The Technician Commitment highlights the need to sustain technical skills across organisations and that these are fully utilised. Research libraries need to continue to attract a wide variety of complex skills and expertise to ensure they can continue to enable, partner in, and lead pioneering research, learning, and innovation. This will involve attracting, and retaining, new talent into the sector whilst continuing to invest in the development of existing staff.
Research libraries operate within a shifting, international, technical skills landscape. An analysis of job descriptions undertaken in 2019/20 revealed the continuing diversification of technical and digital competencies across the research library community and that these feature prominently in job advertisements. Research suggests that these roles can sometimes be hard to fill and, in a highly competitive job market where technical expertise is at a premium, research libraries can sometimes struggle to attract and retain specialist technical talent.
As a result, research libraries often utilise a mixed-economy of technical skills and expertise to support increasingly complex processes and techniques. They work closely with their academic partners, members of the postgraduate community, and third parties to access technical and specialist expertise around specific processes or techniques. They have developed internship and traineeship schemes, secondment programmes, and fellowship and scholarship opportunities as a means of diversifying the technical and specialist skills available to the library and to benefit from the expertise of a wider array of specialists.
This mixed economy has been seen to bring both benefits and disadvantages. It avoids the concentration of certain specialist technical skills within one or two roles, diversifying the pool on which the library can draw, but often means that its access to certain technical skills is transitory, associated with an individual project or programme. As the skills foundation of research libraries expands and shifts, new opportunities for collaborative skills sharing and acquisition will only become more important.
The RLUK Digital Workforce development strategy (March 2022) presents a series of ways in which academic and research libraries can continue to develop and expand their technical skills base. Developed by members of RLUK’s Associate Directors’ Network (ADN), the strategy cites the importance of investing in existing staff skills, the identification of emerging skills needs, and the need for a workforce development framework to support the sustainable acquisition and retention of digital skills across research libraries.
- RLUK will continue to work with its national and international partners in exploring the changing skills needs of the research library community and the collaborative ways in which these can be met.
- RLUK will produce and signpost resources for its members to use to identify their current and emerging skills needs, and to enable benchmarking between institutions.