Skills library schools should be teaching in my opinion

Every so often I get an email asking my advice about what the new batch of library students need to know, and how library schools might change their curriculum. I have included the request below. This is a topic that the cabinet and I often talk about, and I asked for their help in answering this request. The letter and respond are below.

Dear Sean,

Rebecca Miller suggested I reach out to you. Library Journal is writing an article on new competencies needed in libraries, and I was hoping you could take a minute to share with me a couple of skills you expect to need in hires, not so much in the next year or two, as in the next 10 to 20 years. What do you want library schools to be teaching that they’re not already? What do you expect librarians to have to do in the future that’s not already part of their job description?

I know you’re very busy; a sentence or two is all I need. If you could get back to me by Friday, that would be ideal. We’re asking library leaders around the country and will be putting their answers together to see if any commonalities emerge.

Many thanks in advance,


This is an interesting question and it is something that my executive team discusses from time to time. At our morning meeting I asked for their insight, and this is the list they thought would be most helpful.

The list is in no particular order.

  1. Critical thinking following the guidelines of Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder. Their work came from of The Foundation of Critical Thinking.
  2. Communication with a focus on giving and receiving professional critique, conflict resolution and active listening.
  3. Budget, there is so much in this area, and we felt that librarians need to know about capital projects, debt service, library funding models and how budgets can act as a planning tool. I think students should understand how to connect a budget to a strategic plan and there are many frameworks that they might use.
  4. Leadership, under this topic we thought that a student should know their Myers-Briggs profile and have a good understanding of their personal preferences and work style. They should be aware of other personality styles and have a working knowledge of how to flex to another style. The team also thought that each student should know how to develop their own personal development plan.
  5. Management, this topic was a little all encompassing, we though there were some helpful tools that every student should know. They should understand scheduling and capacity planning; they should have a good understanding of project management. We also thought that they should know how to hire and prepare interview questions. They should have a working knowledge of FSLA and ADAAA. They should know what questions are illegal to ask and they should study cases to understand how easily this can occur.
  6. Marketing, how to market the library and the services they offer through your social network and how to work with a marketing department in a collaborative manner. We also talked about how to build strategic partnerships and relationships. With whom in the community do you need to connect?
  7. Board Management, how to work with a board whether you are a staff member or the Director. We also thought it might be helpful to teach students how to work with a Friends and Foundation Board.
  8. Grant writing/reporting, this is a skill that we are constantly looking to find. If you are a small library system this skill may be invaluable.
  9. Facilities 101, this is all about how to run a building. It would cover everything from utilities to security to capital planning.
  10. Local government, how does it work, who are the stakeholders and how to align your strategic goals with their agenda. How libraries can support and engage local government, including neighborhood associations, city managers, and chambers, up to state officials.

I hope this is helpful and answers your question.

I am sharing this list not because it is groundbreaking, new or even innovative, it is because I think these are the core skills you need to have to work in this profession.

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