The Need for Reskilling

By Rita Van Duinen posted

I recently attended a webinar on training data-savvy librarians that ended with the following quote by Eric Shinseki: “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.” Reskilling librarians are not a new idea. Librarians have had to reinvent themselves time and again and have been quite successful doing so. But preparing for the challenges of data management in the new “data workforce” is about more than learning new skills and tools to remain relevant. It is about libraries recognizing the imminent needs in digital scholarship and e-research. It’s about committing to provide staff with the necessary resources for reskilling, including professional development and continuing education opportunities. It may also mean changes within the institution and in ways of thinking about facilitating new services.

In his Atlas of New Librarianship, R. David Lankes urges libraries to seriously invest in reskilling. “Technology fluency in the profession, and knowledge of the essential tools to facilitate conversations, will not simply happen over time,” he writes. “We can’t wait this one out. We must actively engage in proactive continuing education for all librarians.” The 2012 Research Libraries UK (RLUK) report, “Re-skilling for Research, further emphasizes this point. It lists nine areas as the most significant skill gaps among subject and liaison librarians:

1. Ability to advise on preserving research outputs (49% of respondents deem skill essential in 2–5 years; only 10% report having skill now)

2. Knowledge to advise on data management and curation, including ingest, discovery, access, dissemination, preservation, and portability (48% deem essential in 2–5 years; 16% have skill now)

3. Knowledge to support researchers in complying with the various mandates of funders, including open access requirements (40% deem essential in 2–5 years; 16% have skill now)

4. Knowledge to advise on potential data manipulation tools used in the discipline/subject (34% deem essential in 2–5 years; 7% have skill now)

5. Knowledge to advise on data mining (33% deem essential in 2–5 years; 3% have skill now)

6. Knowledge to advocate, and advise on, the use of metadata (29% deem essential in 2–5 years; 10% have skill now)

7. Ability to advise on the preservation of project records (24% deem essential in 2–5 years; 3% have skill now)

8. Knowledge of sources of research funding to assist researchers to identify potential funders (21% deem essential in 2–5 years; 8% have skill now)

9. Skills to develop metadata schema, and advise on discipline/subject standards and practices, for individual research projects (16% deem essential in 2–5 years; 2% have skill now)

Given these statistics and the anticipated need in 2-5 years, how can libraries make the best use of the aptitudes that already exist in the organization, regardless of official job description? Is there a baseline already in place that the library can work from and capitalize on?

Some libraries have accepted the challenge of closing skill gaps and are making great strides in reskilling their staff. One example is the Developing Librarian Project at Columbia University, which recognizes the need for changes in the library profession to meet the needs of the digital scholarship at all stages. Library and iSchools are also meeting the challenge by designing curricula that focus on filling the skill gaps. Examples include Berkeley’s School of Information’s Master of Information and Data Science degree program, the Post-Maters Certificate in Data Curation at UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s School of Library and Information Studies Continuing Education program.

In my role as CLIR’s curriculum and research strategist, I am developing a curriculum plan for our organization. This includes course offerings on topics including reskilling library staff in digital scholarship and data management, assessing digital collections, and ways in which libraries can integrate e-science and e-research into traditional services, to name a few. 

Working with several faculty and data curation postdoctoral fellows, a community of practice we’re calling the E-Research Peer Network and Mentoring Group is being formed. The goal of the group is to foster a practitioner network through the process of sharing information about the implementation of strategic agendas, participant-directed learning, and shared skill development through a series of webinars, informal online gatherings, and an in-person half-day conference. Establishing a formal group will provide participants with an opportunity to network with peer institutions and to share and support one another in their efforts to build research data management services into their library’s infrastructure.

Also, as the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowship Program continues to grow in its tenth year, we’re able to identify areas in which growth and change are occurring in host institutions. It is evident from the skill sets being sought that gaps still exist.  Specific skill sets needed range from data management and curation, open access publishing, experience with research data sets, and the data life cycle to programming languages such as R and Python. Other job descriptions portray the ideal candidate as having the ability to “develop innovative connections between digital scholarship and twenty-first century research and archival methodologies “ or the “ability to articulate the opportunities of digital research to scholars in the humanities.”

The E-Research Peer Network and Mentoring Group and the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowship Program are just two ways in which CLIR can support the re-skilling happening at your institution. Whether it be through course offerings, the postdoctoral fellows program, our Hidden Collections program, or through the activities of the DLF, how can we help? Please let us know!