E-Resource Training for 80+ Databases

My last session of OLA 2011 was presented by Amanda Larsen of Burlington Public Library. The topic was the training model she developed for staff to learn what are often underutilized electronic database resources (called e-resources). Amanda Larsen is also responsible for the Betty Blogger program for teaching web 2.0 skills at the Burlington Public Library.

bphometop     Profile_Pic Betty Blogger

Burlington Public Library has six locations, 54 information staff members, 2 training staff members (one librarian, one library assistant), and 80+ e-resources (as of 2010). One of the library’s strategic goals was to implement a comprehensive skills development program for technology and e-resources. Amanda established a research project to help in the development of a training model—one that could be done under a limited budget.

The first step was to do research. Amanda began by reviewing the literature on training and by looking at other library training programs. Amanda found that 82% of libraries (of the 11 that responded to her survey) train staff on e-resources. The other libraries generally use vendor-supplied training videos, demos, and webinars. Remarkably, 50% of those who do provide training have yet to see an improvement in usage statistics of e-resources.

SurveyMonkey was used internally (Amanda recommended upgrading to the full paid version of SurveyMonkey) to get information about the training requirements of the staff. She found that a large proportion of staff claimed that they rarely if ever used the collection of electronic databases. Staff were not comfortable with using the e-resources or promoting the e-resources.

At the end of her research, Amanda came to several conclusions:

1. Customers are unclear as to the purpose of the e-resources. They are unclear about how they differ from Google and the Internet.

2. Library staff feel they haven’t been equipped with strategies to use an e-resource to answer a reference question quickly

Amanda also referenced in her presentation some statistics from the book Going Beyond Google. Databases of the sort available from libraries contain far more data than what is available through Google (Google covers only about 16% of what is actually available on the Internet).

google Going Beyond Google, by Jane Devine and Francine Egger-Sider

Out of these results from her research, Amanda made several recommendations. A training model would be developed that would lead staff to an appreciation as to when e-resources are relevant and applicable to the needs of customers. Staff members would share in the responsibility of developing the training program and for creating training content. Since staff prefer hands-on training, practical exercises would be combined with self-directed and online training material, organized using Blogger.

The e-resource training blog is here: http://eresourcetraining.blogspot.com/

Gems3 Burlington Public Library’s e-resource training site

In developing the training program, Amanda chose these databases: AccessScience, Business Source Premier, Health and Wellness Resource Center, Canadian Reference Centre, and a bonus e-resource, 360 Search.

The training program schedule was set at one database per week. Learners could move at their own pace, and the training was designed to be completed while staff were at the reference desk (no funds were provided for non-scheduled time, and so the training exercises were constructed to be done in a minimal amount of time).  Every week staff had to read the information provided about the database, and answer one contextual reference question by using the database. Collaboration with peers was encouraged. Once the sample reference question was answered, the learner would e-mail the result to Amanda.

Amanda emphasized that training was focused on WHY a database would be suitable to answer the question, not on HOW the database worked. Specific search techniques would not be taught in this training program. There were no right answers to the sample reference question; there were often different ways to produce an answer. The staff were meant to communicate with each other and collaborate. Encouragement and praise were often given, but there was no mark for the exercise.

For those learners who completed all four exercises plus the bonus week for 360 Search, a draw would be held for an iPod Nano.

Part of setting up the practice reference question included filling in a Word template that listed many of the features of the database. Setting up a template meant pulling information from the Help pages of the database. The template contained such information as the title, the vendor, a description, audience, key features, geographical coverage, and check boxes for subject coverage. At the end of the template would be the sample reference question.

After designing the program with the templates, the sample questions, and the blog, Amanda presented the program at staff meetings. Staff were expected to read the template for each database, and to do the contextual reference question, all in about 5 to 10 minutes during a desk shift. This point was emphasized: the training was about WHY a database would be useful, not about HOW to use the database.

Amanda mentioned Calgary Public Library as having a good e-resources web page– http://calgarypubliclibrary.com/Elibrary.aspx

cpl Calgary Public Library


54 participants – 50 completed – 30 did the bonus exercise

One of the main reasons not all completed the exercises was that some part-timers couldn’t fit it into their schedules.

Reading the template and doing the exercise for each database took anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes for each staff member.

100% of participants who completed claim to be more confident generally about the library’s e-resources.

85% of participants who completed claim to be completely comfortable with the specific e-resources explored.

It took 40 hours to develop the program.

3 hrs/week were spent monitoring and evaluating the program.

$0 marketing or delivery costs (except for iPod Nano prize).

The most remarkable statistic was a 20% increase in e-resource usage after the training. The reason for this is that Information staff are now taking the initiative more in promoting the e-resources during their Information desk shifts.

Now that the initial training program is done, Information staff are engaged in writing up new templates for databases and producing sample reference questions, as well as giving presentations on databases at branch or departmental meetings. Part of the training program is to have the staff take more responsibility for training themselves and each other.

Burlington Public Library is designing a new web page, to be launched in the Spring, and incorporating some of the lessons learned about databases from the training program.

One of the most important results from the training program is that the program can be recycled again and again. Staff are using the templates and exercises to build up their knowledge and comfort level in promoting the databases. The initial 40 hour investment has quickly paid for itself.


Amanda provided some useful tips to avoid problems in developing similar training programs.

Timing is everything in the training game. The spring is the best time for training, as this would schedule training after performance reviews and before summer vacations.

It’s important to have a post-training follow-up plan. The training template, for example, is now available on the staff intranet, and staff are now responsible for continuing the program.

One can never give or get enough feedback.

Do your homework in setting up sample reference questions. Don’t overburden the questions with trivial details, and make them as intuitive as possible. Trainers should do the sample reference questions before training starts.

Beg or borrow for an incentive prize. Incentives can do wonders for the success of training programs.

Set up separate training e-mail accounts. Be mindful of connecting with part-time staff, and make sure they are able to communicate during the training program.

The public are not being pulled into courses on e-resources. Therefore the burden falls on the staff in promoting and explaining e-resources. Given these facts, the training program developed at Burlington Public Library has been a good fit, with good results, given the limitations in budget and staff time.

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