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Beneath the Surface: How Talent Audits Reveal Untapped Expertise

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Libraries are the knowledge and information centers of culture worldwide. You may remember visiting the neighborhood library as a child for a reading hour. Or, you may have memories of visiting the library in your school—a huge room filled with books, periodicals, and later video or film. These small, but important institutions, were part of our knowledge formation inasmuch as they were community beacons that often hosted events such as read-a-thons and author meet-ups that reached out and encouraged the community into the building for experiences that might help its members become more closely connected as well as regular and active library patrons.

However, our childhood memories of the school and local public library are only one slice of the library industry. There are many different kinds of libraries within the industry; for example, there are church and synagogue libraries, corporate libraries, tribal libraries, the academic and research libraries in colleges and universities, and the 50 state libraries, to name a few. Also, beyond the more well-known American Library Association, there are standalone membership organizations for the libraries in some of the professions—the American Association of Law Libraries, the Music Library Association, the Medical Library Association, and the Art Libraries Society of North America, for example.

At the head of this intricate web of libraries is the library professional—the librarian. Worldwide there are 2.6 million libraries that employ 1.6 million full-time librarians and other professionals who work in the institution[1]. The educational requirement to become a librarian is a Master of Library Science degree. In addition to the librarian, there are also paraprofessionals who work in the library to support patrons who visit the library. These roles include library technical assistants,  library services clerks, computer attendants, public relations and events coordinators, digital services advisors, cataloging specialists, sorters, shelvers, and facilities maintenance managers and technicians. 

Librarians tend to remain in the role for the long-term with little turnover other than lateral moves within the organization to various positions. Moreover, after completing the MLS degree, the opportunity for further education is usually self-led. According to Harhai and Krueger, early career librarians are encouraged to stay current with industry changes through membership and networking in professional library and information science associations, and reading—likely the scholarly articles and reports in the industry's academic journals and trade magazines—and participating in research projects.[2] These changes are the result of the influx of technology, evolving world interests, and research demands.

With such a widespread organization and varying development needs, how do library leaders stay abreast of the learning needs of its staff? How do library employees keep up with the changing demands of the profession? What tools exist for understanding the market so that personnel decisions can be made with confidence?

Understanding the professional development needs of such a vast system requires a talent audit that answers the following questions:

  1. What are the goals of our organization?
  2. What are the skills required to meet these goals?
  3. What are the systems we have in place to achieve these goals?
  4. Who are the persons who currently have the necessary skills to reach these goals?
  5. Of the current staff, who is willing to learn the skills needed to reach these goals?
  6. Once we have considered our current skill capacity, what skills are still needed to close the gap?

This is not new. Good managers in many industries ask such questions to determine the personnel needed in order to reach their goals. Once the gaps are identified, leaders have a number of options to fill those gaps. Here are two common options:

New Hire. One response might be to post a job description for the position that is needed to fill those needs. Library jobs are mainly posted in journals and job boards aimed to reach those who want to apply for the position. Managers have to go out to the market to recruit persons for the positions. Yet, still, successful candidates might not have all of the preferred skills needed to fill the gaps identified in the talent audit.

Contract Workers. Another option is to request proposals for a consultant contractor, someone who specializes in the very skills you know are needed. However, this requires a special budget, and the person is not permanent so investments in their work potentially leave when they do. This is a temporary fix to needs that may be long-term.

There are pros and cons to each but neither should lead to the exploitation of precarious labor that leads to more employer benefit than that of the librarian professional.

Both of these options require the manager to recruit and go through traditional hiring measures to determine if they have the requisite skills that are represented by the skills gap identified by the talent audit? As the marketplace for librarians is so huge, there is no way to know with confidence if you have hit the right spot in the market. It's a "post and pray" game.

What surfaces are qualified candidates evidenced by resumes that chronicle education, past jobs, experiences, and accomplishments. The job search is typically guided by matching a position with someone who is looking for the same and there’s a belief from both parties that there is a good fit. Education, certifications, and experience are used as proxies for the skills one possesses. Very little, if any, consideration is given to skills match, the fit. That is, what specific skills do we need to grow our organization to excel at providing a service? Does the candidate have that expertise? What is the potential for the candidate to develop said skill to fill the identified skill gaps from the talent audit?  

Have you done a talent audit of your organization? Did it help? How? If you've never done a talent audit of your organization, what support or resources would you need to adopt this practice? Let us know what your goal-oriented practices are for managing talent.


<[1] Data accessed from https://librarymap.ifla.org/map

<[2] Marilyn Harhai & Janice Krueger (2016) Competency-based Professional Development, Journal of Library Administration, 56:8, 939-956, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2016.1179478

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