Minimum Skill Example: MCRD Library

After yesterday’s riff about minimum skills, I figured I’d better give a nice thorough example. And where better to demonstrate a range of minimum skills than to look at what’s expected of the friendly neighborhood Marine library technician?

Needless to say, there are the standard requirements, the kinds of things you’d expect from a library employee of any stripe. Know how to use the local organization method (in our case, the Dewey Decimal System with modifications), how to find the different sections in the library, and how alphabetical order works. Know how to use the library computers, both circulation software and most of the MS Office suite (Excel can be worked around but one should know the basics, PowerPoint is optional). Know hours, location, the names of your coworkers, and when your shift is. Simple enough, right?

Then there are the other decently typical ones. In general, a library employee should be able to mend and cover books; use and troubleshoot the public-access computers, copier, wireless network and/or fax machine; handle opening and/or closing procedures; and carry off whatever special tasks are required for the current library promotion. It’s a good idea to be able to either multitask or know how to split tasks with a coworker when the patrons are piling up. Anyone in a bureaucracy or a chain of command should be able to recognize not only her immediate superiors but the ones who are at another location but still have the power (in our case, this includes the Community Services Director, the Commanding General, the Colonel assigned to our division, and a number of people whose position titles I can’t remember but who I know perfectly well I should go out of my way to be nice to). Those who go out of their way to be nice to some people need to know how to be nice enough to everyone that the people who aren’t in that group don’t get too shirty about special treatment. And one patron’s disparaging comments about our tech level aside, I’ve never seen a single library system that didn’t require at least some of its employees to know their way around a typewriter.

One of the most interesting requirements is being able to sort rank. Because of the brass’s interest in tracking our patron demographics, we need to be able not only tell our active duty patrons from our dependents, retirees, civilians, guests and the occasional reservist, but to differentiate between members of three different ranges of pay grade among our active duty patrons. Since most of them come in in uniform on the weekdays, this results in our learning to shoulder-read before we get to shelf-read: they won’t let you go spend time on library maintenance until you demonstrate that just by looking at the collar or sleeve insignia, you can tell the officers from everyone else, and the E1-E5 contingent from their E6-E9 counterparts. (At least, on the Marines. They’ll cut you a little slack for visitors from the Navy and Coast Guard, and even more slack for the rare Army and Air Force visitors.) Being able to tell specific ranks helps even more, particularly when the Commanding General drops in unannounced and it’s the one day when you’re the most experienced employee on duty.

While it’s necessary to know who to at least give the appearance of special consideration to, a library technician also needs to know when to be firm. Being technically outside the chain of command, we’re allowed and in fact required to tell people that their books are overdue and they cannot check materials out (or will be being watched carefully) until this is rectified, regardless of station. This means that we need to know at least one way, preferably more, to contact any given patron; how to get ahold of their superiors if they can’t be reached or refuse to cooperate; and how to tell people up to and including the Commanding General (where applicable) that their materials are overdue.

It’s not just about the materials, either; it’s also about the services. At my library, we’re expected to know how to copy people’s driver’s licenses so that both sides show up on the same sheet of paper, and (on the Tuesday that marks the beginning of each Recruiter School session) to do so at a rate of three or four licenses per minute while remembering how many we copied for our records. We need to be able to tell just by looking at ID who signs up for Rosetta Stone with us and who has to go through MarineNet, who’s eligible for according to HQ’s latest instructions and who isn’t, and then get them registered in the span of half a minute to a minute.

That’s not even counting the optional skills. And this is, as far as our library goes, an entry-level job.

There you have a spread of minimum skills suited to a relatively low-rank job in a complex work setting. I hope this gives you some ideas for your own organizational skill requirements!

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