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The roles and skills
for systems librarian in public libraries under service oriented
circumstances in South Africa
Traditionally, librarianship has been aligned with the collecting,
organizing, archiving, disseminating, and sometimes evaluation of data and information. Libraries are not
about books. They are about information and knowledge.
In the past librarianship has been associated with books only because books were the primary manifestations of
information. In today's world, information manifests itself in many more mediums. Most notable is the electronic
If libraries are to continue with their self-imposed mission, then
there will be a continuing need for systems librarians. Systems librarianship is the art and science of combining the principles of librarianship with
the abilities of computing technology. A Systems Librarian’s position differs from other professional
librarian positions in that the incumbent must possess thorough knowledge of computer applications used in a
Life as a systems librarian
The work of a Systems Librarian involves responsibility for managing the information technology
used in a library. This position combines the principles of librarianship with the abilities of computing
The skills and activities of a Systems
Typical work activities:
A desire to explore new technologies as needed and keep abreast of new developments
in information systems technology.
Confer with library managers and other library staff in defining the nature and scope
of proposed automation projects.
Demonstrate ability to think critically, analyze problems, develop and implement
Provide effective management and control over library computer hardware and software
installations and operations through the administration of the Automation and Technical Services
Assists in the formulation and implementation of policies and procedures,
particularly in the area of systems development.
Establish long term needs for information systems, and plan strategy for developing
systems and acquiring hardware to meet application needs.
Ensure confidentiality and reliability of organizational data, proprietary
information, and intellectual property.
Ensure all library automation is compliant with library specific
Coordinate activity with multiple vendors for optimum service to the library
Consult with ICT department on library automation planning and recommend expenditure
of library automation budget.
Work with ICT Department on user problems related to personal computer (desktop
computers), network infrastructure, and related equipment.
Support ICT Help Desk operations and projects.
Retain inventory records of library hardware and software.
Monthly reports, grants, and prepare budget requests regarding information technology
in the library.
Knowledge, skills, abilities and personal characteristics:
Comprehensive knowledge of modern principles and practices of library
Thorough knowledge of modern library organizations, procedures, policies, aims and
Thorough knowledge of the applications of computer technology to library
Thorough knowledge of planning, design, implementation and use of automated systems
in a library environment.
Knowledge of personal computer (desktop computers) systems, software development,
various operating systems, and application of library automation software.
Familiarity with standards appropriate to library applications such as MARC21
(machine readable cataloguing), HTML, Z39.50, etc.
Ability to develop web related applications to create personal or library web pages
Ability to analyze various software packages and hardware configurations to determine
which will meet the demands of the organization.
Ability to concurrently manage multiple projects, administer systems, troubleshoot
computing problems, plan and manage change in the library’s computing environment and act as
liaison with other information technology professionals.
Ability to be a creative leader committed to the exploration, design and
implementation of innovative digital library collections and services.
Ability to plan, coordinate and supervise the work of others.
Ability to work effectively with teams, committees, and working groups.
Ability to maintain effective working relationships with other agencies, outside
vendors, division staff, and representatives of other departments.
Ability to coordinate and conduct staff training for development of skills in the use
of automated systems and computer-based products and services.
Good organizational, interpersonal, oral (make effective oral presentations) and
written communication skills.
Ability to prepare instructional and procedural materials/manuals for staff use of
the Library System's automated resources.
The age in which we live in is changing at a rate unseen in previous times. This change, in my
opinion, is being driven by computers and new communications technologies. Some throw their arms up in
frustration with the advent of this change. In a quest to keep informed, a systems librarian should be a
reader of IT related books, serials and have access to the internet.
Learning can be achieved in many ways. Informed systems librarians, as mentioned
earlier, make a habit of keeping up with developments in fields relevant to their library's environment
and potential. Smart systems librarians take advantage of a mix of on and offline opportunities, which can
include relevant reading, online tutorials, web logs and announcement lists, formal coursework, and
on-the-job education. Every professional activity is an opportunity for learning.
The more knowledge a systems librarian acquires, the stronger his background in both
technology and librarianship, the more value he will be to the institution/council.
As in any other computer related field, things change frequently, and there is more to know than
any one person could be expected to know. You need to be able to teach yourself new things, very quickly. The
skills and philosophy underpinning the field, however, draw upon the foundations of librarianship itself; a
library background is essential to the effectiveness of any systems librarian.
Eric Lease Morgan says it Best
"In today's world, why would anybody trust a librarian, whose profession is about information
and knowledge, who hasn't mastered a computer?”
Eric Lease Morgan, "Computer Literacy for Librarians,"Computers in Libraries 18, no. 1 (January