ER&L 2014 — Practitioner Perspectives on the Core Competencies for Electronic Resource Librarians: Preliminary Results of a Qualitative Study

“Cats that Webchick is herding” by Kathleen Murtagh

Presenter: Sheri Ross, St. Catherine University

She teaches a course on ERM, which is why she’s doing this research. She initially planned to do a comprehensive job ad analysis and then look at LIS syllabi to see if we were meeting the needs. Then she found Sarah Sutton’s 2011 dissertation that did most of this already. So, she changed her strategy to evaluate the competencies once they were adopted.

She interviewed ER librarians about their work, their institution’s workflow, and their perspectives on the competencies. She targeted jobs posted to ERIL from 2008-2012 and followed up with the folks who were hired. Of those identified (42), 16 responded to her inquiry.

Most had paraprofessional experience with web design, reference, serials, ILL, and archives. They received their degrees between 1980 and 2012. Most have reference/instruction and collection development/subject liaison responsibilities. Median FTE at their institutions was 13,900.

Their typical day “depends on the time of year,” which affirms the importance of understanding the lifecycle of ERM. Work seems to be most intense at the beginning and end of the semester, which isn’t covered in the lifecycle as explicitly.

Though they had many different roles, there were some commonalities: troubleshooting access and other issues, primary point person for vendor communication, and working closely with subject specialist and systems/IT personnel.

The interview took the Core Competencies and lumped them into four broad areas and didn’t specify the source: technical, analytical, legal, and interpersonal. The participants were asked to rank these.

Least important were the legal competencies, in part because many institutions had legal departments that could make sure that they were signing reasonable licenses, or they were negotiated at the consortial level. They also felt that identifying library-related clauses becomes rote after a short period of time.

Third most important were the technical competencies, in part because it’s all in flux and you’ll have to learn something new tomorrow anyway. It’s more important to be able to learn than what you know right now. Most important skills were website/database design and Excel. A certain degree of technical savvy was important communicating with internal and external technical contacts. Some felt that having a deep knowledge of cataloging as a core competency was off-base, possibly because the metadata department usually handles all formats and ER librarians are typically not involved with that.

Second most important was analytical.

First most important were interpersonal competencies. You need to be able to understand what is happening with so many key contacts, from students to faculty to colleagues to vendors. Good relationships with vendors can influence product development and getting good customer service. Collaboration is huge.

Moving forward, she plans to continue the analysis of the open-ended questions and compare with the Core Competencies. She will evaluate the MLIS program curricular pathways and syllabi for ERM courses to get at the unique competencies that are not covered by ALA requirements.

Really admires the comprehensiveness of the NASIG Core Competencies.

Question about the dearth of ERM courses in our LIS programs. Speaker noted she is doing this to promote ERM education because everyone coming out of LIS should know something of this, like we all learned cataloging and reference.

Is 16 a good sample? Yes, for qualitative research. Each interview was 1.5 hrs, and takes about 6hrs to transcribe. Her colleagues thought it was a great sample, too. If she did more, it would be a questionnaire based on this qualitative research to get a broader response.

What were the reasons people were enthusiastic about Excel? A lot to do with not much luck with implementing ERMS and using it to manage their administrative data. Title analysis, generating stats, use reports, etc. “I try to develop a new Excel technique every week.”

Question for us: Is there a strong distinction between digital librarianship and licensed content librarianship? Response: Yes!

Question for us: relationship between ERM and cataloging. Response: It’s good for us to know some to communicate (more than say, a reference librarian), but we don’t do the work.

Respondents said, for the most part, that no one else in their library could do their job if they got hit by a bus. The main reasons being that no one else had the comprehensive vision of what goes on with managing ERM.