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.

In the fourth week of class, students have an assignment where they have to use a whole bunch of RSS-related tools to mix, filter and display RSS feeds in various ways. This often proves to be a challenging activity for many people in the class, as it’s the first time most students are dealing with JavaScript and with tools like this. Both times I’ve taught the class, I’ve had a few students write to me in frustration because they can’t seem to get one part or another right. I encourage them to keep trying, usually offer a few tips (without doing their work for them), and let them know how important it is to not get frustrated the first time a technology doesn’t work. Everyone eventually is able to complete it, and they usually feel so good about themselves for getting it done. Students have commented that it’s the most techie thing they’ve done and they didn’t think they were capable of doing something like it. I think that activity teaches two important things beyond what is possible with RSS: 1) it’s important to manage your frustration and not give up when things don’t work and 2) most people are more capable of doing “techie” things than they think they are.

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?