Changing Roles and Staffing Gaps

When service needs change, so do the skills staff members need. Unfortunately, however, these changes often are unrecognized or ignored. This is when staffing gaps can occur.

Infopeople instructor Cathy Hakala-Ausperk asks us to consider,

“Did you know that libraries used to have magazine clerks, cha blogreceptionists, and catalog card typists? Maybe some still do, but most, after reexamining those positions, have created new ones in their place. What about your library? Try to think of at least one position that used to exist, but doesn’t anymore. You may also be able to name at least one new position that’s been created recently. Maybe one related to metadata, coding, grant writing, or even social work?”

At a recent event I attended the facilitator asked us to list what our customers are asking us for today. In other words, what do they seem to want most? You can imagine some of the responses: friendliness, creativity, flexibility, innovation, exceptional service, technology skills, training, ideas, and the like. The next question was to consider the front-line staff in our buildings (most often our circulation staff) and then determine how many items from our “most wanted” list are part of the job descriptions, training, or even performance expectations for those front-line staff? As you can imagine…not many.

Instead, the traditional descriptions for front-line staff listed things like experience with ILS systems, typing speed, and organizational skills. Although these are not abilities to be taken lightly, they are still a long way away from meeting direct customer needs. As the workshop progressed we moved on through several layers of staff, from reference librarians to management, and still we were coming up short when it came to meeting our current users’ needs. What did that tell us? Perhaps that we know what our users want in a 21st century library, but in too many cases we’re still filling 20th century jobs. If you have an opening coming up or even if you have one today, you have the golden opportunity to begin to remedy that inequity.

Creative, reflective, and—yes—brave library leaders recognize that gap and are beginning to do something about it. You might have run across some of the newer library position titles out there, like “concierge,” “customer engagement expert,” or even “guide”? These new positions are addressing the need for relevance and matching service needs to personnel. That’s how great teams are born. Whether you’re looking to fill a position right now or you want to be ready for your next chance, there are a few things you can do to get started. First and foremost–search out the gaps.”


Here are three suggestions from Hakala-Ausperk on how to search out the gaps:

  1. Keep a “No” list. Ask your team to keep a record of every single request they’ve received from customers to which they had to reply “No. We don’t/can’t/won’t do that here.” Then, study that list and ask yourself why the answer had to be “no.” Is it policy, and if so, can that policy be changed? Or might it be because no one on staff has the skills and or responsibility to meet that particular need?
  2. Do some research. Check out information from ALA, PLA, or your local professional groups and systems, and see what they’re doing. Fortunately, we all have a few really exciting and innovative libraries around us. Take your team leaders on a field trip to visit and talk to their leadership about why and how they’re using newer, more relevant job titles.
  3. Ask your team. Turn one of your staff meetings into a brainstorming session. No judgment, no micro-examination of options, and no negativity. Just ask them, “How could we better serve our users?” and then capture all their ideas. Then, once again, consider whether anyone currently on staff has the skills or responsibility to handlcathy_hakala_ausperke those new assignments.

Hakala-Ausperk continues, “Most of all, remember this: all of this gap analysis does not necessarily mean you have to hire new people or change everyone’s job. It might just be that as a result of this process you’ll uncover some jewels with unused skills already on your staff that, with a little tweaking, can fit right into your new 21st century team plan. However, if you are ready to make a new hire, put everything you’ve learned in searching out the gaps to good use and get started.”

Cathy Hakala-Ausperk will be teaching “Finding the Right People and Helping Them Grow”, a 4-week Infopeople course, beginning September 29th. To learn more about the course and register, see