Digital Workforce Development Strategy 2022-25

This Digital Workforce Development Strategy provides a model for RLUK members to both reflect and to look ahead to managing their digital workforce development along twin but complementary strands: recruitment of new staff and upskilling and development of existing staff. It is set in the wider context of the RLUK Strategy, Transforming the Library (2022-25) and is informed both by the experience of RLUK member libraries and a wider horizon scan of workforce development in libraries. This strategy proposes a Digital Skills Framework reflecting current initiatives over the short, medium and long term for Library Directors, Associate Directors and Senior Managers.  It identifies a number of key actions co-ordinated and directed by the Associate Directors Network (ADN) under RLUK’s strategic umbrella.

The strategy supports RLUK’s Digital Shift Manifesto by proposing that institutions undertake a Digital Shift audit to enable members to benchmark their existing digital skills capabilities and to identify gaps and new digital needs. It supports the RLUK Space programme in determining the needs of our future workplaces to support a digital workforce.

It is intended to catalyse discussion and action amongst RLUK members and recognises our members’ commitment to equality, diversity and inclusivity within all of our working practices. Our commitment to building and maintaining a robust workforce is demonstrated in our active partnership with the University of Florida to onboard RLUK members into the Research Libraries Positions Description (PD) Bank.


The RLUK ADN Workforce Development Strategy comes at a key inflection point for research libraries as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and review, reassess and re-evaluate their skills base and the emergence of new activities and new competencies. It is also intended to draw on the ’Skills’ strand of RLUK’s Digital Shift manifesto and to be a complementary (and practical) companion to the RLUK strategy, Transforming the Library, 2022-25.

This shift in skills and the acceleration of new digital competencies in Research Libraries cuts across ‘traditional’ skills such as collection development, metadata management, content digitisation and digital preservation and into broader digital leadership skills which will foster, recruit and support the development of the workforce in research libraries.

Key strategic work has already begun by the RLUK Executive and the Digital Scholarship Network (DSN) through the Transatlantic skills exchange with CLIR’s Digital Library Federation and the RL Position Description bank. The PD bank in particular offers opportunities to identify key trends in the changing workforce landscape for research libraries. RLUK is also working with key stakeholders, including UKRI, to advocate for the importance of technical and specialist skills integral to the success of the digital shift through its support of the Technician Commitment. RLUK does this whilst recognising the importance of non-technical skills to the digital shift, something highlighted within its research into Covid-19 and the digital shift in action.

The digital shift in library collections, services, and operations has long required research libraries to work and operate differently. Research libraries will need to continually develop their skills bases, to acquire new competencies, and keep pace with the changing expectations of their users, the requirements of their collections, and the possibilities of their services. To meet these challenges, libraries will need to attract new skills, enhance and refresh those they already hold, and realign positions, structures, and ways of working to enable a continuous process of skills acquisition and adaptation.

RLUK is committed to inclusivity across our institutions and practices and looks to celebrate diversity and embed positive change. This strategy is committed to actively ensuring that we  increase the diversity of our current workforce. These activities include creating more inclusive pathways into our profession, focussed activities to develop those pathways and challenging more traditional recruitment practices and skills expectations to remove barriers.


The Digital Workforce Development Strategy has been created around a central workforce core. This core provides the nucleus for staff development informed by an established knowledge base (Understanding), a reflection of our current position (Undertaking) and proposed next steps in enabling change and upskilling staff (Delivering). These three strands coalesce around a proposed Digital Skills Framework which will inspire, inform and engage RLUK libraries and staff.

1. Understanding

We have drawn on existing practices, initiatives and research to understand the direction of change in our workplaces. These continue to provide information that we can draw upon as we move forward with this strategy:

Research Libraries PD Bank

  • Enables an overview of international digital competencies for roles across our profession

Skills and knowledge exchange:

  • Transatlantic digital skills exchange directory between DDS and DSN
  • Joint skills events between DSN and DLF DDS.
  • Digital Shift Forum seminars

Professional practice initiatives:

  • RLUK-AHRC joint statement on the technician commitment
  • RLUK-AHRC joint Professional Practice Fellowship scheme
  • RLUK-AHRC Research Engagement Programme
  • RLUK-TNA Professional Fellowship scheme.

RLUK Space programme

  • How Library spaces are evolving with technological and cultural changes

Research: surveys, reports and publications 

  • Reference list available in Appendix 1.

2. Undertaking

If we are to upskill the existing workforce we need to fully understand both existing capabilities and where the current and potential needs of our stakeholders diverge from these. We need to understand how changes brought by technology and the Covid-19 pandemic will affect working cultures and expectations of our users and staff. We need to consider a proportion of the current workforce for whom change will not be comfortable, and a group of senior managers who were on their way to achieving their current positions in a pre-digital shift world. It means we must find solutions in the context of wider sector disruptions too.  We know money is tight – how can we address these issues in that context?  How does this work sit with the need to improve diversity in the sector? We are also all getting used to working in a hybrid world – how will that impact this strand of work?  For many it will help, as we leave a culture of presenteeism behind to move to a more output focussed workplace.

Undertake audits of skills and working practices

The scale and scope of such an audit makes the identification of these gaps challenging, ranging from entirely new and highly technical roles, to enhancing more traditional roles that would benefit from the mainstreaming of digital.

Key Actions

To create significant progress within a reasonable timescale, a more proactive, coordinated approach is required:

  • Utilise the Position Description Bank to identify key trends and skills being sought on an international scale;
  • Work through the RLUK Associate Directors Network to facilitate the undertaking of a skills audit using the JISC Digital Skills tool across RLUK institutions / develop an outline for a digital skills audit template for the community;
  • Review changes in our institutional working cultures resulting from working through the pandemic and subsequent moves towards hybrid working;
  • Actively engage and connect with national and regional networks at an intra-institutional level to share and to shape best practice and invest in critical resource.

3. Delivering change

Much of the benefit of the digital shift will be found in upskilling existing staff members, allowing their roles to evolve towards the digital future in an organic way, but it should not be underestimated that in some cases difficult decisions about resource allocation will have to be made. Collaborative work or use cases which highlight the potential for business transformation or efficiencies will be key to support this strand. Promoting the resulting opportunities for upskilling and career progression could help to shift some of the impetus from institution to the individual. A key focus throughout this will be the opportunity to create an inclusive sector that increases the diversity of our workforce.

Creation of a recognised training and development framework

A framework for existing staff that signals pathways into digital roles is crucial.  This might come in the form of CPD, core modules in professional provision, or even specialist qualifications and will require regular review to incorporate new digital skills and technologies in an ever-changing environment. Doing this would address the need of the individual to learn and then demonstrate their competence in a particular field, the need for recruiters to have a reliable mechanism for assessing a candidate’s fit with the employer’s needs, and also starts to put in place a practical framework from which the other aspects of the digital shift might be hung.

Key Actions

Drawing on the findings of the skills audit we will convene the wider RLUK community to discuss and develop a digital skills framework which:

  • Recognises that libraries require both diverse skills and a more diverse workforce across library services;
  • Ensures flexibility and agility are embedded skills within libraries, as recognised by the Digital Shift Manifesto;
  • Commits institutions to the cultural and practical paradigm shift necessary to embed digital skills;
  • Provides opportunities to demonstrate agility and flexibility in skills in both our current workforce and recruitment practices;
  • Balances core competencies in technical and digital skills with traditional skills and leadership;
  • Empowers and supports an ongoing dynamic digital skills journey and culture for staff.

Adapting to evolving working cultures

RLUK libraries will have a continually evolving workforce that is able to keep pace with the digital shift.  Core library competencies and skills will be retained, developed and complemented by other specialist skills.  Remote and hybrid working will allow recruitment from a global market and provide a greater range of skills and specialisms from diverse backgrounds – all key requirements for tackling the challenges of operating in an environment where change is a constant feature. We will need to identify where new competencies can be found, looking to training pathways that may be far from traditional LIS education. Young people are approaching the workforce in a different way, bringing transferable skills and expecting change and flexibility.

Key Actions

The RLUK ADN Workforce group  will convene the wider RLUK community to discuss how we:

  • Adapt our recruitment practices to attract new skills from different backgrounds;
  • Nurture and develop talent in the roles of postgrads, interns, apprenticeships, and early-career professionals;
  • Make the most effective and appropriate use of short term contracts and the development of skills;
  • Leverage the potential technology enablers for a geographically remote workforce;
  • Develop further collaboration with external partners through skills directories, training courses and position descriptions;
  • Take a more holistic view of digital skills gaps and opportunities for collaboration across RLUK libraries.

Advocate for change

Work is required to demonstrate these needs and benefits to the tier of senior managers and decision makers who are budget holders in order to build a compelling case for investment in as yet unestablished roles or services. If done successfully, this can then feed into institutional recruitment practice, facilitating greater agility, building skills in change management to help support the workforce transition to new ways of working, and supporting a culture change to one of continuous learning and upskilling. Given current and likely future budget constraints, a difficult balancing act will be required to ensure appropriate investment is made in this area without a consequent underfunding of other activities.

Key Actions

To do this a proactive and coordinated approach from our sector is required:

  • Work with other RLUK groups to advocate at senior levels in our institutions;
  • Produce data and evidence that can be used by RLUK members when advocating with budget holders and managers.

Next Steps

The RLUK ADN Digital Workforce Strategy Group will direct and co-ordinate the key actions identified and an action plan to deliver the framework. While this strategy has been developed by RLUK’s Associate Directors Network, its realisation requires engagement across RLUK and its networks, in particular the Digital Shift Working Group. It is intended to spark more detailed activity which will deliver a Digital Skills Framework which respects both the differences in need of new and existing staff but also builds on areas of commonality to establish a refreshed 21st century, post-pandemic baseline of digital skills.

The Workforce Strategy Group encourages the RLUK Executive and Board to continue to provide strategic investment (and budget) to support targeted activities which underpin the Digital Skills Framework. This could include more focused consultancy work for instance around the PD Bank analysis in conjunction with a wider RLUK working group.

The successful delivery of this strategy will provide digital resilience, new competencies and new opportunities for RLUK’s workforce which intersects and complements the RLUK strategy, Transforming the Library (2022-2025).

Watch the official launch of the Digital Workforce Development Strategy during a panel session at the RLUK 2022 conference

The co-convenors of RLUK’s Associate Directors’ Network (ADN), Fiona Courage (University of Sussex) and William Nixon (University of Glasgow) outline the origins, contents, and ambitions of the strategy. They outline how this work relates to RLUK’s digital shift manifesto and how the strategy reflects the experiences of research libraries through the Covid-19 pandemic.