Learning About and Experimenting With New Technologies: Skills for Librarian 4.0

Pippi Longstocking, the children's hero in the Astrid Lindgren books, was never afraid to try out new things. You could even say that she was always looking for new challenges, not afraid to take some risks and brave enough to wander out in a new world. How we loved to read about her adventures. Didn't we all want to be like Pippi, while we probably were more like her careful and responsible friends Tommy and Annika? We should adopt the mantra of: "I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that."

Libraries are changing. We have to. Our community and users’ demands are changing as well. So, as we always have, we continue to play new and different roles. That makes the library of today a very dynamic organization; a hub for information, education, professional and personal development. That in itself, might not be new, but in this role we have to adopt new techniques and new methods and thus we have to learn new skills. Libraries in general have been early adopters when it comes to using (and promoting) new techniques.

Over the centuries, we have witnessed new technologies. Many of these have been successfully adopted by libraries. For example, social media as a new way of communicating blossomed in libraries; we taught people of all ages to use a tablet computer; and thousands of children, not to mention adults, got their first 3D-printing experience in the library!

New Technologies That Affect Libraries

But lately, we seem to be a bit intimidated by the new digital and complicated techniques entering our world. Especially when it comes to topics like Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, algorithms, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Internet of Things and robotics, we tend to look for initiatives and guidance from more ‘technical people’. To fully understand the new role of data requires new skills and knowledge—skills you might never expected to be required in the library environment. But we should not forget that all these new technologies revolve around data and information, not only technique. And who are the specialists when it comes to the use of information, isn’t it librarians?

To successfully function in this age of Data we should be more like Pippi. Be brave. Explore new territories. Investigate the unknown. Just like what we used to do! This requires certain new competencies, maybe competencies which appear to be out of our comfort zone.

As we see a shift in traditional library skills towards interpersonal skills, while recognizing that knowledge and understanding of concepts are getting more and more complex, it is important to see this development as an opportunity and not a threat! What skills do you need to introduce new techniques in the Library?

Competencies for Librarian 4.0

If we take a closer look at the competencies for the modern librarian or the librarian 4.0 we can differentiate five different aspects; skills, abilities, attitudes, behaviours and knowledge. In a world in transition all these aspects are important. Today a Librarian should not only depend on knowledge and skills. Although these might still form the basic requirements to work in a Library the ability and willingness to adapt to change, to invest in your own development and keeping up-to-date with trends and development are essential traits in being a successful.

What defines this successful Librarian 4.0? Not new, but still important, is the ability to think from the customer’s perspective. Try to answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question when you talk about new services and products. The same goes for your stakeholders, administrators or collaborators. They want to know what the ‘Added Value’ of this Library 4.0 is before they invest or cooperate with you.

The skill ‘thinking out of the box’ has been (mis)used over the past years and sounds like a cliché. But to be able to incorporate new techniques in your services you have to forget ‘old’ or existing methods from the analog era. Be creative and start to think with no (technical) limits in mind to be able to make full use of innovations. This is not easy; work in groups and be prepared for resistance from less open minded colleagues. In this process it is important to show curiosity and be on top of the latest developments. This does not mean that you have to be a specialist on every topic right away. Just be aware of what is happening in this digital fast moving information society! Try to look for opportunities to use these trends in the daily workflow. And yes, all this is easier said than done. But be brave, do not be afraid to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

Be Like PIppi

Do not forget to be like Pippi. And just like, her make sure there are Tommys and Annikas around you. You do not have to do everything yourself. You need colleagues to collaborate with you. This means you have to be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. Firstly, you need to know where you need to upgrade your knowledge and skills. Secondly, you need to know in which field to look for partners in your team. You can optimize the results by using each other’s strengths within a team. But also get inspiration or knowledge from others. Look for examples at other libraries or totally different organizations.

But most importantly… Just start. When you just go for it you will find out that, for example, AI is not all that difficult or scary. And soon after you get the hang of it you will learn that proper and responsible use of technologies like AI requires the involvement of librarians! The brave and curious ones….

Eric Kokke is Marketing Manager, GO | School of Information, The Netherlands, and a frequent speaker at Internet Librarian International.