Some of the library employees have been very hesitant to embrace this idea. There are questions about why we're doing it and about whether we can require them to do it (mostly be part-timers who are members of the teacher's union in their day jobs). Is it fair to require these things - and fire employees that cannot cut it? The answer is a resounding YES!
Today's libraries are so different than they used to be. Librarians and library aides are ringmasters, juggling reference questions, computer users with requests and all the traditional library services. We must know how to use Kindles, Rokus, downloadable content - and the hardware and apps to manage everything, too. Without the knowledge to give excellent service, it is difficult to defend the value of the library in the community.
The competencies we've created at my library are very direct. We offer both online and in-person training to staff members. Ultimately, the responsibility falls squarely on their shoulders. When we started this project last year, there were actually people on our staff that did not know how to attach a file to an email. Over 20% of our staff members listed Amazon.com as a search engine. When asked the difference between the World Wide Web and the Internet, we were met with stares of confusion. Those things have changed. When we did our competency testing last year, every single staff member scored an 80% or above. The minimum score in order to perform the job was 80%. This year, we're raising the bar and requiring a minimum score of 85%.
Am I being demanding of the library staff? Yes. Is it unfair? No. If library directors don't raise the bar for their employees, the public will stop supporting us. There is nothing more detrimental to the library's public image than when someone leaves without the answer to their question. Years ago, that meant we could figure out where to get the answers to difficult reference questions. Today that could mean figuring out how to connect their Kindle Fire to our wireless network or finding an eAudiobook that we don't have on CD. Maybe they are trying to change their slide transitions in Powerpoint. Maybe they are looking for a video tutorial on changing their oil You never know what the question will be, but you should always know that there is someone at the library who can find you the answer.
Competencies are not about storing the knowledge of the world in your brain. Competencies are about mastering the art of searching and navigating electronic resources with ease.
The most difficult roadblock that I've encountered is the vocabulary of librarianship. Jargon like "collection development," "electronic resources" and "databases" are not words the public uses. Part of customer service is finding a language that librarians can use that will make learning easier for the public.
As we close in on the next round of competency testing, I've been reflecting on the change that has occurred in the past year for our library. The culture has most certainly been altered. Raising the bar has scared some and empowered others. As librarians, we need to start screaming from the mountaintop that WE KNOW TECHNOLOGY. We are the BEST place to get your questions answered. WE ARE YOUR PUBLIC LIBRARY...AND WE ROCK.