26 June 2017

There's more to IT than coding - an IT skills framework

This post is Number 2 of 8 in a series arising from a presentation that I will be giving at the New Librarians Symposium 8 on 25 June 2017 in Canberra. You may want to start reading with the first post in the series

There is a lot of interest in the library profession in coding right now. Library Carpentry is taking off, and journals, newsletters and blogs are full of debates about whether coding is an essential skill for 21st century librarians.

It's not my intention to rehash these debates: if you are interested in exploring this topic Domenic Rosati's 2016 article [1] provides a readable overview. What I want to suggest is that coding is just one of many IT skills that could be relevant in a future library (or GLAM) career. I work at a large Australian university as the manager of the library's technology team. Seven of us are responsible for an application portfolio of a dozen different library systems and repositories, but coding is actually quite a small part of our work lives.

I put a proposal forward to NLS8 because I have been concerned for a while that most librarians are only directly exposed to a very narrow sub-set of the IT profession and may not be aware of the range of other skills that could be usefully combined with library qualifications and experience. Depending on your prior experience, your interests and aptitudes, and your specific work context, IT skills other than coding might be more readily applicable to your work as an information professional. But as a new professional (and maybe even as an established member of the profession), how would you find out more about different skillsets in IT and how to start building them?

Many librarians would be aware of the professional competency frameworks or models that can guide us as we embark on our professional journeys and continue to learn over the course of our careers. These frameworks are usually associated with national professional associations, such as ALIA's Core Knowledge, Skills and Attributes and the LIANZA Bodies of Knowledge.

One of my ongoing disappointments as a library technology manager is the way that IT is included in these competency frameworks. At best there is a focus on being a competent user of technologies with enough ability to support library users, but there is little to suggest librarians should be involved in IT strategy and design, in-depth application support, and innovative technical projects. New librarians aspiring to move into library systems roles or hybrid roles that require extensive collaboration with IT professionals (research data management, for example) would be hard-pressed to find guidance in library competency frameworks about the kinds of skills they might need.

Fortunately other frameworks are available that provide a more granular perspective on IT skills. One of these is the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). This is a competency model for the IT industry that is used in over 200 countries worldwide. SFIA contains over ninety IT skills. It can be used for self-assessment or as a framework for certification by associations such as the Australian Computer Society, the equivalent organisation to ALIA for our IT colleagues.

This short video provides an introduction to SFIA and how it is used by different cohorts in the IT industry (staff, employers, professional associations) for different purposes (skills mapping, professional development planning, recruitment, certification).

Not everything in SFIA is relevant to librarians and, to be honest, the way it is written can be difficult to read and understand. There is a lot of technical jargon and business lingo that can seem a bit impenetrable when you first look at it!

What a framework like SFIA does offer librarians though is a tantalising glimpse into a world that is bigger and more diverse than most of us can imagine. SFIA demonstrates that just as the library and information profession is more complicated than most non-librarians realise - with multiple sub-sectors and specialisations requiring different knowledge, skills and experiences - so too is the IT profession.

Coding is just one of the ninety-seven skills in SFIA (Programming/software development). In the rest of the posts in this series, I will focus on three other skill areas that I think are highly relevant in libraries and other GLAM contexts. These are:

  • user experience
  • change management 
  • business process improvement

In the following six posts I'll explore these topics in more detail. For each skill, there will be two posts. The first in each set will provide some detail about the skill, including pointers to professional development (PD) options for new information professionals, with a focus on no- or low-cost options. The second will present a more personal perspective, through a Q&A with a librarian from my own organisation (Griffith University) who has incorporated that skill as part of their professional practice.


[1] Rosati, D. A. (2016). Librarians and Computer Programming: Understanding the role of programming within the profession of librarianship. Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management, 12(1). Retrieved from https://ojs.library.dal.ca/djim/article/view/6450