By Meredith Farkas | September 27, 2008
From the library school survey, looking at the list of skills and competencies people think are important for librarians to have , there are a lot of “soft skills” on that list. You probably won’t find classes on customer service, openness to change, flexibility, commitment to continuous learning, developing a willingness to beat things with rocks until they work, or developing a creative and innovative spirit in most library schools. Does that mean they can’t be taught in library school? Of course not! I think “soft skills” can be taught/developed/encouraged in already existing library school classes if instructors are willing to make the effort to integrate soft skill-related learning objectives into their class activities.
I try to teach some of these soft skills in my course on social software. In the second week of class, I assign students to subscribe to five blogs of their choice and follow them throughout the semester. Each week, I also ask them to find one resource (article, tool, application in libraries, etc.) outside of the readings and activities to discuss in a blog post. I hope that this teaches students keeping up strategies and how to find out about things when the information is not handed to them.
I also assign a group project in which one member of each group is a project manager and provides leadership and direction to the other members. I think this makes the project much more consistent with the reality of work in libraries, where most group projects are lead by a project manager. I think group projects often teach flexibility as well, because each member of a group has to balance their desires with the desires of their group members. That group project requires them to create some sort of social application for a library. It allows them to be very creative, but at the same time, to develop something that can be used in a real-life setting. They also have to do a presentation and “sell” their idea to us as if we were their administrators and colleagues; certainly an important skill as well.
I think I could probably go farther in incorporating the teaching of soft skills in my course. But the point I wanted to make is that soft skills can be taught — through hands-on activities, role-playing, case studies and more — and that it’s important that library schools teach these soft skills that are so critical to a librarian’s professional success.
What soft skills do you feel were emphasized in classes when you were in library school?