Master 7 Digital Skills to Future-Proof Your Library Career

Septian Sugara
September 11, 2023

Have you ever wondered how we learn new things? For example, how do we know that oxygen is what we breathe or that pearls come from oysters or that Borobudur is a monumental Buddhist temple? Well, all this knowledge is part of what we humans know, but how does it get to us?

We wouldn’t typically think much about it but it actually takes a lot of work. People spend a lot of time doing careful research and then they write about it in papers, books and presentations and these writings get passed down to the future generations.

With the future of technology changing at a rapid pace, our ability to adapt has become second nature. But, this isn't just about keeping up with the digital changes, it is  also about fulfilling our promise to pass on what we've learned to future generations. This is where the role of  digital librarians becomes vital. They are experts who are good at what they do, and they're dedicated to their work. They act like guardians, taking care of and organizing digital information, making sure it's available to lots of different people, and making it easy for knowledge to be shared openly and smoothly.

Mastering the Craft: Key Skills for the Digital Librarian

Highly influenced by technology, librarians, especially those who manage digital collections, must be flexible in adopting current practices, tools, and ways of doing things. 

This ongoing process of learning is fundamental for creating an outstanding digital library.  In this context, seven key skills stand out -

1. Classification: The Art of Organizing Chaos

These days we have a lot of information to deal with. Librarians have the challenging job of organizing this diverse mix of information so that it's easy for people to find later. While we know about traditional ways of organizing information like the Library of Congress Classification System (LCC) or Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC), embracing new methods like Colon Classification (CC) which can create complex or new categories through the use of facets or colons, or Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) which is an international extension of DDC, can make librarians even better at their job. 

They also need to understand how to manage digital materials with software like DSpace, and Koha.

Digital libraries pose challenges because digital materials don't provide as many clues about their content. The traditional Cataloguing-in-Publication (CIP) data we use in physical libraries doesn't work as well in the digital realm. Therefore, digital librarians need to excel at determining the subjects of digital materials. This requires creative thinking and a deep understanding of what's inside the digital data which can also be done by using digital repository software like EPrints.

2. Metadata: Illuminating the Digital Realm

In the digital world, metadata is the essential information about a digital fact. It tells you where it came from, what it is, when it was made, and how big it is. Digital librarians do more than just put in this data; they also organize, improve, and simplify it. This doesn't just make things work better; it also makes it easier for you to find stuff because you have clear choices. 

It's like having a map when a digital librarian gets it right. You can explore digital collections without getting lost, just like wandering through a neat and tidy library. Good metadata ensures you easily find what you're looking for without error.

3. Information Architecture: Crafting User-Centric Journeys

Another important skill for digital librarians is information architecture, which is like organizing a library so that every book is easy to find. In the digital world as we all know, websites can be really big, with lots of details on them. It can be really hard for people to figure out where to go if the navigation is all messy. That's where Information Architecture (IA) comes in. It teaches us to arrange content for easy navigation.

IA makes it simple for people to use a website. It groups similar information and creates menus that help users find what they need quickly. The goal is to make it easy for users to get information without feeling confused or lost. 

Imagine a website with tons of menus stacked on top of each other – it's like being in a maze. Users might end up clicking around aimlessly or even clicking the wrong things and having to start over. This can be frustrating and make them not want to use the website again. That's why it's a good idea to follow the "3-click rule" – users should find what they want in just three clicks

4. UI/UX: Weaving Engagement through Design

Libraries are now on digital platforms like websites and apps. But this shift requires more than traditional library skills. It demands new technical skills, including understanding UI/UX.

UI/UX, which stands for user interface and user experience, is about designing digital experiences that are functionally sound, and visually pleasing. It's like making sure visitors to a physical library can find what they're looking for with clear signs and directions. UI/UX involves designing websites, navigation menus, search bars, buttons, icons, and images to make it easier for users to access and enjoy the content.

Well designed websites can boost engagement and a user’s experience. The longer people stay on a website, the more they consume its content. For academic libraries, more content access can mean more citations, which can boost the reputation of the institution over time. So, good UI/UX is crucial for success in the digital library world.

5. Project Management: Bridging Vision and Reality

Being creative means one comes up with new ideas, but it's making those ideas happen that really counts. That's where project management comes in. For digital librarians, project management means making plans, setting schedules, budgeting, putting teams together, keeping track of how things are going, and checking the results. 

It's kind of like being the conductor of an orchestra, making sure everything works together smoothly for a great performance. This kind of coordination doesn't just shape what gets done; it makes sure that plans are actually executed. 

For example, if a digital librarian wants to implement a new software system in the library, project management helps make sure you evaluate multiple vendors, analyse risks, launch on time, and manage the budget.

Examples of project management tools for digital librarians are Asana, Click Up and Trello.

6. Research: Navigating the Depths of Knowledge

Once digital libraries have great content organization and presentation, attention turns to conducting research. This research plays a crucial role in advancing knowledge in various subjects. 

Digital librarians need to know about different research methods, adhere to ethical research principles and actively engage in scholarly investigations related to library topics. This involvement also entails a deep understanding of the research processes, publication cycles, and collaboration with external databases. 

You can also read how generative AI tools can aid in research at your digital library here.

7. Analytical Skills: Revealing Insights through Data

In addition to research, digital librarians should use analytical skills to learn from data. They must look at how people use the library and what they do. Statistical analysis of data helps understand patron behaviour, and visualizations makes the data easier to understand with charts and graphs. 

These skills help librarians make smart choices, improve the library's content, make people happier, and get more people interested in the library.

Examples of Analytical tools for digital librarians could be

  • Tableau: For visualisation
  • SQL: For data mining

Parting thoughts

In summary, being a digital librarian is like a complex dance where different skills come together to make the library better. If you are keen to find success as a digital librarian, remember that the key to success is developing these skills and keeping up with the ever-changing digital world.

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About the Author

This article is part of a collaborative series between GR Techand industry leaders, aimed at bringing new ideas andinsights to our readers.

Septian Sugara

project manager

A Digital Library Officer who works on Webometrics, digital repositories, and other aspects of running a digital library.