Future Looks Good! Thoughts of collaboration with LIS educators in Finland

My work as a coordinator in the Tampere City Library’s regional development task includes duties like supporting the professional competence of library staff and promoting the cooperation between the libraries in our region in Pirkanmaa and Central Finland.

Jarkko Rikkilä, coordinator, Tampere City Library – Regional Development Task

I think that in achieving these goals we could benefit a lot from the change of ideas with the educational organizations that provide training of library and information science (LIS). There can be various ways to get a job from the library. In Finland the field of librarianship can be studied for example at a university or the university of applied sciences. We’ve been working on the relations actively towards library educators for a couple of years now to strengthen this.

The collaboration between the working life and training organizations is crucial when we think about our profession in the future. In our case, we have regular meetings with the Tampere University to discuss themes like up-to-date thesis subjects, library trainees and qualification matters. We’ve also contributed to round table sessions in the creation of new library programmes in the Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences. Thirdly we’ve been sharing findings of the library customer service and of our concept called The driver’s licence to library customer service with the Turku University of Applied Sciences.

Within this framework I contacted Associate Professor Tuomas Harviainen (Tampere University), Lecturer Satu Salmela (Seinäjoki University of Applies Sciences) and Senior Lecturer Kati Haanpää (Turku University of Applied Sciences) to find out, what kind of skills are needed in the future and how the education should answer the challenges libraries face in the coming years.

Soft skills and qualifications

The very useful and accurate 2021 IFLA Trend Report Update points out multiple trends that are linked to librarian skills in the future. The trend #4 is The rise of soft skills and trend #17 Qualifications matter. Firstly I asked Tuomas, Satu and Kati how do they agree with these and how these two trends are taken in to account in the educational programmes in the Finnish library education?

Tuomas Harviainen: “The issues are highly relevant, and we’ve included several elements of this in the curriculum. As the report notes, useful soft skills may be tied to eg., several types of cultural knowledge, which is why a connection exists to for example information literacies. And as pointed out in #17, these are in turns parts of the expertise that form the wider whole librarianship nowadays. We try our best to guide our students to gather such expertise from also other disciplines during their studies.”

Satu Salmela: “Soft skills are sort of expertise in our field and to our students, perhaps easier to embrace than within some other fields. Without soft skills, I think it is difficult to reach your full potential in the working life. In our education these matters can partly be found in our general competencies and therefore they are taken into account throughout the whole curriculum. Teaching methods, pedagogical approaches and learning tasks of course also contribute. It’s clear that Qualifications matter, but we also try to teach the importance of multiprofessional co-operation and expose our students to it during their studies. Exactly because of the complexity and rapid changes, we need more co-operation and understanding of what our own core expertise is and when we should find strong alliances and benefit from other fields.”

Kati Haanpää: “Soft skills and competencies matter now and in the future. The ongoing pandemic with its restrictions forced libraries to adjust their operations and the services moved online. Digital skills, flexibility and problem-solving skills playing a very important role making transformation possible. Innovation pedagogy is in the core of our teaching methods. Competencies consist of five areas: creativity, critical thinking, initiative, teamwork and networking. Students learn these skills with teamwork and co-operation with the working life.”

Collaboration of LIS educators and professionals

One of the fundamental questions of this article is, how the collaboration with the public library sector and library educators should practically happen? What kind of co-operation would be needed? What would be the best practices of this collaboration from the perspective of Tuomas, Satu and Kati as LIS educators?

Tuomas Harviainen: “Co-operation with libraries is crucial for knowing how to best prepare our students for the needs of the working life, and while we cannot completely integrate all wishes (because our students graduate to many professions, some of which have very different needs), many of our key developments are conducted in dialogue with major employers such as public and academic libraries. Making coordination and cooperation meetings a regular part of our work here has in my opinion been a very wise move.”

Satu Salmela: I’m very proud of our good connections with the library community. Not just public libraries but other library sectors, other educational institutions and associations. Especially for us the continuous dialogue is the requirement to succeed in our basic task. Co-operation has found some settled forms during years but new ideas are also explored. Our curriculum is one way to ensure the co-op as studies include for e.g. long practical training period, work life based thesis, real life project work topics as well as case materials for courses and visiting guest lecturers. In the end it’s the wide networks that strive to continuous and diverse dialogue – but also organizing enough time for this is needed.

Kati Haanpää:Cooperation is important as it gives education a perspective on where the field is progressing and what kind of expertise is needed. Libraries develop services with students in project collaboration and theses. Libraries provide internships, which means they get trainees interested and qualified experts in the future. We would like the libraries talk more about their own activities and vice versa. Students participate in organizing real events in libraries. Now that libraries provide a lot of training in the field – could they also be open to our LIS students?”

Three qualities of the future library professional

Because we all love to make scenarios for the future (don’t we?) I discussed the quality issues of the future librarian with our LIS educators. If Tuomas, Satu and Kati would have the chance to decide, what three features or qualities the future library professional would have – what would those be? What are these three important elements of professional development?

Tuomas Harviainen:Future librarians should preserve many of the skills and qualities that they currently have, such as a customer-oriented approach, a thorough understanding of findability, and expertise in recommendations. A field of expertise I see growing in importance in addition to them is data management, which in this age of disputed privacy is of increasing importance to also public libraries and not just academic and research librarians.”

Satu Salmela: “I would say that continuous learning is very important. Because change is inevitable, curiosity to forecast important changes for our field and adaptiveness to learn new support learning. In addition the librarian needs interpersonal skills, such as ability to both listen, understand and communicate, take people and stakeholders into account. You could say the previous, soft skills. Thirdly the librarian needs innovativeness. You should know our history and goals but at the same time have the ability for problem solving and creating new solutions in this context.”

Kati Haanpää: “The three qualities could be pointed out as the following. First, the future librarian should have the flexibility in the multiple changes working life requires. Secondly the interaction and collaboration skills are important, for example in the library customer service. Thirdly the future professionals need pedagogical skills, that they can use and develop when interacting with the customers and colleagues.”

Conclusion – Future Looks Good!

Tuomas’, Satu’s and Kati’s answers draw a clear picture that the library educators in Finland follow the library trends and issues very closely. It’s great to see that especially the rise of soft skills is noted in the curriculums of LIS education. Qualification matters are a fact, but also multiprofessionalism and the wider scope of librarianship is taken into account. It seems that co-operation with the libraries is seen as highly recommended thing – which gives the educational organizations information of the working life, real life topics and certain kind of practical credibility in their work. I think this goes both ways – the libraries benefit of the dialogue later on when the new professionals are seeking job opportunities.

Finally a list of the qualities the future-looking-good librarian should have! Here’s a set of the important skills the librarian should have in his/her toolkit.

  1. Continuous learning
  2. Customer-oriented approach
  3. Data management expertise
  4. Expertise in recommendations
  5. Flexibility in the multiple changes
  6. Innovativeness
  7. Interaction and collaboration skills
  8. Interpersonal skills
  9. Pedagogical skills
  10. Understanding of findability