Technology Training in Libraries

I was particularly interested in the OLA 2010 early Friday morning session, Technology Training that Works for Staff, Not Against Them.

In my many years of thinking about and working with technology in libraries, I actively sought out timely and targeted training. In the absence of formal training, I made a point of reading widely on a subject, comparing different approaches to understanding and implementing technology. But I did like formal training when I could get it, especially with all the technology-driven changes occuring in libraries.

The challenge for training in a library setting is to design a training program that makes sense for all staff, allowing everyone an opportunity to reach the same skill level and the same understanding of the new technology-driven services the library offers. Ideally the training should not bog people down with irrelevant topics or ineffective instructors or overly time-consuming or tedious workshops with no learning objectives announced at the beginning and no sense of what the proper outcomes should be.

Staff from Seneca College Libraries began their presentation describing the challenge of bringing staff technology skills up to the same level. One point they emphasized immediately: there is no magic bullet.

While Seneca has several training approaches, this session at OLA focused on the establishment of an annual Tech Day. This special day of training was easy to justify, as it was done in-house, using existing staff and the only hit on the budget was a small amount for food.

A committee was formed, which then undertook the creation of a theme, objectives and learning outcomes. This point really jumped out at me, because my recent course, The Information Professional as Educator, taught me about the importance of establishing learning objectives and outcomes. Without enumerating these objectives and outcomes upfront, it becomes difficult to design a learning program and to measure its effectiveness.

These are the objective and outcomes for the Seneca’s 2006 Staff Tech Day:

Overall Objective:
To adequately equip staff with the knowledge and skills required to use existing digital library services and new Internet technologies in their day-to-day interactions with students and faculty.

After completing these sessions, staff will be able to:
• name the characteristics of the new generation (“NetGen”) and specifically, Seneca students
• describe Seneca Libraries’ existing digital services
• understand remote access issues and how to resolve them
• name at least 2 new Internet technologies and describe how they can apply to the academic college setting

The second part lists the “learning outcomes.” Learning outcomes should have these characteristics: be written in the future tense, indicate the nature and/or level of learning required to achieve them successfully, be achievable, and use language that learners can understand. For cognitive learning, useful verbs for writing learning outcomes can be derived from Bloom’s Taxonomy:

Bloom’s Taxonomy:
cognitive domain
Description Useful verbs for outcome-level statements
Evaluation Ability to judge X for a purpose Judge, appraise, evaluate, compare, assess
Synthesis Arranging and assembling elements into a whole Design, organise, formulate, propose
Analysis Breaking down components to clarify Distinguish, analyse, calculate, test, inspect
Application Using the rules and principles Apply, use, demonstrate, illustrate, practise
Comprehension Grasping the meaning but not extending it beyond the present situation Describe, explain, discuss, recognise
Knowledge Recall of information previously presented Define, list, name, recall, record


Seneca College learned many things over the years as a result of their Staff Tech Days. The main incentive for the staff was to spend time together and be part of something. Hands-on learning was critical, although it was not necessary to have a 1-to-1 ratio of people to computers. It made no difference whether the Tech Days were mandatory or optional.

In gathering feedback what Seneca found was that if people liked the training they would tell you, but if they didn’t like it they may not let you know. Formal feedback methods are necessary to get an accurate sense of the success of the program.

There were hits and misses in terms of topics:
Hits: ebooks, blogs, wikis, Creative Commons, AODA customer services, video streaming, screencasting
Misses: instant messaging, social networks, Flickr, remote access, subject guides, college speeches, IT training

Many mistakes were made over the years, and the presenters listed the lessons learned:
– don’t muddy the water with non-library content
– the two staff people responsible for the Tech Days program did all the training and that was too much—try to get other staff to present on special projects they’re working on
– it’s best to have the Tech Day on one day and in one location
– don’t cram too much into the one day
– don’t treat the Tech Day like a conference (i.e., don’t have breakout sessions)
– don’t have homework (the “23 Things” program was attempted, but many didn’t complete the program over six months)

Several tips to ensure success were given:
– handouts are great! – the shorter, the better!
– include staff from all areas of the library in the training
– elicit feedback from staff and managers
– provide food

Follow-up to the Tech Day training is useful. The advice was to reinforce training with one-on-one on-demand training. Have trainers who travel (don’t just send e-mail). Set up screencasts and video demos. Follow up was essential for some people if only for the emotional support they needed—this was important to reinforce the training. In some cases, advanced training was needed for complex workflows and instructions. The main point: the one-day Tech Day is a small part of a bigger picture of providing and reinforcing training.

For the trainers, having the Tech Day was an incentive to write documentation for the topics presented. Recycling learning material became easier with this co-ordinated effort.

Presentation file for the OLA session Technology Training that Works for Staff, Not Against Them

As I have learned over the last several years, public libraries are going through a period of transition. In addition to their traditional roles, such as equitable access to community-owned resources, public libraries are increasingly seen as having an educational role in the community. A public library is now seen as a key institution helping a community develop its economy and quality of life. I tend to see libraries as places where people learn the literacies— reading literacy, information literacy, media literacy and digital literacy. In order for public libraries to become educational centres in the community then librarians need to develop their skills as trainers, and a good way to start is to have librarians train other staff, as Seneca College librarians have done.

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