This article was co-written by the e-Forum moderators.
The e-Forum “Training for Results: Hard and Soft Skills for Technical Services Staff” was held December 5–6, 2017. The forum was moderated by Terry McQuown, Staff Development Coordinator with King County Library System in Washington state, and Maggie Dull, Head of Metadata Strategies at the University of Rochester’s River Campus Libraries.
Day one focused on “soft skills” in technical services. Participants identified the following skills as critical for technical services staff:
- ability to be proactive or take initiative
- communication and presentation skills
- customer service
- time management
- project management
- being a member of a team, as well as building teams
- emotional intelligence
- sense of vantage point or perspective
- sense of humor
Also important for technical services staff is a sense of respect for their users and colleagues, an understanding of and commitment to their organization’s mission, and the ability, if not willingness, to accept and cope with change.
In terms of identifying training needs to develop soft skills, participants took two approaches. An informal approach builds up opportunities such as available webinars. This approach, however, does not face training needs head on. Another approach is to conduct a needs assessment as a way to gain insight into what departments or staff members are lacking. Training staff in soft skills can come from inside the library. Crystal McCormick Ware, Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at the University of Pittsburgh’s University Library System, conducts training sessions relating to a wide range of topics based on their diverse community of library users and staff.
The day ended with a discussion of roles and responsibilities around training. One participant noted that they are focusing on helping staff make better use of the training they attend and identified the vital role supervisors play in helping their staff put their training into practice. The day one conversation also picked up a few days later with a thoughtful discussion on the importance of managing expectations and preventing burnout. By recognizing what cannot reasonably be done, being aware of when you and your staff are at your limits, and encouraging self-care, you can improve your work life and that of your staff.
Day two focused on hard skills, with the conversation centering on two questions, identifying skills gaps and meeting those training needs. Participants discussed hard skills that technical services departments need right now. One participant identified an understanding of database design, data modeling, metadata, advanced query knowledge, and management storage and backup. Skills in these areas will enable us to advocate for and manage the information technology platforms built for our industry. Another participant said that she didn’t expect to be providing training in the hard skills of downloading, moving, transforming, and loading large files of records into their database. Working between different systems is challenging, but absolutely vital to understanding how to manage batch processes.
Participants also discussed how to provide training in hard skills for their staff. One participant has used internal and external workshops, webinars, and self-directed learning. The impact of a particular approach depends on the individual’s learning style, so it’s important to offer training in more than one format. Webinar participation can be improved through group viewing, which makes the process feel less passive. It can also encourage a culture of learning in your department. Likewise, group participation in an online conference is a great way to introduce less experienced staff to the conference experience and help them to better reap the benefits of attendance. Grounded practice is important as well, as hard skills can atrophy quickly without regular use. One participant’s department organizes a monthly meeting where problems and concerns can be brought to the group to work out together.
We hope this e-Forum helped attendees better support their staff and their departments as they work to serve their communities and institutions.
- Patrick Lencioni’s books on teamwork and leadership, especially:
- Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
- Media Partners is an online video seller. Some of their videos include:
- Video Visions is another online video seller on management, teamwork and customer service topics.
- Many consultants offer webinars on a variety of topics, including:
- Broad, Mary, and John Newstrom. Transfer of Training: Action-Packed Strategies to Ensure High Payoff from Training Investments. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1992.
- Broad, Mary. Beyond Transfer of Training: Engaging Systems to Improve Performance. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer, 2005.
- Jefferson, Andrew, Roy Pollock, and Calhoun Wick. Getting Your Money’s Worth from Training and Development: A Guide to Breakthrough Learning for Managers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009.
- Pollock, Roy, Andrew Jefferson, and Calhoun Wick. The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development into Business Results. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015.