The focus group was a bit different than I expected but it was extremely informative.
I would like to point out that the community college hosting this focus group offers a library technician program. So, while much of what we recommended also carried over into training librarians, this meeting focused solely on library techs and their qualifications.
Rather than having the existing program explained to us, the moderator simply allowed us to discuss, as professionals, what we want. The focus group was help in open discussion context, where we were able to freely discuss what we look for when hiring. We bounced ideas off each other, described what best fit our own needs, and what we feel is lacking as a whole in newer graduates. The only rule was that we respect each others concerns, opinions or needs.
The group consisted of:
Me, a cataloguing librarian from a public library
Adult services librarian from a public library
Head librarian from a local university
Technical services librarian from a local university
2 Branch managers/librarians from rural library systems
Although as a group we were discussing librarian technicians and their education as a whole, I will be listing the results in the context of what is desirable in any candidate seeking a cataloguing position.
- Cataloguers need to be fearless. We are being introduced to new technology, programs and software constantly. Cataloguers need to be able to explore ideas and technology that is new, without holding back or resisting change.
- Interest in professional development and participation in the profession.
- Intellectual curiosity.
- An understanding of the “big picture”. How do cataloguers fit in to the overall workings of a library? Where do they fit in within the cataloguing department? It sounds simple, but because we tend to be removed from the rest of the library’s activities, they need to have an understanding of the running of a library.
- Respect for all areas of librarianship/departments in the library. This ties in with #4.
- Excitement and a positive attitude toward their job.
- Someone who is well-rounded. We catalogue so many different items it is important for any candidate to have a broad knowledge of a lot of topics. It’s always important to have cataloguers who are strong in different areas, but a broad knowledge base is very helpful.
- They must be well-versed in the theory of cataloguing. We discussed this at length. Because of the significant changes and proposals for change in our area of librarianship, it is vital that candidates understand why we use subject headings, structures of terms, access issues, etc. rather than knowledge of AACR2, BISAC, or MARC. While a basic knowledge of the tools we currently use are important, with a keen interest in the profession and understanding of cataloguing, the act of cataloguing and the system used in any library can be learned.
- Ability to work alone as well as the ability to collaborate with other cataloguers or staff throughout the library.
Other areas of interest
One of the areas we spoke about, which was a bit of “the elephant in the room” was educating library technicians about the difference between library techs and librarians. Many library tech students graduate and come out thinking that they know as much about librarianship as librarians. This carried into a discussion about offering a course on professionalism and ethics.
Other suggestions that were made to the program included courses on professional environments (ie. Union vs. non-union environments) and a knowledge of Microsoft office (especially Excel).
Finally, we discussed offering technical services courses to cataloguers. Right now, the college that held this group does not offer a technical services degree geared toward libraries. We all indicated that candidates in this area were generally lacking and we were all feeling it in our libraries. The technical services librarian and I were quick to see the use of these courses for cataloguers too. With the emergence of electronic and digital information, cataloguers should understand how the information behaves and works. This knowledge will assist in our cataloguing efforts and increase accessibility. Indeed, with the possibility of many library catalogues becoming web-based, an understanding of technical services becomes even more attractive and useful.
I have only listed the highlights of our discussion. If any of you are interested in a more detailed outline, let me know. I will be receiving an outline from the college of our discussion. A transcript will also be made available to me. If I receive enough interest, I’ll order the transcript and provide a detailed outline.
If you’ll take the time to view Patricia’s list for a cataloguer, it almost matches the list that I have outlined above.