Job Advertisement Evaluation: Promotion and Outreach in Archives and Special Collections

The ACRL Competencies for Special Collections Professionals (Association of College and Research Libraries [ACRL], 2008) identifies eight specialized competencies that librarians working with special collections may develop over the course of their careers. Some working environments will require special collections librarians to become proficient in multiple areas, while others will allow specialization in just one or a few (2008). The promotion and outreach specialty, with its emphasis on interpreting, promoting, and encouraging use of a collection, is strongly interrelated with teaching and research as well as the reference aspects of the public service specialty. As a consequence, the five job openings I found that had a promotion and outreach emphasis also included elements of reference and instruction, among other responsibilities; typical duties included identifying groups “who might benefit from work with primary source materials” (University of Tennessee [UT], 2012) and connecting with them through “presentations and discussions” (National Archives and Record Administration [NARA], 2012), “tours and special programs” (City of Houston [Houston], 2012), as well as helping them use special collections through instruction, “finding aids” (Longwood, 2012), and “reference and retrieval services” (Houston, 2012).

Job titles varied and included head librarian, librarian, archivist, and archives specialist; the fifth opening was for a library science and archives internship. Reflecting the importance of promotion and outreach to archives and special collections repositories of all types, two positions were in special libraries, one in an academic library, and two with governmental agencies. Using Albitz’ (2002) criteria for evaluating the amount of experience required for a position, I determined that three of the positions were entry level (requiring “knowledge of” or “familiarity with” concepts), two were mid-level (requiring “demonstrated ability”), and one was a management level position requiring at least five years of experience. Despite these differences in the particulars of the jobs, there were similarities in the types of skills required and a universal emphasis on the professional values of teamwork and service.

By the late 19th century, there was growing recognition within the library profession of the benefits of collaboration between and within repositories (Wiegand, 1999). By sharing ideas, best practices, and resources, libraries can learn from each other and, ideally, operate more efficiently as a result. Within an individual organization, teamwork is important for positive working environments and achieving institutional goals. Since communication is key for successful teamwork, it is unsurprising to see requirements such as “excellent communication skills” (Mount Vernon, 2012), “must be able to communicate effectively orally and in writing” (Houston, 2012), and “excellent interpersonal and communication skills”(UT, 2012) alongside “evidence of the ability to work collegially in a team environment” (UT, 2012) in current job openings.

Likewise, because service to the community is part of a library’s mission, a “strong service orientation” (UT, 2012) has long been—and still is—a common job requirement. In the 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries, librarians viewed service paternalistically, in that they considered their role as prescribing the “best reading” (Wiegand, 1999, p. 4), where best implied an element of morality (Johnson, 2009; Wiegand, 1999). Changing demographics in American cities in the latter half of the 20th century led librarians to shift their focus to “the library in the life of the user” (Wiegand, 1999, p. 24), leading to jobs requiring “problem-solving” (NARA, 2012) and “research and analysis” (NARA, 2012) to determine how libraries could better serve the needs of patrons. For archives and special collections, which may contain rare artifacts and documents, taking steps to expand access to users is an especially important aspect of providing service. Over the past 40 years, the number of aging collections has contributed to a growing awareness of the necessity of preservation, while the widespread availability of technology has focused attention on digitization (Johnson, 2009). As a result, current job openings ask for “digitizing experience” (Houston, 2012) and “demonstrated understanding of technology applications” (UT, 2012), which have the potential to help librarians develop “new ways of using the library collections to disseminate information worldwide” (Mount Vernon, 2012).

While none of the job openings I reviewed explicitly mentioned leadership as a required skill, all of them required an MLIS degree. That, in and of itself, carries with it an assumption of leadership qualities. A closer look at the ACRL Competencies for Special Collections Professionals (2008) shows that it expects special collections librarians to be committed to “the standards, ethics, guidelines, trends and best practices in use” (Fundamental competencies section, item E), “the central importance of service to the researcher” (Fundamental competencies section, item O), “integrating special collections into the broader institutional environment,” and collaborating “successfully within the larger organization and community” (Fundamental competencies section, item N). Commitment is the keystone for leadership behavior because it requires information professionals to not just know and show foundational knowledge as outlined in the American Library Association’s Core Competences of Librarianship (2009), but to put ethical behavior and the values of the profession into actual practice.

Examining current openings for positions involving promotion and outreach has shown me that archives and special collections repositories of all types need such outreach efforts, as it is integral to fulfilling their service mission of making resources available to all who need them; that collaboration and teamwork is required to provide the best level of service to patrons, colleagues, and community partners; and that leadership is implicit in possessing an MLIS degree. This has reaffirmed my belief that the MLIS stands as external affirmation that those who have obtained it share an understanding of—and commitment to—the professional values of ethical behavior, teamwork, service, and lifelong learning.


Albitz, R.S. (2002). Electronic resource librarians in academic libraries: A position announcement analysis, 1996-2001. Libraries and the Academy, 2(4), pp. 589-600.

American Library Association. (2009). Core Competences of Librarianship. Retrieved from

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2008). ACRL Competencies for Special Collections Professionals. Retrieved from

City of Houston. (2012, March 14). Archivist I [job opening]. Retrieved from

Johnson, P. (2009). Fundamentals of collection development and management (2nd ed.). Chicago: American Library Association.

Longwood Gardens Library and Archives. (2012, March 19). Library Science Internship Position [job opening]. Retrieved from

Mount Vernon Ladies Association. (2012, March 23). Head Librarian [job opening]. Retrieved from

National Archives and Record Administration. (2012, April 6). Archives Specialist [job opening]. Retrieved from

University of Tennessee Libraries. (2012, March 14). Humanities Services Librarian [job opening]. Retrieved from

Wiegand, W.A. (1999, January). Tunnel vision and blind spots: What the past tells us about the present. Library Quarterly, 69(1), pp. 1-32.



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