Saturday, September 29, 2007

Technology Competencies and Training for Libraries by Sarah Houghton-Jan

It has been my intention to review Technology Competencies and Training for Libraries by Sarah Houghton-Jan when I finish reading the report for a couple of weeks. The problem is I have no idea if I will ever actually finish reading. Sarah's paragraphs are full of statements and questions that act like electrical charges on my brain, and I start thinking about my library and many possibilities to help the staff better serve our clients. I usually only get a couple of pages read at a sitting. Sometimes I only get through a couple of paragraphs. I am enjoying the process. Maybe I do not want to finish.

In logical fashion Sarah starts with the question of what technical competencies are. Instead of just offering a simple definition, she prompts and assists librarians to come up with definitions that suit their own needs. She follows with reasons why the librarians should even care. The crime, she asserts, is that libraries often do not expect enough from their employees, when if only they would ask for more and then help educate them, they would be happier. The goal is to equalize service for the public and foster a culture of learning in the staff.

This is one of the questions (paraphrased) that particularly sparked my thoughts: what should library clients know and does this influence what staff should know?

I remember that when my libraries first started offering public computers we expected much more from the public than from the staff. We had statements in user agreements saying that the clients were responsible for knowing computer programs and that little instruction was offered. Staff might help turn the computers on or put paper into the copiers. The attitude seemed to be that staff did not have time to help with computers. The underlying facts was that most staff members at the time had no idea how to help.

I think the staffs in my libraries quickly realized that the above unhelpful attitude was contrary to our mission, and we quickly found time for individual assistance/instruction. We started taking classes and attending workshops from which we learned to give our own classes to the public.

At Thomas Ford Memorial Library, we have now been teaching our Beginning Internet class for over ten years. There was a slight dip in attendance a few years ago, but registrations have increased again recently. I think the need to use computers has nearly reached everyone now. Not everyone is happy with that, but they have to turn somewhere, and the public library is where they turn. In the past two weeks in our "Book a Librarian" program, I have helped several people who had been resisting computers for years. A couple of them said to me that they did not really want to learn but felt they had to do it.

So getting back to Sarah's Technology Competencies and Training for Libraries. It is good for library professional and support staff to meet competencies. It may be especially helpful to get reluctant staff up to speed because they can empathize and be more patient with reluctant clients better some technical whizzes.

The latter part of Sarah's report details how through staff participation to create a technology competencies document and start meeting its objectives. It looks very helpful.

Technology Competencies and Training for Libraries looks like an item that ought to be in lots of libraries, but there are only 53 identified through Worldcat. Maybe many copies are still in the hands of the original purchasers, who are studying them - like me. I suspect a lot of cash strapped libraries are reluctant to part with $63 and postage. I would like to see ALA sell this report for half the price (while still paying Sarah for all her effort). They might sell many more copies.

I see a few additional copies hidden under the records of Library Technology Reports [1976 to] in our consortium catalog. You have to already know its there to look there. I think it would be found by more librarians if treated like a book.

73 pages printed as a serial, this work might be 120 to 150 pages if published as a book.

I do promise to finish soon and get our copy into the collection so others can borrow it. Soon. Really.

Houghton-Jan, Sarah. Technology Competencies and Training for Libraries. ALA Techsource, March/April 2007. ISSN 0024-2586. Phone orders, 1-800-545-2433, press 5.

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