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Workforce Transformation: It’s about the Work

When University of Maryland professor of sociology Philip Cohen was asked recently to consult with a graduate student on a journal article revision, the student had two challenges to satisfy his reviewers. The first challenge had to do with the complex use of GIS and geocoding; the reviewers wanted to see a particular deployment of GIS in the student’s US Census tract maps. The second challenge involved the use of census data itself. Professor Cohen easily offered advice on the latter and tried to think where the student could find help with GIS. No need, the graduate student assured him. The student had visited the campus library and gotten exactly the consultation he needed to incorporate GIS in his article revision.

ARL created the Transforming Research Libraries (TRL) strategic initiative to acknowledge and address how the networked research information environment has transformed scholarship and the corresponding service, collections, and staff expertise required in the research library. Through TRL, the Association has sketched the contours of 21st-century collections, envisioned the research environment in 2030 through scenario planning, and provided opportunities for professional development in e-science and management of born-digital archival collections. TRL’s report series entitled New Roles for New Times examined particular segments of the library workforce that were sites of transformation: digital preservation, graduate student outreach, and the changing role of the liaison librarian.

Library leaders have spent years talking about how networked information (or the data deluge, or the Internet) has shaped what it means to be a librarian. The focus on what a librarian is, or does, leads to a set of challenging and provocative questions for the profession. What credentials are needed to perform these new roles? Are I-schools preparing the MLIS pipeline adequately? If the trend of hiring PhDs and other non-MLS credentialed professionals in areas of the library workforce previously reserved for an ALA-accredited MLS (including management) continues, what does that mean for the professional research library workforce in 20 years? Will the core professional library staff still hold degrees in library and information science? While these questions are critical for the profession, and certainly for LIS education, they aren’t necessarily the questions that help research library leadership restructure and reorganize their human resources to meet the needs of digital scholarship today and in the future. For that, leadership needs to define the work of the library, and recruit, retrain, and reorganize to do that work.

This is more than a semantic shift. As Janice Jaguszewski and Karen Williams suggested in their report on Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries, the 21st-century liaison librarian defines his or her work according to the structure of scholarly inquiry, not the organization of library functions:

The overarching framework for all changes is an increasing focus on what users do (research, teaching, and learning) rather than on what librarians do (collections, reference, library instruction).

This new Workforce Transformation e-column picks up that theme and shifts the conversation from the new roles of librarians to the new work in libraries in the creation of, provision of access to, and long-term stewardship of digital scholarship. The column will highlight stories of workforce transformation in ARL libraries from the perspective of the library’s 21st-century mission.

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