A new study into the skills required by public library staff in Victoria, Australia

In Australia, the report on a major workforce planning study has been published by the project partners, State Library Victoria (SLV) and Public Libraries Victoria (PLV), the peak body for the state’s 47 public library services. Public library services in Victoria are guided by the strategic framework, Victorian Public Libraries 2030, which includes the visions of the Creative Library and the Community Library.

It was recognised that the achievement of the strategic objectives for the sector would depend on a workforce of well trained, experienced and valued public library staff’.  The need to have a clear understanding of the range of skills required for the two scenarios of the Creative Libary and the Community Library was the stimulus for an initial research study undertaken in 2013. Public library staff were surveyed to determine the perceived value of specific skillsets, the anticipated importance of the skills five years’ hence, and the respondents’ confidence levels in applying the skills in their work.

Managers were invited to consider the competencies required across the whole library service in order to identify potential skills gaps. The research findings, presented in the report Victorian Public Libraries: Our Future, Our Skills (SLV, 2014)subsequently guided a program of workforce and leadership development activities coordinated by SLV and PLV.

A stakeholder review of the framework undertaken in 2019 confirmed the continued relevance of the strategic directions for the sector: digital developments drive opportunities for creativity, innovation and collaborative processes in ‘creative libraries’, while technological, social, demographic, economic and environmental trends underpin the concept of ‘community libraries’. A fresh investigation was proposed to comprehensively review the skills, knowledge and confidence levels of public library staff.

The replication of the 2013 skills audit not only sought to update the skills data, but also to facilitate the comparison of datasets to measure the extent of skills improvements made over the six years and to identify any skill areas requiring further development.

The new report, Skills Audit of Victorian Public Library Sector 2019, reviews the research data provided by 1,388 Individual respondents and 34 Management respondents. The questions covered three categories of skills: Foundation skills, Professional skills and Behavioural skills.  The analysis of the quantitative data focuses on the participants’ responses to the five-point Likert scale questions and considers their views of the most important skills, now and in five years’ time, as well as the least important skills.

The qualitative data provide insights into the participants’ views about the value of the different skillsets in the context of public library services, as well as the most valued areas of professional development. The priority skills for the future are viewed through several different lenses: the current strengths of library staff, the skills required for the technology environment and the skills to underpin programs and services in the Creative Library and in the Community Library. Improvements in staff confidence levels are contextualised within the training and development activities coordinated by SLV and PLV in recent years and strategies for future learning programs are considered.

The analysis of the areas where confidence levels were high painted an encouraging picture: public library staff demonstrated their commitment to the core values of the profession and had a mature understanding of the mission and purpose of public libraries in society. There was no room
for complacency, however: library staff were very conscious of the changing world around them. The theme of change was woven through the many comments provided in the 2019 skills audit, revealing that respondents’ thoughts were aligned with the sector’s insights into societal trends, characterised by the rapidly changing technological, social and economic landscape.

Undoubtedly, public library staff represent the sector’s most valuable resource. In a rapidly changing world, community dynamics are pressing library staff to reflect on their current professional responsibilities and challenging them to redefine their future. In Victoria, the approach has been to think broadly about what changes might take place in society so that public libraries might not only stay relevant but also play a transformative role within the community.

State Library of Victoria (2013). Victorian Public Libraries 2030: Strategic framework.

State Libary of Victoria (2014). Victorian Public Libraries: Our Future, Our Skills.

State Library Victoria (2020).  Skills Audit of Victorian Public Library Sector 2019.