Friday, November 09, 2007

Library Technical Competencies: What Do We Have? What Do We Teach? What Do I Hire?

I am posting this from the Reagan County Public Library in Big Lake, Texas, where I will be for the next week.

Zone One Reference Librarians met a couple of weeks ago to discuss computers in libraries and staff technical training. In all our libraries we have computers for staff and clients to use. Most of us also have web sites, and many offer wireless Internet. Our staffs have developed many technical skills in the past ten to fifteen years. No one has totally non-technical staff members anymore.

Technology continues to change quickly, and libraries want to use these developments to better serve clients. This requires us to have well-trained staffs both in public service and working behind the scenes. How to get everyone on a staff up to par on the latest skills is a great challenge. In many cases, some one lags behind, resulting in varying public service. You know your library has a problem when some fairly common client requests are regularly written up and referred to the more savvy staff.

Sarah Houghton-Jan's points out a process to improve staff competencies in her technology report. What she leaves for the reader to discover is the specific competencies needed in her library.

During our conversation, I thought of one way to start the specific list competencies for my library. All staff members in public service can log every technical skill used for several days. These logs can also record when a skill is missing. Before I ask anyone to do this, I thought I should try it out myself.

For two days I kept a running log of technical tasks, including time in public and behind the scenes in support of our library mission. Here is what I listed.

· Turn on public PCs
· Turn off PC security to load software
· Load Firefox browser update
· Troubleshoot printing on the microfilm reader printer
· Read and write email
· Edit online calendar
· Set up projector and laptop for a meeting
· Add to the staff wiki
· Load paper into the copier
· Open an email attachment and save it
· Set up an Excel spreadsheet
· Send document to remote printer
· Add book titles to an online shopping basket
· Post on the staff blog
· Teach client how to create a PIN for the online catalog
· Troubleshoot monitor
· Resize photocopies for a client
· Cut and paste into Word document for our newsletter
· Search remote databases to answer reference questions
· Troubleshoot email with client
· Use Dreamweaver to update library web pages
· Load web pages onto the remote server
· Place holds for clients
· Explain "reply to all" to a client
· Search library catalog
· Load an iPod for a client

As I look at this, there are many skills that I did not have fifteen years ago. It was not hard to learn them, but I can remember times when I was baffled by something that ended up being easy. Luckily for me, my library has always sent staff to classes, workshops, and conferences. The knowledge gained at outside training has laid the foundation of my technical skills. In our meeting, we talked about our libraries sending more staff out for training more often, but we recognized this still is not enough. Besides, we need our staffs in our buildings most of the time.

One of the librarian at our zone meeting told about how her library's technical trainer, a person hired part time to do classes for the public on mostly Internet topics, gives some classes for staff as well. These are helpful but do not meet the need for current awareness of late breaking technical developments. On her own the trainer started sending occasional tech briefs to staff, alerting them to news. We all agreed that she is the kind of person we all need in our libraries.

This reminds me that my library's needs a new reference librarian. I have learned much from and been encouraged to try new things by the last two librarians in this position. Much of this transfer of knowledge happened in our daily unplanned conversations. For this position, we have a brand new job description that more than ever lays out skill sets that are required and activities that will be performed. Teaching other staff members is in the mix. What it does not say is "Will teach the old guy some new tricks." Maybe it should. Teaching the supervisor is important, too.

As important as the formal training and the daily conversations are, I realize further that I am also somewhat self-taught. I think all the best technical minds are. They play with the new technology fearlessly, learning what it will and will not do. They do not wait for their libraries to arrange training. Self initiative needs to be written into all of our job descriptions, too.

For more information on library technical competencies, look at Cultivating Tech-Saavy Library Staff, one of Sarah's presentations as reported by Chad at Library Voice.


brd said...

I think that in relation to technology we all have to be willing to engage in an entirely different kind of learning, one that is dynamic and unstable. There is never that moment when you "close the book" so to speak and say, "OK, I've got it," because that is the moment when the next update is release, the next software has been developed, the next application appears on the horizon of possibility.

Some of the best users of technology are young, but I also observe that some of the best are also older people who have embraced the dynamic nature things and go with the flow, and are exhilarated by it.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts. I just passed this post on to a member of our statewide training committee.

Unknown said...

"Self initiative needs to be written into all of our job descriptions"

Your insights are right on target. Self-initiative is a key competency, part of the package of Change competencies. You're also so right about the value of informal knowledge transfer. We need to all be impromptu trainers of each other.

WebJunction has defined a set of competencies focused on sustaining public access computing programs. I bet you'll find most of your ad hoc competencies there.

Going Crunchy said...

Excellent post. I like the log idea in that you can also remember to go over items we didn't know.

O.k., this may sound stupid....but I can handle "advanced" tech much better now then "retro" tech. Ex: blog, podcast, etc. vs. dealing with the copier.

The copier makes me want to fly off the deep end as all the advances just made it harder to use. Well, just MHO or I'm just copier challenged!!!