Digital skills 2012, more than managing technology.Typewriter. Photo by Steve Berry, Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA.
Without reshaping the workplace to account for that ongoing professional development need, hiring the rising generation is just kicking the can down the road a few years.
Ed Rodley on Digital Skills and Staff Development
Which digital skills are required in the heritage sector today? And are we prepared to receive the new students? As of this autumn I have been asked to discuss and lecture about digital skills in the cultural heritage sector at two universities in Sweden. I am excited that the universities are bringing digital into the heritage studies, and at the same time concerned that the archives, libraries and museums (still) are far from ready to make use of these new skills.
Starting earlier this week with a trip to the University of Borås, where I was invited, with 10 others, to talk about the curiculum for the Masters programme: Digital Services – Culture, Information and Communication. The programme has been running for three years, is aimed at archive, library and museum students, and is described like this:
Digital services – culture, information & communication is a programme intended for those who are facing new tasks at work, who want to deepen their education after an undergraduate degree who want to learn more about the tools that are available to interact with users or who want to target advanced tasks with new media and communication. The program deepens the knowledge of digital environments and social media and how they can be used to communicate with users of different cultural and information activities. You will be ready to participate in and lead the development of digital environments in libraries and similar organizations.
The first thing that strikes me is the extensive ambition of the programme. It is about ”developing, implementing, managing and evaluating various forms of services and tools that help the user to communicate with the organisation and with each other, to share collections in digital form and to facilitate information retrieval and information access.”
And further: ”Two important elements that permeates the course is focus on the user, user studies and preparing to work in and manage projects and development efforts.”
I am impressed by the courses at the 2 year long programme. They reach from Digital media in culture and information sectors to Users and information practices in digital environments, and from Digital Reference and Directory Services to New media: dissemination and social interaction.
After spending an afternoon with the lecturers at the Master programme in Borås I am thrilled. This is in fact what we need and where we are heading within the cultural heritage sector. Most of all we have come a long way from introducing digital as technology – human-computer interaction, to presenting it as a platform for human interaction where communication is a vital part.
A couple of issues emerged in our discussions: What about digital literacy, what should be expected of the students at basic level and what should be introduced at the Master level? How much ‘hands on’ experience should the students get? Not connecting theory with practice will it ever lead to change in the sector, i.e. is it too difficult to implement the theoretical knowledge? Where in the production process will the students work, as project managers or as programmers?
Also the programme has difficulties in keeping students, since it’s run at half-time and as a distance education. The purpose was to attract professionals with several years of work experience as well as younger students. However, students that try to work full time and studying part time rarely make it through the first year. This has made the university change the programme to full time studies.
To conclude, the basic digital skills were only briefly discussed this time. That certain things like social media skills should be introduced when students enter university for the first time, not at the Master level. We also talked about the more exclusive skills needed in the heritage sector today concluding that project management with good practical insight and hands on experiences is to prefer rather than making software engineers out of library students.
One concern is that since the programme is no longer running part time the university is definitely excluding working librarians, archivists and curators, those with older education and probably lacking deeper digital skills. Not many can afford full time studies or get to go on leave from work for two years.
However digital skills are required today, at a basic level as well as at an expert level. As Ed Rodley states in his excellent blog post: ”Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.”
With the universities sending off students that excel in digital skills the heritage sector will have to step up and make place for them. And every archive, museum and library have to decide at what level their staff should be at in terms of basic digital literacy and make sure they get there. Many organisations are already involving their staff in digital productions and in social media initiatives, but from there to strategically adapting the organisation to fit demands and new staff skills is quite a long way to go.