Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: The Expert Library

Sylvie Lafortune reviews a book taking a hard look at academic libraries, how they are being redefined and what skills will be required of the staff who will move them forward.

E-Science, creative disorder, innovators wanted, core competencies and hybridisation of library personnel are some of the concepts you will find in the titles of the 13 chapters which make up this collected work. The editors, both library administrators at two large universities in the US, introduce the book by asking: in view of the major changes that are taking place in academic libraries, who should we be hiring to provide services in areas of 'critical campus concern' such as undergraduate research, data curation, intellectual property management and e-science? Indeed, this question is not taken lightly, and some of the answers offered by the authors are the result of extensive, ongoing discussion and reflection on how best to build capacity in libraries to deal with emerging resources and services.

Content of the Book

The first four chapters focus more broadly on academic library staffing and fundamental questions are raised and examined (all 13 chapter headings are listed below under Information on Reviewed Book). How are job responsibilities evolving as the boundaries of libraries expand in areas such as publishing, teaching and learning and entrepreneurial initiatives, to name just a few? Are the traditional core competencies (obtained via a Master of Library Science(MLS) degree) still relevant? Some authors suggest that libraries are increasingly turning towards non-MLS professionals with diplomas in instructional design, informatics and new media. Certainly, there is a consensus on the need for new personnel selection processes which go beyond recruitment for specific skill sets. Within the new library environment, defined by fluidity in terms of job content as well as boundaries within the organisation, 'soft skills' are equally, if not more, important than core competencies. Flexibility, adaptability and commitment to continuous learning are the 'soft skills' most often referred to, although the author of the third chapter emphasises the importance of communication, political and technical skills in libraries. He also reminds us that it is increasingly important to work in teams because all the required competencies for the 'expert library of the 21st century' cannot possibly be carried by an individual. It is worth noting here that the fourth chapter provides a comprehensive review and analysis of what has been done in terms of 'competency planning'.

Chapters 5 through 12 provide an overview of either the transformation of traditional roles such as reference/subject librarians or cataloguers, or of emerging trends in disciplines or services which have a direct impact on staffing in academic libraries. Chapters 5, 6 and 12 look at the strategic role of liaison librarians. There is tremendous pressure on this category of staff in academic libraries because they represent the public faces of their organisations. As such, they need to demonstrate the 'added value' that the library brings to the teaching and research mandate of their university. They are called upon to develop new 'collaborative skills' as they contribute to teaching and learning teams. They must also thrive in an environment marked by ambiguity and constantly changing user needs.

Chapter 10 provides an excellent overview of the future of cataloguing in academic libraries: new tasks, new work areas, new competencies. Staff in this area will need to balance the orderly (traditional cataloguing) and the disorderly (user-generated metadata and distributed, reusable Web content (p. 271)). Chapter 9 examines how e-science challenges the library to rethink how it can support research based on cyberinfrastructure (simulation, high-performance computing, visualisation and capacity to store massive amounts of data). The author focuses on two emerging areas of concern for the academic library: data curation and preservation and inter-disciplinary research and virtual organisation.

The last chapter deals with the 'how to' of organisational change or, more specifically, how academic libraries can plan and implement the changes they need to make to stay relevant to their parent institutions. The authors review a management approach called 'Organization Development' (OD) which focuses on the human side of organisations and which has been widely adopted in libraries. OD draws on an assortment of powerful tools to help organisations 'sail smoothly' through the unsettling process of change. However, the authors remind us that organisational change requires commitment and patience as it does not happen overnight.


This book is highly recommended: it provides a wealth of up-to-date information on the current situation of academic libraries and what will be required to move them forward. It draws from the research and expertise of 18 professional staff who work in academic libraries all over the US. Therefore, to get the most out of this work, readers will need to have some background knowledge of the academic library environment.

Summary of Chapters

The Expert Library: Sustaining, Staffing and Advancing the Academic Library in the 21st Century. Edited by Scott Walter and Karen Williams, Association of College & Research Libraries, 2010, ISBN 978-083898551-9

Foreword v
The Hybridization of Library Personnel Resources: New Responsibilities Demand Staff Diversity
James G. Neal

Introduction ix
Scott Walter and Karen Williams

Chapter 1: p.1
Academic Library Staffing A Decade From Now
David W. Lewis

Chapter 2: p.30
New Challenges in Academic Library Personnel Selection
John Lehner

Chapter 3: p.52
Innovators Wanted: No Experience Necessary?
R. David Lankes

Chapter 4: p.76
Put the Pieces Together and You Get the Perfect Academic Librarian or Do You?: What Competency Standards Tell Us About Academic Librarianship in the 21st Century
Heather Gendron

Chapter 5: p.93
The New Liaison Librarian: Competencies for the 21st Century Academic Library
Craig Gibson and Jamie Wright Coniglio

Chapter 6: p.127
Preparing Our Librarians for the Future: Identifying and Assessing Core Competencies at the University of Minnesota Libraries
Stephanie H. Crowe and Janice M. Jaguszewski

Chapter 7: p.158
Ph.D. Holders in the Academic Library: The CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowship Program
Marta L. Brunner

Chapter 8: p.190
The Publisher in the Library
Michael J. Furlough

Chapter 9: p.234
E-Science, Cyberinfrastructure, and the Changing Face of Scholarship: Organizing for New Models of Research Support at the Purdue University Libraries
Jake R. Carlson and Jeremy R. Garritano

Chapter 10: p.270
Creative Disorder: The Work of Metadata Librarians in the 21st Century
Kevin Clair

Chapter 11: p.292
Listen Up, Librarians: It's All About the Message
Eric Bartheld

Chapter 12: p.314
Teaching the Teachers: Developing a Teaching Improvement Program for Academic Librarians
Beth S. Woodard and Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Chapter 13: p.337
Creating Smooth Sailing: The Benefits of Organization Development for the Expert Library
Elaine Z. Jennerich and M. Sue Baughman

About the authors: p.365

About the Editors

Scott Walter is Associate University Librarian for Services and Associate Dean of Libraries at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Karen Williams is Associate University Librarian for Academic Programs at the University of Minnesota.

Author Details

Sylvie Lafortune

Government Information and Data Librarian
Laurentian University

Email: slafortune@laurentian.ca
Web site: http://www.laurentian.ca/library/

Sylvie Lafortune is an Associate Librarian at Laurentian University of Sudbury, one of the two bilingual universities in Canada. Her main area of responsibility is Government Information, Data and GIS. She is currently Chair of the Department of Library and Archives at her institution. For the past few years, she has enjoyed being the faculty advisor for the World University Service of Canada Local Committee at Laurentian.

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