Thursday, August 07, 2008

Reference Renaissance: Staff Training in 21st Century

Note: By August 20, 2008, all of the presentation slides and handouts for Reference Renaissance will posted to the conference site at Later in the year, Neal-Schuman will be publishing conference proceedings. I’m looking forward to those, since I (or anyone else) could only attend 1/6 of the offered sessions, plus the Keynote and the Plenary Session.

Also, as I write up sessions, I very much welcome comments and corrections. Just as I was physically unable to attend all 36 sessions, so too I might not have picked up on everything in the sessions I did attend or I might have accidentally misinterpreted something. Or maybe you've got a different take on the session you'd like to share.


The second session I attended at RR 2008, was Staff Training in the 21st Century and featured presentations by:

  • Beth Jones (via DimDim) - Jefferson County Public Library
  • Leslie M. Hass - Loyola University Chicago
  • Flora Shrode - Merrill-Cazier Library

This session featured one public librarian and two academic librarians sharing how they train staff. Overall, I didn't find much to take home from this presentation, but that probably reflects my library's staffing situation. Since you might benefit from their remarks, here are my impressions of what people said:

Beth Jones came to us virtually via DimDim, a free web conferencing service that allows you to see the presenter via webcam with audio while she shares her slides. During her presentation, the panel moderator texted questions to Ms. Jones. The approach worked well enough that I hope to see it employed more often at more conferences. It will give people who have expertise but who lack travel funds the opportunity to present at regional and national conferences.

The Jefferson County Public Library has over 250 staff members scattered over a number of locations. So Ms. Jones has focused on creating online courses for them. She stress it was important to have standardized courses and make good use of "visual property." She primarily uses Adobe Presenter and Adobe Captivate to create her online courses which all include audio. She creates the courses with input from subject matter experts.

Ms Jones cited several challenges in creating and using in-house developed online classes, including:

  • Finding staff time to take courses
  • How to use audio without disrupting others (creates need for headphones)
  • System errors and problems using attachments (Internet filtering often blocks retrieving files linked from courses)
  • Finding enough development time and expertise to create new classes

Ms. Jones also offered some "new frontiers" for training in her system, including:

  • Create classes for products staff do not have on their computers, like Overdrive Media Console
  • Mini (5 min) database courses - For these, Ms. Jones might make use of tips from Greg Notess' talk on quick screencasts I'll write about later. And don't forget about vendor-generated tutorials like EBSCOhost's excellent videos.
  • Create a staff wiki to support database searching - My library has a staff wiki we find useful for a number of projects and manuals.
  • Create simulations
  • Including branching (decision-making) in online class modules
  • Incorporate game theory into online class modules.
  • Add video (i.e. not just powerpoint and screenshots) to online classes.
  • Make better use of shared resources - Ms. Jones pointed to training resources from Colorado's CLiC consortium at as an example of what she was talking about.

Leslie Hass of Loyola spoke about her experience in hiring and training the first employees of a new Information Commons that would include working with staff from the Library and the University Information Technology Department. They use a staff wiki for policies and procedures. All staff were given a three day orientation - day 1 - Information Commons 101, day 2 - Library 101, day 3 - Information Technology 101 to enable them to know what the university's expectations of them were.

Staff currently employed by the Information Commons current have IM access as a backup if they need additional information on policies or procedures while serving at their stations. I'm not sure I'd call that training, but I can see an argument being made that it is ongoing one-on-one training.

Ms. Hass noted that since the Information Commons was built as an addition to the library, library usage has increased. A happy result.

Flora Shrode of the Merrill-Cazier Library at Utah State University shared the several ways they train student assistants:

  • A staff blog for searching and service hints
  • A significant amount of face-to-face training
  • Camtasia videos on frustrating tasks - I don't remember being given an example - does anyone else out there?
  • Online computer training through

I said at the beginning of the entry that I didn't have many take-homes about training staff. And that's true. I run a department of 11 people and so don't need techniques for training large numbers of people. I was personally hoping for more on topics to teach and resources for teaching those topics.

But a number of the hints and approaches above may well come in handy for creating educational opportunities for our patrons, especially for the 2/3 of state agency employees who live outside Juneau. So I think my time was well spent.

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