year Period from 2015 to 2016.

Fig. 13

Topic Areas With the Most Significant Course Changes in the Two-Year Period from 2015 to 2016.

The growth areas appear to be in data analysis, social media, and user experience. User experience has been persistently noted as an expanding area of expertise (Maceli, 2015a), and it appears that the trend continues. This is well aligned with the user experience responsibilities of tech-savvy librarians, as discussed earlier, particularly in the context of web design (which research has consistently identified as a primary responsibility; e.g., Hu, 2013; Riley-Huff & Rholes, 2011; Singh & Mehra, 2013). The growth of data analysis and social media courses may speak, respectively, to a deeper engagement with data and communities in librarianship. As will be discussed in more detail in the following, social media is one of the most frequently desired skills of current practitioners, so the increase in courses in this area appears to be supportive of these needs.

Also of interest are the topic areas where a decrease was noted: database design and development, information systems, and introduction to information technology. All three areas have been consistently well represented in the MLS curriculum (e.g., Hu, 2013); this trend bears watching in the future to determine whether these areas are truly in decline and, if so, what is motivating these changes. The decrease in introductory courses may be an evolving response to the need to emphasize more advanced courses (as recommended by Riley-Huff & Rholes, 2011) or perhaps indicates an increase in incoming students’ technology skills (though Scripps-Hoekstra, Carroll, & Fotis, 2014 noted little increase in technology competency requirements).

RQ3. What Technology Skills and Concepts do Current Information Professionals Desire to Learn?

As discussed earlier, the general desire for programming/coding skills was the most popular response, with relatively few participants mentioning a specific language or technology. This may be due to lack of knowledge regarding the function and application of the myriad of languages commonly used, or it could be simply due to survey response fatigue, as the question fell near the survey’s end. However, the few general-purposing and web-focused scripting languages that were mentioned included PHP, JavaScript, and Python, along with basic web development skills such as HTML and CSS. Python, which serves as a popular general-purpose programming language, tended to fall squarely on the non-librarian side of job advertisements (it is the sixth most popular tag for non-librarian job advertisements in Table 3). The language was expressed as a desirable skill for librarians as well, so this may be indicative of an area in which librarians desire to expand their technological range.

Considering the earlier findings from the job listing analysis, one would expect librarians to express an interest in skills such as web design, user experience, metadata, and software specific to the library context. The web-design-related skills mentioned specifically – HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP – are very much in line with this expectation and tend to be those that are highly sought in job applicants (see Fig. 3 and Table 3). There was little mention of skills directly relating to user experience (e.g., usability testing), but the more general web design term was commonly used. Given the limitations of surveying, it is difficult to infer what skills and knowledge that practitioners consider as part of general competencies like “web design.” It could encompass anything from running a usability test, to creating a mockup in Photoshop, or to creating the website itself.

Many topics that participants mentioned, though relatively small in number, fail to be represented in a significant fashion in the MLS curriculum. In particular, makerspace technologies, developing mobile apps, and general technology support/troubleshooting are largely absent from the curriculum (though they may be covered in part in the context of a broader course). As is commonly a tradeoff with survey-based research, the large number of respondents makes it difficult to consider the participants’ technology skill desires in the context of their existing skill set. Learning any one of the skills mentioned could represent a leap in a new technological direction or a small enhancement to an existing skill set for each individual.

Limitations

There are numerous challenges inherent to conducting research on fluid and large data sets, such as the ones employed in this chapter. Several schools’ websites were dramatically changed over the data collection period such that they were no longer amenable to scraping. To mitigate this issue, data were aggregated and looked at holistically, as opposed to on the individual program level. And, though text mining can yield novel insights into textual data, it is also not without its limitations, largely around language ambiguity. For example, “libraries,” “applications,” and “development” can reference technology concepts but are also common in the context of job searching and other job responsibilities, which can make results difficult to interpret.

Finally, a many job advertisements do not explicitly require that applicants hold an MLS. As with other studies of this nature, it is difficult to know whether all positions were ultimately filled and, if so, by whom. The ideal candidate described in the job listing may or may not have been found, and compromises may have been made during the hiring process, such as emphasizing the new hire’s job experience over their formal education (or lack thereof). It is also possible that, despite the job advertisement’s wording, hiring committees weighted MLS holders over applicants from other backgrounds. These limitations suggest a need for further research exploring the credentials and responsibilities of practicing information professionals.

Implications for the MLS

The findings are briefly summarized as follows:

  • Librarians bear primary technological responsibility for web design (largely front-end web technologies), data and metadata (for classification, cataloging, and working with digital collections), technology troubleshooting (to support patrons and users), and usage of library-oriented software (such as the ILS).

  • Non-librarian technologists require hands-on programming, database development, and systems administration skills, while also having the knowledge and ability to work with metadata and descriptive standards common in the library technological landscape.

  • Librarians and non-librarian technologist both require skills in user experience, linked data, and metadata (though deeper knowledge of metadata standards is required on the librarian side).

  • Many emerging areas of technological expertise that current practitioners express a desire to learn are given little coverage in MLS curriculum as a whole, notably makerspace technologies and mobile app development.

  • Many long-standing areas of technological competency, such as software/hardware troubleshooting for patrons and working with the ILS, appear to be poorly covered in the MLS curriculum, yet remain core to librarian responsibilities.

  • Recent changes in the MLS curriculum show an increase in courses covering user experience (a commonly required employment skill set), data analysis (similarly important to employers), and social media (a skill set that current practitioners frequently expressed the desire to learn).

What can these findings tell us about the role of librarians (and the MLS) in the increasingly technical information field? These findings, and the sheer number of library technology positions that are non-librarian in title, make it clear that an MLS is not strictly necessary to tackle technology work and challenges in the library context. A non-MLS technology degree is clearly of value in the library context, but the MLS degree may not be as applicable outside of libraries where technology is strongly emphasized. More generally, there are numerous opportunities outside of libraries for MLS-holders in non-traditional jobs (e.g., as discussed in ALA, 2016b). However, those educated with an MLS degree are unlikely to be able to perform the work of library technologists, generally speaking, particularly in the required deep knowledge of technology infrastructure and systems. Although this is not terribly surprising, it does potentially limit the applicability of the MLS degree to other technology-centric contexts.

The findings also suggest that the MLS curriculum may have taken on several newer areas of expertise at the expense of long-standing, practical topics that are less trendy, such as working with the ILS. Within any field’s curriculum, the balance between old and new topics is difficult to manage, particularly in a degree that may be completed in less than two years. However, these topics are still core and unique to librarianship and unlikely to be found in other degree programs.

Overall, this paints the picture of a somewhat diluted – but still necessary – MLS degree, preparing future practitioners to land somewhere between the role of tech-savvy librarian and non-librarian technologist. This is likely self-corrected on the individual level by a number of factors, including course selection within the MLS program, non-curricular opportunities, on-the-job training, and continuing education efforts, much of which has been suggested by Carson (2014) and Tzoc and Millard (2011), among others. Fast-moving areas such as technology raise the question as to whether it is even reasonable to expect a relatively slow-moving formal academic curriculum to keep pace with practice. This is a difficult and ongoing challenge to address. Given the cost and effort of earning the MLS, prospective and current students may balk at the expectation of simultaneously pursuing learning through informal venues, though others (e.g., Tzoc & Millard, 2011) have suggested that requiring more work experience during the degree, through internships or elsewhere, may offer a solution.

Conclusion

This chapter assessed job advertisements, curricula, and practitioners’ needs on a broad scale. The intention of this chapter is to provide insight into the field as a whole, from a variety of perspectives – those of educator, employer, and current practitioner. Many other voices are necessary to build on this understanding, notably those of current students, job seekers, and MLS degree holders working outside of libraries, among others. This study can begin to answer the overarching question of the value of the MLS in the increasingly technical information field. It is clear that the MLS continues to provide some unique technology skills and competencies, but it is also apparent that the degree is by no means the only path to technology work within libraries.

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Acknowledgment

The author would like to thank John J. Burke, MSLS, for sharing the raw data gathered in his 2016 survey of LIS practitioners.