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Computers in Libraries 2008: Technology Training for Library Staff: Creativity Works!

I presented this pre-conference with Maurice Coleman and Annette Gaskins from Harford County Public Library in Maryland.  their presentation will be posted on  And here is the link to a PDF version of my presentation: Library Staff Tech Training: Motivation Means Success.

They began the session with their presentation about their library’s staff technology petting zoo.  The state of Maryland asked the libraries to create and conduct a Learning 2.0 program based on the the PLCMC program.  Their county runs the gamut from Amish to very urban populations.  One of their libraries even has a hitching post!  The library staff didn’t entirely understand the technologies that their users were using.  They surveyed staff about what they wanted to learn – and the results included newer technologies, things that couldn’t be covered in a computer lab (enough devices for all students, etc.).  They had really high buy-in from the top down for their program.  They felt they could meet all their needs with a technology petting zoo: a place to play with technology and devices in a laboratory setting. 

The goal of the petting zoo was to get people familiar with these technologies, and get them comfortable enough with the technologies to participate in and complete the Learning 2.0 program.  To get organized, one of their challenges was getting enough time with the staff needed to organize the program and the petting zoo.  One of the ways they got the staff excited about the program was to simply talk about it a lot: "Look for the tech fair – it’s coming soon!"  The program was a half-day training for staff, and included a one hour lecture and two hours of hands-on play time for staff.

They decided they were going to have six stations.  One station that would teach about wikis and open source.  Another station was "gaming": their library currently lends games in the following formats: wii, XBox360, Playstation 3, etc.  Another station was streaming media.  IM and MySpace constituted another station, and was important for staff to understand IM as a reference service.  Another station was about blogging that allows library staff to share their expert knowledge (they also have someone on their board who is blogging!).  The last station was MP3s and iPods (as a way to understand downloadable audio books).  Some of the equipment they had, they only had for the day of the fair. 

To have a successful project, they needed to have visible support from the top.  The managers had to be supported as well so that people could have time away from the library to complete the program.  Part of it is financial support from the library and part of it is simply philosophical support: that the managers encouraged their staff to attend.  They found a time during the week when the fewest libraries were open (Wednesday mornings), and used that time to schedule the program.  In this way it impacted the staffing of public service desks the least.  They set it up with 6 people in each group, 6 different stations, and 20 minutes at each station.  They had staggered starts for the programs and had four sessions on each day (this was an interesting idea to me: to get efficient use of the time they had with the rooms/building). 

Make sure that any resource guides, recommended books, etc. were available at the station.  Each station had a station master (coordinator) and station staff that would assist with the people being trained.  They had hosts and hostesses who were shepherding people from station to station and also getting them to register for Learning 2.0.  Library IT support was essential to the program’s success: getting televisions and projectors from all over the county, making sure that the internet connections worked and could handle the load of everyone accessing the connections simultaneously.  They also had a partnership with Best Buy, and in a twist of events Best Buy approached the library to find out what they could do for them.  Best Buy provided a great deal on the MP3 players they gave staff for completing the Learning 2.0 program.  To find people to be your station masters and station staff, tap into those people in the organization who are known early adopters, the "technology people by default" at their libraries (hmmm….that sounds famililar–see my blog’s tag line), and the younger staff like pages and clerks, system trainers, and even staff with kids and teens (as they might be faimilar with these technologies through their children’s interests).

Space.  No matter what, get as much space as you can.  Having a lecture room for the initial training plus a large meeting room for the pettting zoo and also space for people to sign up.  Remember that gaming is very noisy so allow for a lot of space for that, and if possible put that in a separate space.  Each station should have some buffer space so the participants aren’t disturbing each other.  Allow space for people to stand and for sitting as well (provide scattered chairs).  Ensure you have internet connections and wireless where needed.  Make sure that there is good flow in the room (they showed a floor plan). 

They advise you to do a dry run to check all equipment.  The equipment they needed included lots of computers, keyboards, and mice.    Check projectors, extension coards, tables, projection surfaces (for which they used a bedsheet in one spot and a flipchart in another).  Someone in the audience suggested a white shower curtain liner as another good workaround solution.  Make sure there are signs for each station and any other signage that is needed.  Test internet connections, hubs, and routers.  Label everything that you bring to make sure that it gets back to the proper owner, including all connection cables and power cords.  If you can have spare equipment as well, that is excellent.  You don’t want a whole station to fail because a projector bulb burns out. 

Preparing for the day of the event should include ensuring that presenters and trainees are comfortable (breaks, refreshments, restrooms, seating options).  Make sure that the staff doing the presentations are thoroughly familiar with the technology they were training on and are comfortable training other people too.  Make sure that supervisors understand that the employees need to have a half day off and time for lunch as well.  The project leaders ended up working many hours, too many, and needed overtime pay.  Think of this, and whether or not you can make workers work overtime. Also think of how you will let the trainers at each station have bathroom breaks – can someone spell them?  If you can have someone to float between different positions and stations, that person can fill in or provide an extra hand.  Remind people who are staffing the stations and such to be there on time – constant reminders are good.  Do a dry run of your walk-through path too to make sure it will all work okay.

Things will go wrong during the day.  Just let it happen and proceed, steam forward.  The trainees will understand it, and respect it if you move forward.  Sometimes things don’t work like they’re supposed to.  It’s okay.  Have a few people who are firefighters – people devoted to fixing technology when it doesn’t work quite well.  Tell people where to go, and what to do when they get there.  Some of the problems they had were that they lost an audiobook vendor at the last minute and had problems getting the remaining vendor’s product to work well.  Some laptops didn’t have the software that they needed on them, but the IT people fixed that immediately.  Some of the internet connections didn’t work during the dry run and they were able to be fixed by IT in advance of the day.  Keep people moving, even though they will want to talk with their friends and colleagues.  They encourage that some of the coordinating staff blog and photograph as they go to capture what happens at the event so it can be shared with others online.  People like seeing themselves online.  Posting handouts online will reduce the cost and "dead tree" factor of having printed handouts for everyone, many of which will probably be recycled anyway.  Survey staff after the program and ask how it affected the people who participated, how they liked it, which of the new technologies they think they might use, which ones they want to learn more about, etc.  Staff really liked the fair and are continually asking if the program will be repeated, if new staff will have the chance to participate in the fair, etc. 

Were they successful?  260 out of 400 staff members attended the technology fair and 150 completed the Learning 2.0 program.  There were more conversations afterwards about how to apply these technologies to their jobs, how to incorporate streaming media, digital photos, blogging, etc. into library work day to day.  Any time there is a new project, someone suggests a wiki.  They are using as a way to organize recommended reference websites at the reference desks.  Photo sharing is done regularly and staff members are blogging for both library and personal use.  They are now looking at starting a Learning 2.1 program to address the new technologies that have come out since the initial program.

“Computers in Libraries 2008: Technology Training for Library Staff: Creativity Works!”

  1. baldgeekinmd Says:

    Sarah, it was a pleasure to share our workshop space with you. Thanks for the description of our workshop. See you real soon. And I won’t tell anyone about “RB”

  2. Sarah Houghton-Jan (LiB) Says:

    It was a pleasure to speak with you as well! And, too late, the word (or, the images) about my stint in Rock Band last night has already leaked out :)

  3. Paul Signorelli Says:

    What a wonderfully useful post for anyone involved in library staf training programs! Your PowerPoint presentation is one of the best and most concise summaries I’ve seen on the topic, so I’ve written about it for Infoblog ( in the hope that it will reach and help an even larger audience than it has already touched through your orginal article.

  4. Kid Computers Says:

    I definitely agree with Paul! this was some of the exact information I was looking for, thanks Sarah!

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