SJSU Portfolio

Competency #9

Use service concepts, principles and techniques that facilitate information access, relevance, and accuracy for individuals or groups of users

“This happened to them again in New York—for, of course, they knew nothing about the country, and had no one to tell them, and it was easy for a man in a blue uniform to lead them away, and to take them to a hotel and keep them there, and make them pay enormous charges to get away. The law says that the rate card shall be on the door of a hotel, but it does not say that it shall be in Lithuanian.”
The Jungle—Upton Sinclair

American society is increasingly diverse in language and in culture. Commonly available statistics show us that the income gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans is becoming a chasm and the middle class an endangered species, while every year our public education system leaves More Children Behind. Even as libraries of all types endure painful budget cuts, it is more vital than ever that a competent librarian endeavors to live up to the goals of the American Library Association as summarized in the “Core Values of Librarianship” (American Library Association Council, 2004 June 29).

Competency #1 examines these central values of our profession. Librarians share “broad social responsibilities” for the public good, among these a commitment to fair and equal access to all library materials, and a value for diversity which requires “a full spectrum of resources and services to the communities we serve.” (American Library Association Council, 2004 June 29). This competency involves the concrete realization of these lofty ideals—a secular sacred trust: a competent librarian must understand and implement “service concepts, principles and techniques that facilitate information access, relevance, and accuracy” for all library users. These concepts, principles, and techniques can be captured in three broad mandates: first, a librarian must know her library community—its nature, needs, and challenges. A competent librarian must also be educated about the patterns of human behavior which influence use of library resources, and about the resources available to meet community needs. Underlying all other abilities, a competent librarian must be imaginative and empathetic if he is to be proactive and successful in meeting the needs of diverse library users.

It happens with sad frequency in institutions—plans and purchases are made, habitual interactions repeat; certain choices become enshrined. One day workers look around. The clientele has changed. Long-time patrons have disappeared; new clients with different goals and problems have taken their place. The plan has become irrelevant, even destructive. A competent librarian ensures that the library continues to be useful to its community by understanding and adjusting to the true identity of that community, avoiding assumptions and complacency. This competency also requires knowledge of the resources available to support constituent groups.

In my county the reality of an increasing Spanish–speaking population predated the increased library availability of material in Spanish by many years, yet the facts about population trends were available in national census data and county reports all during this period. Though sometimes a controversial expenditure, a plan to provide adequate material in the home language to new immigrant library users is a requirement for library competence. Adequate planning could have put these material in the hands of eager readers years earlier. Young language learners who ’recognize themselves’ in the literature available in the library feel more welcome in their new communities; those seeking job training turn to the library for manuals; families without resources may look to the library for entertainment needs. These materials are all highly relevant based on community needs and desires. To ensure access, a competent librarian must be knowledgeable about what resources are in demand by various community groups, and also about purchasing foreign–language resources.

Additional factors influence the needs of patrons in libraries of all types; consideration of these needs determines access and relevance for users. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education (2010, March 18), “Roughly 60 percent of Cal State’s new freshmen are judged deficient in English, math, or both.”. Planning for these students as they are remediated will demand an increase in library instructional resources and perhaps a different selection of collection materials. Current data shows that our population is aging; a competent librarian will reconsider expenditure for large print material or ergonomic equipment. Whatever their age, those with physical handicaps will form part of the constituency of any library. A competent librarian must be aware of the issues limiting physical access to library materials for some, and be well–prepared to pursue solutions. ADA requires physical access to the library, but this is only a start. Library web sites should be screen–reader friendly. Signing should be available at story time. The competent librarian has knowledge of the resources available to library users with special needs, and incorporates them into plans to provide complete services.

Overarching immigration, age, and special needs is the looming issue of poverty and the much–discussed ‘digital divide’, which can also affect users of most types of libraries. One scholar sees the spread of the Internet exacerbating rather than reducing social inequalities, and becoming one of the most damaging forms of exclusion in our economy and in our culture (Selwyn, p. 375). Part of providing equitable access and relevance is equipping the library to offer the poor the technology and resources which the wealthier have at home. This type of planning, based on active research and intelligent social observation, helps to ensure both continued access and relevance of information for all user groups.

A competent librarian must also possess awareness of the ways in which cultural patterns and norms may differ among library users, and demonstrate the ability to adjust library interactions to encourage and support access, relevance, and accuracy. A good example of this in California has been the changing communication patterns developed for encouraging library use by Latino families. Often illegal residents, many of these potential public library patrons are fearful of public institutions. Since this target group is often both low literacy and low income, traditional newspaper notices of public events proved ineffective in developing Latino attendance. Over time, library personnel have learned of channels through which the good news about the library does travel: two of these have proven to be church announcements and school second language parent groups. How did the library staff acquire this information? They asked. A competent librarian does not just research trends and review data—that librarian also surveys, tracks, and questions library users, attempting to base plans and decisions on input from the library clientele. This demonstrates respect, and also helps ensure that the purchasing and service priorities of the institution reflect the hopes and desires of its community.

Other types of cultural differences can affect interaction in the library. Speech volume, conversational distance, expectations concerning children’s behavior, patterns of interaction such as questioning or eye contact, are all social norms that can vary from one group to another, even among different groups of the same ethnicity. These norms can cause conflict among library patrons and misunderstandings between library staff and clients. To continue optimum service, a competent librarian must be aware of and adjust for cultural differences and norms among the community groups of the library.

Concerns for information accuracy are closely linked to the planning and cultural respect which a competent librarian must master. The barrage of inaccurate information which library users will encounter online, linked especially to propaganda and commerce, can only be countered with education, again an important concern of a competent librarian. Another source of inaccurate and even harmful msinformation can be the library collection itself. An important aspect of competency for a librarian in service of accuracy is an old fundamental which predates digital technology: collection management. Less well-endowed school and public libraries are often full of outdated resources which may contain detrimental stereotypical material which will not educate or support modern users. A competent librarian ensures that monitoring occurs, and weeding as needed improves the collection.

These areas of planning requires empathy and imagination, qualities which can’t be taught in an MLIS program, but we hope can be nurtured through insightful instruction. As will be discussed in more detail under Competency #10, scholars such as Dervin, Bates, and Kuhlthau show that the information–seeking process is fundamentally uncomfortable for most library users regardless of social status. The information search is attended by anxiety, and may not follow the linear pattern encouraged by many reference interactions. A competent librarian must be able to imagine the inner experience of a library patron so that library services can be designed to welcome users and encourage their participation and return. A competent librarian has learned that pointing is not a socially effective way to direct a visitor to desired information. A competent librarian understands the importance of eye contact, introduction, and neutral questioning in supporting library interaction. A competent librarian exhibits the genuine courtesy which only comes from respect.

Philanthropic library plans of the last century discuss as their overt agenda the cultural assimilation of the immigrant populace. While no competent librarian should any longer support the disrespect for original cultures and social diversity implicit in this social engineering, in a broader view this effort is not without merit. The idea that the library is a force for enfranchisement of each citizen in the broadest sense—an inclusive pathway for each individual toward a civic identity which makes him or her a participatory member of the community with power over her own destiny— this is a goal worthy of a competent librarian.

As evidence of my competence in this area I first submit a transcript of reference practice interviews done on Skype with my partner, Rita Morin, for Dr. Liu’s Libr 210 Reference and Information Services class. Earlier I also used these transcripts as evidence of my comfort with newer communication tools, but here I would like the actual content to be considered as evidence of my sensitivity to the varied needs and preferences of different user groups.

For that same class I compared several varieties of reference services; I attach that observation below. From this assignment I learned a great deal about what the advantages and challenges of different models of reference delivery are for participants. This chance to observe and evaluate from an academic perspective expanded my understanding of effective service. Although she was pleased with the paper on the whole, Dr. Liu found that more reference to fundamental research in reference effectiveness would have strengthened my paper; were I to revise I would incorporate more standard works in the subject.

I can also share with pride the blog on Young Adult literature for readers 15— 18 which I created for Libr 265, taught by Beth Wrenn–Estes. I showed this blog previously to highlight the work I had done on preparing for challenges against controversial material. I would like it to be reexamined as an indicator of my understanding of the various challenges faced by teens which can be recognized and mitigated through Young Adult fiction. Some examples which can be examined would be the posting on Luna, the story of a trans–gender youth and his family, or Funny in Farsi , which reflects the experience of young immigrants with resilient humor.

I also offer a Google Document created by a group from Derek Christainsen’s Libr 240 class; my contributions are in blue and also include the revamped code at the bottom, which was later checked and approved by my colleagues. The assignment required us to revise the code to improve access for users with various physical challenges, such as sight impairment, which required the use of a screen reader, or difficulty with limited English, or muscular impairment which limited the use of a mouse.


American Library Association Council (2004 June 29). Core Values of Librarianship. Retrieved from

Cal State to require remedial courses before freshman year (2010, March 18). Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Selwyn, N. (2009). The digital native—myth and reality. Aslib Proceedings, 61(4), 364– 379.