The importance of “soft skills” [via Twitter discussion] [librarianship]

There was a lively Twitter discussion over my lunch hour about Michael Stephens’ Library Journal Office Hours column this week, “Essential Soft Skills.”

He talks in particular about “soft skills” for new graduates: communication, initiative, continuous learning, sensitivity and understanding,  professional responsibility, and “further skills.”

I think he’s spot on, so I’ll just point you over there.

I’m seeing search committees very much value those “soft skills” more and more.

As a potential colleague, on an individual level, they make so much of our work go so much more smoothly.

These skills can be learned and practiced! The Twitter conversation mentioned Toastmasters, and I found library leadership training that I attended in 2008 similarly helpful.

Anecdotally, when I came into the field, I had the impression that there was a history of people who didn’t want to have to work with people being the majority of practitioners. This went double for special collections, where I have heard multiple anecdotal histories of special collections being the ‘dumping ground’ for ‘difficult’ staffers on the theory that they work with fewer members of the public there.

Those days are loooong gone, so far as I can tell. There is more and more emphasis on outreach, working with the public, working with donors, and working with colleagues than every before. Grant applications almost always require collaboration; most major institutional projects encourage us to work across departments at the very least. Many, many Rare Books and Special Collections professionals work with Friends groups, fundraisers, and donors routinely.  Those of us in academic environments are also often  required to present at conferences or to groups in addition to publishing, especially if we have faculty status.

I’m not saying it’s always comfortable or easy to develop those skills. What I am saying is that possessing those skills is as much of a professional asset as being on the cutting edge of implementing RDA or leveraging linked data or grantwriting or any other professional competency you can think of. Possibly more so.


About Lynne M. Thomas

Lynne M. Thomas is a nine time Hugo Award winning editor and podcaster. In her day job, she is Head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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