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Systems Librarian



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Systems Librarian

The roles and skills for systems librarian in public libraries under service oriented circumstances in South Africa

Traditionally, librarianship has been aligned with the collecting, organizing, archiving, disseminating, and sometimes evaluation of data and information. Libraries are not about books. They are about information and knowledge.

In the past librarianship has been associated with books only because books were the primary manifestations of information. In today's world, information manifests itself in many more mediums. Most notable is the electronic medium.


If libraries are to continue with their self-imposed mission, then there will be a continuing need for systems librarians. Systems librarianship is the art and science of combining the principles of librarianship with the abilities of computing technology. A Systems Librarian’s position differs from other professional librarian positions in that the incumbent must possess thorough knowledge of computer applications used in a library setting.  


Life as a systems librarian

The work of a Systems Librarian involves responsibility for managing the information technology used in a library. This position combines the principles of librarianship with the abilities of computing technology. 


The skills and activities of a Systems Librarian

Typical work activities

  • A desire to explore new technologies as needed and keep abreast of new developments in information systems technology. 
  • Confer with library managers and other library staff in defining the nature and scope of proposed automation projects. 
  • Demonstrate ability to think critically, analyze problems, develop and implement creative solutions. 
  • Provide effective management and control over library computer hardware and software installations and operations through the administration of the Automation and Technical Services Division. 
  • Assists in the formulation and implementation of policies and procedures, particularly in the area of systems development. 
  • Establish long term needs for information systems, and plan strategy for developing systems and acquiring hardware to meet application needs. 
  • Ensure confidentiality and reliability of organizational data, proprietary information, and intellectual property. 
  • Ensure all library automation is compliant with library specific standards. 
  • Coordinate activity with multiple vendors for optimum service to the library public. 
  • Consult with ICT department on library automation planning and recommend expenditure of library automation budget. 
  • Work with ICT Department on user problems related to personal computer (desktop computers), network infrastructure, and related equipment. 
  • Support ICT Help Desk operations and projects. 
  • Retain inventory records of library hardware and software. 
  • Monthly reports, grants, and prepare budget requests regarding information technology in the library. 


Systems Librarianz



Knowledge, skills, abilities and personal characteristics

  • Comprehensive knowledge of modern principles and practices of library science. 
  • Thorough knowledge of modern library organizations, procedures, policies, aims and services. 
  • Thorough knowledge of the applications of computer technology to library operation. 
  • Thorough knowledge of planning, design, implementation and use of automated systems in a library environment. 
  • Knowledge of personal computer (desktop computers) systems, software development, various operating systems, and application of library automation software. 
  • Familiarity with standards appropriate to library applications such as MARC21 (machine readable cataloguing), HTML, Z39.50, etc. 
  • Ability to develop web related applications to create personal or library web pages and content. 
  • Ability to analyze various software packages and hardware configurations to determine which will meet the demands of the organization. 
  • Ability to concurrently manage multiple projects, administer systems, troubleshoot computing problems, plan and manage change in the library’s computing environment and act as liaison with other information technology professionals. 
  • Ability to be a creative leader committed to the exploration, design and implementation of innovative digital library collections and services. 
  • Ability to plan, coordinate and supervise the work of others. 
  • Ability to work effectively with teams, committees, and working groups. 
  • Ability to maintain effective working relationships with other agencies, outside vendors, division staff, and representatives of other departments. 
  • Ability to coordinate and conduct staff training for development of skills in the use of automated systems and computer-based products and services. 
  • Good organizational, interpersonal, oral (make effective oral presentations) and written communication skills. 
  • Ability to prepare instructional and procedural materials/manuals for staff use of the Library System's automated resources.   

The age in which we live in is changing at a rate unseen in previous times. This change, in my opinion, is being driven by computers and new communications technologies. Some throw their arms up in frustration with the advent of this change. In a quest to keep informed, a systems librarian should be a reader of IT related books, serials and have access to the internet.

Lifelong Learning

Learning can be achieved in many ways. Informed systems librarians, as mentioned earlier, make a habit of keeping up with developments in fields relevant to their library's environment and potential. Smart systems librarians take advantage of a mix of on and offline opportunities, which can include relevant reading, online tutorials, web logs and announcement lists, formal coursework, and on-the-job education. Every professional activity is an opportunity for learning.

The more knowledge a systems librarian acquires, the stronger his background in both technology and librarianship, the more value he will be to the institution/council. 

As in any other computer related field, things change frequently, and there is more to know than any one person could be expected to know. You need to be able to teach yourself new things, very quickly. The skills and philosophy underpinning the field, however, draw upon the foundations of librarianship itself; a library background is essential to the effectiveness of any systems librarian. 


Eric Lease Morgan says it Best 

"In today's world, why would anybody trust a librarian, whose profession is about information and knowledge, who hasn't mastered a computer?”
Eric Lease Morgan, "Computer Literacy for Librarians,"Computers in Libraries 18, no. 1 (January 1998): 39

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