Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Once More Unto the Breach: Revisiting Training (Again)

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Once More Unto the Breach: Revisiting Training (Again)

Article excerpt

A special feature in the previous issue acknowledged the magazine's 25th anniversary, and current columnists as well as former contributors were asked to think back over their work and to share favorite covers, articles, and memories. Since I have been writing for CIL for nearly 18 years, I had plenty of past columns to review. It was interesting to note the changes in the topics I discussed as technology advanced.

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I didn't take the time to review every column I'd written, but because the theme of this month's issue, tech training, was on my mind, I did happen to notice that I had written on this topic not once, not twice, but five times--and that was only since 1997! I also found it interesting that the top two Be Innovative! awards for Most Innovative Staff Application at this year's Innovative Users Group meeting were for training applications. While reflecting on why this topic has come up so often, it occurred to me that it is not just because of changes in technology. Certainly the rapid pace of change creates a need for training, and advances in technology can offer new methods of delivering instruction, but I don't think that is the only reason the topic has been included on CIL's editorial calendar so frequently.

In my opinion, the reason that the topic comes up so often is that none of us have happened upon a good solution. As I mentioned, the rapid pace of change is part of the problem. Developing good training materials takes time--something systems librarians have precious little of. In the less than 2 years since the Monroeville Public Library went live on its new automation system, we've upgraded the network operating system twice and installed one software upgrade on our ILS. Any upgrade brings its share of problems that need to be solved, so it's difficult to provide training when the resolutions haven't been found. Then, there is the planning for the implementation of the next upgrade, which must begin almost as soon as the current implementation is complete and which will undoubtedly require new training materials for the added features.

There is also no universal agreement--at least not among the staff at my library--as to what is the best training method. Some want a formal, hands-on training session; others prefer to be given the opportunity to work with the technology on their own and will even read the documentation; and still others are not happy until someone sits down with them one-on-one and walks them through the procedures. And while it seems that everyone wants the security of printed instructions, once again there is no agreement--some want brief instructions while others want them to be more detailed and to anticipate the mistakes they might make.

While it is a given that there is no perfect solution, it is helpful to look at the training techniques and materials used by others and to experiment with new methods made possible by advances in technology. So in the words Shakespeare gave to King Henry V, "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more...."

Become a Virtual Student

One relatively new approach to training is online instruction. While there are some courses that are available for free, others require a fee. Trying an online course that is free doesn't pose much of a risk, but it's a different matter when there is a charge. Librarians who are trying to decide whether online training would be useful either for themselves or for staff might want to read "Are you ready for online learning?" This Q & A, which appears on the Web site of the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS), a division of ALA, helps prospective students understand the unique features and requirements of online training.

Online courses may be particularly valuable for working librarians who are looking to expand their areas of expertise. For example, a librarian who has not worked with acquisitions could receive an introduction to this field by taking the Fundamentals of Acquisitions Web Course, a 4-week course offered as continuing education by ALA. …

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