When I graduated from library school, my master's was in Information and Library Studies. Later, my alma mater decided to change the name of both the school and the degree to merely Information, dropping the "library" altogether. This was a little more than 20 years ago, and ever since, library schools have been morphing and adapting to the needs of modern library school graduates and the institutions that hire them. Certain core skills still remain relevant, even if they are put to different uses—cataloging, indexing, and abstracting, conducting reference interviews—and many new courses have been added to address varying aspects of technology. Library students must navigate their school's course offerings to create the right mix of educational opportunities for themselves, and to develop the right skill set for the 21st century information professional. But there is still something missing. Despite serving as leading indicators of career success and professional longevity, two sets of skills are uniformly not taught in library school: soft skills and business skills. Mastery of these skills is cruicial for librarians who work with attorneys, faculty members, and judges who expect them to contribute to the bottom line of the organization in ways not previously required.
What the first category encompasses can vary, but consultant/coach Peggy Klaus defines soft skills as "personal, social, communication, and self-management behaviors."1 Some of the most common—and universally crucial—soft skills include self-awareness, trustworthiness, adaptability, critical thinking, empathy, influence, risk taking, time management, problem solving, and leadership. Through her years of collecting stories about workplace successes and struggles, Klaus came to the conclusion that soft skills have a tremendous effect on just about everything that needs to be done to get ahead and progress professionally. "You can have all the technical expertise in the world," writes Klaus, "but if you can't sell your ideas, get along with others, or turn your work in on time, you'll be going nowhere fast."2
Business skills are another area overlooked by library school offerings. According to the authors of The Librarian's Skillbook: 51 Essential Career Skills for Information Professionals, business skills include marketing, strategic planning, financial/budget management, communications, project management, and contract negotiations, to name a few.3 Although these skills have become even more crucial in the "new normal" we all function in now, the concept is by no means a new one to many information professionals. Oregon librarian Meredith Farkas was blogging about this very topic back in 2006, saying that "many [library] schools create this false dichotomy between 'library work' and 'information science work.'"4 She goes on to discuss the business skills she considers essential—what she calls "Higher Level Competencies"—and includes under that umbrella skills, such as the ability to question and evaluate library services, assess stakeholder needs, translate traditional library services into online media, and market and sell library ideas and services.5
When I attended library school at the University of Michigan, I had the unique opportunity to be accepted into the Residence Hall Libraries program as a Head Librarian. There were 12 Head Librarians in total, and we all were part of the housing staff, living in undergraduate dorms and running what were essentially embedded mini public libraries. For room, board, and a (nominal) stipend, we routinely performed all the tasks a librarian's job would entail in the real world—acquisitions, cataloging, budgeting, hiring/firing/counseling, public speaking, event planning—but we got to hone our skills in a safe environment, where it was OK to fail and then learn from our mistakes. Unfortunately, this program was discontinued in 2005, and I don't know of any similar opportunities in existence.
So, how can the information professional of the future gain the soft skills and business skills necessary to succeed in the legal industry today? If these skills are not being taught in library schools, what other avenues are available to develop them? Here are just a few strategies library students and recent library school graduates can employ:
- Capitalize on Association Membership - Joining a national, professional association, such as the American Association of Law Libraries, is a great first step. To take full advantage of the opportunity to develop soft skills, however, you need to take the next step and volunteer. Serving on committees or task forces can help develop many soft skills. Associations also provide ample opportunities to practice and perfect public speaking and writing skills. The power of association membership lies in what you are willing to put into it.
- Embrace Lifelong Learning - The most successful and influential leaders are also lifelong learners, mindful that a formal education is just the tip of the knowledge iceberg. Albert Einstein put it this way: "Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death." The best way to develop your skills, as well as learn new ones, is to take advantage of educational opportunities, be they in person or virtual, free or not. For example, anyone aspiring to director-level positions or increased organizational responsibility could consider attending the upcoming inaugural AALL Business Skills Clinic. Also, be open to educational offerings from associations and providers outside the legal realm, as many groups care about and provide training around both business and soft skills.
- Maximize Your Mentor Experience - Never underestimate the importance of a great mentor. In addition to providing career guidance and advice, great mentors also serve as exemplars, modeling many business and soft skills. Take the time to observe your mentors and learn from their actions—do as they say and as they do.
No amount of formal education can ever possibly teach all that life experience can. In the words of Calvin, the rambunctious first-grader in the Calvin and Hobbes
comic strip, "I go to school, but I never learn what I want to know." A library school education is still the best solid foundation for future professional success. Taking advantage of every opportunity to develop both soft skills and business skills after graduation builds on that foundation to create an information professional poised for career-long success.
1 Klaus, Peggy, The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They'd Learned Sooner, 2007.
2 Supra, note 1.
3 Hunt, Deborah and David Grossman, The Librarian's Skillbook: 51 Essential Career Skills for Information Professionals, 2013.
4 Skills for the 21st Century Librarian, http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/?s=skills+21st+century+librarian.
5 Supra, note 4.
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