Archive for April, 2012
As part of their Future Skills Project, CILIP has recently invited members to feed back on the first draft of the revised Body of Professional Knowledge and Skills. I have already submitted my comments using the online form, but I thought it would be useful to spend a little longer reviewing the document.
The proposed BPKS clearly tries to address the problems attributed to its predecessor, often criticised for being woolly and impractical. I certainly think it is a step in the right direction. The coverage is good and I like the matrix approach. It is obvious that CILIP have tried very hard to accommodate everyone and everything into this framework. Perhaps that is the problem with this draft: it is trying too hard not to miss anything. In fact, the introductory text on the consultation page is a bit of a give-away:
This consultation aims to identify any gaps and gauge opinion on whether the subject headings we have included are the right ones.
I did not find any gaps (although I am by no means an expert on some of the wheel wedges). For me, the issue was that there were far too many strands, too many headings and subheadings and quite a lot of repetition. Even without the descriptions, the list of “skills” is far too long.
If the new BPKS wants to become the standard competence framework the information industry, it needs to be, first and foremost, usable. It should communicate, pretty much at a glance, where you are as a professional, and what steps you need to take in order to move forward in your chosen career path. It also needs to work on variety of professional environments. In my opinion, making it too specific is a mistake and I believe there are some things that should be addressed.
- Soft skills: I see no point in having a section on communication skills. They are important, yes, but they do not define what we do. I feel the same about research skills or information synthesis competences (collating, abstracting, summarising…) These are common to professionals in most fields and the BPKS should focus on what differentiates library and information professionals from everyone else. I’m not even sure that the sections on ‘Professional confidence’ and ‘Leadership’ are necessary. Most of the headings in these areas are behaviours rather than skills, and they can be covered by the level of competence.
- Tools and technologies: I think there is too much detail about understanding technology and using certain tools. An information professional should be able to pick and choose the most relevant tools at the time, whether it is a thesaurus or social media or something we haven’t yet heard of. Listing particular names is only going to date the document and make it more difficult to maintain. At most, they should be included as examples, nothing else.
- Core skills and duplication: As I mentioned above, I did notice quite a lot of repetition across the document. For example, ‘evaluation’ and ‘financial management’ appear in more than one place and section 12 (strategic planning) ends up as a replica of section 11 (resource management). There are also strong connections between sections that could be merged together, e.g., section 8 (marketing and customer focus) is really a subset from 9 (service design). I think more could be done to distill the core skills that define the profession. Tina Reynolds makes an interesting point about giving a whole wedge of the wheel to Records Management (RM). My feeling is that although in some cases RM is very specialised and separate field, other times (or perhaps it would be better to say in some organisations) it is closely intertwined with information management and perhaps even librarianship. As someone who has worked for many years in hybrid role, I know very well how blurry the edges of professional areas can be. I am in favour of better definition of professional boundaries, because it provides clarity and helps people find support networks, but it has to be done in a way that is flexible enough to accommodate these role discrepancies. Perhaps a solution would be to focus not so much on the label, but on the tasks that record managers do, e.g. content creation, management and disposal. These are skills that are required outside strict RM.
- Self-assessment: The BPKS has a table linking qualifications, knowledge and skills, and competence level. However, professional competence is not just determined by qualifications and the skills definitions are quite woolly, which means the whole thing is too vague and subjective to be useful. Working through the toolkit and scoring oneself should be straightforward and consistent.
Complex as it must be to come up with a solution that is concise, flexible and usable, I believe it can be done. I have read blogs drawing parallels to skills frameworks in other professions, e.g., law, surveying or health, but there are other examples that are much closer to home.
The Government Knowledge and Information Management (GKIM) Professional Skills Framework is one of them. CILIP have obviously used this framework to inform the new BPKS. It is referenced at the end of the draft and the section on “Using and exploiting knowledge and information” has been added pretty much verbatim. The framework clearly defines four categories with a business, user, process or compliance perspective. It also specifies four competency levels: practitioner, manager, leader and strategist.
Our IT department is currently being mapped to the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). The BCS (Chartered Institute of IT) also uses SFIA (branded SFIAPlus) as the basis for their career framework for IT professionals. SFIA is divided in six strands: strategy and planning; business change; solutions development and implementation; service management; procurement and management support; and client interface. And it has seven competence levels: follow; assist; apply; enable; advise; initiate/influence; and set strategy/inspire.
What I like about these frameworks is that they are manageable and very easy to interprete. They clearly identify professional pathways and link career stage to competence level, addressing the issue of consistent self-assessment quite effectively. In both cases, there is additional documentation fleshing out the detail, but even without it, I would be quite happy using tools like these to explain where my role fits in the big scheme of things.
I really hope the consultation process provides CILIP with useful feedback that allows them to address the remaining issues and come up with a solid solution. Oh, and I understand the consultation is still open until the end of Sunday 29th April, so if you still haven’t had your say, you better hurry up and send your feedback before midnight!
I recently ran a usability study for our new library discovery and delivery system. Despite being proprietary software, the system is reasonably customisable and we wanted to make sure that our implementation decisions were sound and the resulting site was as usable as possible. We invited a group of University students, academics and researchers and I observed them while they performed a series of scripted searches on the site.
Sitting down with a user and watching them navigate a site is fascinating – you always discover something new. This time I was impressed by how sophisticated users’ online behaviour has grown. Looking back a mere 3 or 5 years to other evaluations I have done for similar products, it is clear that people are much more internet savvy than they used to be. They make very relevant comparisons with other sites and their expectations are so much higher. I also noticed that, although the overall online behaviour is much improved, users can approach the same task in very different ways… and they expect their method to work. If the site cannot accommodate their approach, then, well, it’s all but failed in meeting their needs.
In fact, it seems that personalisation is a key requirement nowadays, particularly when it comes to large, complex sites like the one we were evaluating. Various users commented that they would like to be able to move filters to a different part of the page or close them down altogether to minimise information overload. Others wanted more information at a glance and greater ability to control what was presented to them. The only way to accommodate all these different preferences is by letting the user customise the interface according to their own needs.
Working on the move, anywhere, anytime, is clearly another core expectation. Most participants got very excited when they saw the site was optimised for mobile access. Many asked if there was an accompanying app. As it happens, the plan is to integrate this search into the University’s mobile app and it’s very useful to know that there is an appetite for that.
None of this will come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following advances on web development and user behaviour studies, but as someone who learns best from experience, I really appreciate having the opportunity to see with my own eyes.
My overall conclusion is that the demands of these sophisticated users require a great degree of commitment to research and development. Clearly, we do not have the local resources to compete with the likes of Google or the latest web 2.0 startup. No, delivering to these requirements is now very much in the hands of library technology companies with the added pressure that library systems are not being evaluated just in comparison to one another, or even to other specialist applications like e-resource platforms. Web technology has well and truly crossed the boundary from work and study to all ambits of life, making these wider experiences an open field from where user expectation will continue to grow.