Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: Developing Academic Library Staff for Future Success

Stephen Town considers this new multi-author volume, appreciates its many qualities and reflects on the key issues for library staff development in the digital future.

This book promises to address the place of staff development in the current and future strategic management of academic libraries. The editor has assembled an impressive cast of those who are active in this field, and the authors are well able to reflect state of the art thinking. The book is informed by their close association with innovative staff development initiatives, some through involvement with the SCONUL (Society of College, National & University Libraries) Advisory Committee on Staffing. The social, technological and organisational changes underpinning this work are probably very familiar to Ariadne readers. I will not dwell on them in this review, but they do justify this new publication, which is a worthy successor to Margaret Oldroyd's previous well-regarded text.

The first chapter is by Sally Neocosmos, former Chief Executive of HESDA, and the only non-Librarian to contribute. This sets the context of development needs for HE in the 21st Century. The author certainly has all the relevant facts at her fingertips, and correctly diagnoses that a managed approach will be needed for the future, and that effective management and leadership skills will be needed at all levels.

The following three chapters are all by well-known authorities, and reflect both the strategic and practical experience of the authors as well as their significant contributions over the last decade to successful national initiatives in this field. Sheila Corrall in rethinking professional competence for the networked environment effectively links strategic developments back to staff roles. Pat Noon in a chapter on developing future managers clearly identifies the needs, the gaps and some solutions. Biddy Fisher provides the quote from Charles Handy which sums up precisely what the book is about, before tackling the convergence issue and recognising the recent strategic shift in this area from managerial to educational priorities.

Not all the following chapters might be described as strategic, but they do meet the question of future success in staff development through coverage of some important issues and methods. Chris Powis addresses another critical challenge of developing the librarian as teacher and learning facilitator, and Jo Webb the crucial subject of library support staff. Sue White and Margaret Weaver consider the flexible workforce, Moira Bent the practical use of VLEs in staff development, and Philippa Dolphin surveys collaborative and consortial approaches. The book is completed by an effectively analytical summary and conclusion by Margaret Oldroyd.

I found it possible to read the book straight through, and care has been taken with the editing to ensure linkage between chapters and a sense of progression. Indeed I often found myself being led towards an issue which the work then addressed more fully in the next chapter.

The book is well produced with all the appropriate elements, as one has come to expect from Facet. Full information on contributors, an introduction by the editor summarising the contributions, a glossary, and a serviceable index are included. References are at the end of each chapter, which I prefer, but there is also an argument for an additional complete listing. They are as up to date as one would expect from this group of authors who are also well aware of unpublished developments. It is a pity that the publication of this book immediately precedes the findings of the Higher Education Consultancy Group's research into HE staff development drivers [1]. This work is likely to be both influential and valuable in the consideration of any future staff development activities, and particularly in fields where there may be a reluctance to engage with developing skills for new technologies. The book seems good value for money, given that tight editing has produced both a wide range and serious depth of content in a comfortable package.

My only reservation is perhaps an unfair one given the scope and aim of the book. All the evidence presented in the book implies that libraries and information services need to change their staff development process from a reactive TNA (Training Needs Analysis) or self-motivated basis to one based on future business need. Whilst this book gives as good a picture as might be possible now of what that future need might be, it does not suggest a complete method for designing programmes to achieve it. My experience from consultancy is that libraries want a vision of the future role-model staff member, and a specific plan for how to get people to become it [2]. I felt the book would have been improved by a synthetic chapter (in addition to the final summary chapter) which laid out an attempt at this vision, and a best practice staff development cycle and methods. The book would then be even more likely to help achieve future success. It is perhaps not the role of a multi-author work covering all UK HE to take the risk of a single choice of future scenario, but in our role as strategic managers we are obliged to do so in practice.

This musing should not detract from the fact that this is an excellent and timely piece of work. This is probably about as good as a multi-author work gets. The right people write here about things they know about from an up-to-date informed perspective, and Margaret Oldroyd has edited the volume thoughtfully into a coherent whole. Like its predecessor it will be an essential item on academic library managers' bookshelves, and deserves wider reading given the excellent record of academic libraries in staff development activity and thought.


  1. Schofield, A., Staff development drivers: a paper delivered at the JISC Workshop on Staff Information Skills Sets, Birmingham, 28 January, 2004. Higher Education Consultancy Group, 2004 (unpublished).
  2. Town, J.S. , Developing the library workforce: a training and development review prepared for the London Library and Information Development Unit. Cranfield University/NHS, 2001.

Author Details

Stephen Town
Director of Information Services
Royal Military College of Science
& Deputy University Librarian
Cranfield University

Email: j.s.town@cranfield.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.rmcs.cranfield.ac.uk/infoserv/

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