Response blog: Tech skills

Many thanks to slistopher for the list of questions here, as well as the link given to these thoughts from other librarians.  Slistopher asked a lot of questions, and they weren’t true/false, so expect a long post.

Some background/caveats:  All of my library work has been in academic libraries, with tech services, although I’ve worked with many people in public services (and am currently in a long-term relationship with one, so I hear the complaints).  I have studied/worked in computer science and tech-related industries for twenty-five years; I am unabashedly old-school, and I tend not to adopt any tech until I see whether it’s played out (for example, I don’t own a smartphone).  I will try to answer the questions as though they were asked about librarians in general. I will try not to repeat the article, except maybe in emphasis.

1. What do you define as “tech skills”?
5. How important do you think “soft skills” (communication, interpersonal skills, etc.) are for LIS professionals?

I grouped these two together because there is so very little division between the two nowadays.  Any communication, interpersonal interaction, leadership activity, etc., in your work will not likely go more than two minutes without a tech skill coming in.  Presentation?  Projectors and PowerPoint.  Project management?  Spreadsheets, at the least.  Reference question?  If it’s not about the bathrooms, you’ll be pointing at your screen in 30 seconds.  Check out a book?  Scary tech skills the instant something out of the ordinary happens.

Likewise, in libraries, your tech skills will be almost useless without the “soft skills” behind it.  Some people can’t show grandmothers how to send emails without getting condescending or frustrated or even angry; keep these people away from your library.  Few libraries are big enough to shelter their systems people under a layer of business consultants and client handlers; every position in the library needs to be able to communicate what they’re planning and thinking, and most importantly, to LISTEN.  I started laughing when we covered reference interviews, because it’s so… sad that we waited until a Master’s program to teach people how to handle requests for help.

So the answer to both questions are “They’re everything.”

2. Which types of “tech skills” (broadly defined) have you found to be particularly useful in your work environments?
3. What do you see as being the most useful technology skills for LIS professionals, in general?

Number three, first.  In fact, I’ll answer the question “what is the single most useful technology skill for any human being over the age of 15 in the parts of the world with personal computers?”  Learn, actually learn, to use Microsoft Office.  “But I do,” you say.
<rant tag on>
Oh?  Can you mail merge?  Use styles in Word? Make a pivot table and chart?  Hide and unhide a column? Have you learned that adding animations and transitions to a presentation only give people motive for homicide?  “But I don’t use those, and people like the animations.”  I disagree. You didn’t know how they could be used, how they could save you so much time and trouble (I’m typing a long blog post at 10 a.m.  How?  I know Office.).  I taught at a computer training center for a while, and I was gobsmacked at how little I knew before that. Seriously, you could be the one person in your library who knows Office if you take the time to learn.  You can have power beyond imagining over all humanity.  Just learn Office.
</rant tag off>

Beyond that?   Most tech skills involve learning vocabulary; they are skills in communicating technology to others.  In doing so, you can learn the greatest tech skill, which is “the ability to quickly learn tech skills.” Get really good at Googling how to do things.  And maybe, just maybe, read the manual (okay, read the table of contents) (okay, know WHERE the manual is).

4. Have you ever taken the time to learn a particular skill, only to find that it wasn’t helpful at all?

No, but as you’ve seen from my other posts, I believe that all information is related to all other information, and learning things, even random things, helps you learn in general. And as said above, the best tech ability is the ability to learn tech abilities, because they’ll never stop asking you to learn new tech skills. Often disturbingly quickly.

6. If you were in the position of hiring a librarian/archivist/other LIS professional, which types of “tech” knowledge/experience would you expect a candidate to possess?

“Expect” or “want”? As you’ve seen, I’ve gotten pessimistic about many people’s tech skills in Office, but obviously, most of my colleagues don’t have those skills, and you can’t expect people to have skills that your peers don’t have. I found the answers on the article to be, for the most part, really good. So, instead, I have the cynical, dark answers that they won’t put in print.

The tech skills I expect you to have, if you don’t want to complain to HR later about how I beat you with a heavy stick:

  1. I expect never to hear a question from you where the answer is in the first three results of my first Google search.
  2. I expect never to hear a question from you more than twice, and that second time had better be accompanied by, “I’m sorry, I know I asked you this once, but…”
  3. I expect to never have something happen because you were afraid to ask me for help. I know about the last two items, but I’d rather be disappointed with your memory and note-taking ability than explain to my boss why I didn’t tell you not to do that to the copy machine.
  4. I expect that you treat every patron tech question as though your mother asked it. Correction: As though MY mother asked it, and I’m watching you. And I love my momma.
  5. I expect that you be patient with your own tech learning. Yes, it’s frustrating and monotonous at times, but you spent quite a while learning to drive a car, and the only thing that does, in the end, is move.
  6. I expect that you genuinely like technology and how it helps people. The tech people of the world didn’t make this to provide pain and suffering to humanity. Heck, a number of them didn’t make it for the money (now, the people who sold it to you later did it for the money). They did it because they saw a problem and envisioned a solution. If you like your technology, then your patrons will, at the least, like you, if not the technology.
  7. Oh, and minor point. I expect any mention of “Web 2.0” or “social computing” to be accompanied by eye-rolling and smirking. We didn’t make a new version of the World Wide Web. We had comment sections before the marketing people gave it a name. They’re just tools like the other tools, and you can learn how to make effective blogs and tweets and tags without acting like you’re thirteen. If anyone in libraries acts like they’re doing something extraordinary, they want your money. Make sure you have their problem before you buy their solution.

Okay, that should do it.

Response blog: Tech skills

6 thoughts on “Response blog: Tech skills

  1. I’d like to add to your fourth point (about explaining tech questions as if to your mother). I know it probably counts under soft skill, and that it relates to every question we get, but the questions also have to be answered as if it’s the first time you’ve been asked that question. I might get annoyed with my mom if I have to explain how to send an email five times in a row (even though I love her dearly), but I shouldn’t get annoyed with the fifth patron in a row who needs help sending an email, right?

    I have to disagree with you a little bit on the PowerPoint animations thing. It’s good to know how to use those because they can be used effectively…so they only provide motive for homicide when they’re used too much (or poorly). Which is most of the time, but still.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You can get annoyed with YOUR mom if you have to explain it five times in a row. Not mine. 🙂 As for me, I make sure I envision Greta’s mom (Greta’s my SO, and she loves her momma AND she’s a reference librarian, so she doesn’t take excuses about answering questions).

      I can theoretically accept animation if and only if the animation is used to illustrate a concept in such a way that still text or images couldn’t (moving a word from one portion of a diagram, perhaps, if the before and after shots weren’t sufficient to see the movement). But I would still be tempted to say that, in that case, you need a better diagram. But, considering my drawing skills, maybe people would be less irritated by the animation.


  2. Amen to everything you say here, and extra amen to learning Office. Especially Excel. Seriously, WHY they spend so much library school time on HTML and user testing and skip over the SINGLE MOST USEFUL PROGRAM EVER is just beyond me. I don’t expect everyone to be skilled at pivot tables and VLOOKUP, but professional librarians who can’t do basic filtering or sums are just sad.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. #4 and #3 are related. A few years back when interviewing this thing called pivot tables came up in the interview and how the company liked to use them. Later they tested us on a the various aspects of office and how we would complete different tasks. The PivotTable (c) question came up and I was not able to complete that task. After I didn’t get that position, I thought about going to learn more about this topic, but then luckily the next version of office made it incredibly easy, so I know can do a basic pivot table.


  4. Thank you for your long response, Damen! I learned a lot from all of your comments, as well as from the comments posted by others. In particular, I thought your statements about Office were pretty spot-on.


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