The SKIP (Skills for new Information Professionals) Project Report, summarising research by the University of Plymouth Academic and Information Services in 1996-1997 is now on the UKOLN Web site at http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/elib/papers/other/skip/. The project looked at the changing learning environment and the impact of information and communications technology on staff in higher education library and information services.
Around 200 staff in 18 institutions, from Heads of Service to Library Assistants, took part and the report incorporates many of their views on issues ranging from skills requirements and training needs to organisational cultures and structures. A literature review reflects thought and opinion garnered from practitioners, lecturers, and researchers within the information field in the United States, Australia and Europe.
The project took a holistic approach in that library and information services are seen as part of a changing learning environment, demanding adaptation and re-skilling.
SKIP found considerable variation in the IT skills required by staff, and their institutional roles. Key determinants were the extent to which IT had become part of the learning environment, and also the role of information services in providing an integrated information and IT environment in support.
The research found that many staff operate in a culture which inhibits change and innovation, and blocks the establishment of good working relationships between services or departments. Separate computing and library cultures persisted even in integrated or converged services. But cultural change had sometimes been affected as a result of strong, focused leadership.
There was also a confirmation that information professionals are adopting roles in teaching and training, learner support and liaison with faculties or departments. IT skills are relevant, but they need to be updated to keep pace with change. Personal qualities, such as flexibility and communication skills were more highly valued by many senior managers. The IT skills required depended on the needs of the post, but all new staff should have skills in standard applications software. Staff providing front-line support to student workstations required additional skills. Influences are: the growth in student centred independent learning, distance learning, and technology-supported learning; increased use of the Internet; partnerships with other information providers; and a gradual erosion of discrete roles for teaching, computing, research and information staff.
The report concludes that information professionals need a portfolio of skills, including Web authoring, accessing and evaluating resources on the Internet and an awareness of the Importance of communications and information technology in higher education. Professional qualifications may become less important as managers seek staff with the appropriate skills, knowledge, and expertise to do a specific job, with the personal qualities and attitudes which are crucial to success in the modern service environment.