Friday, September 15, 2006

Fix-it Fridays: Technology Training or providing more for patrons than you do for staff

This Fix-it Friday will focus on meeting the needs of your patrons, but failing to do so for your staff.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the library is going through major transformations in providing technology for our patrons. We are making attempts to bridge the digital divide and knowledge gap so that our community produces a competitive workforce and informed citizenry. We will more than double the amount of public access computers at our library and provide all the latest software to meet user needs. If you go to any public library in Arizona now, libraries that have received Gates Grants have all these new sleek black computers, lots of RAM, they can do almost anything. It is fantastic! What strikes me as funny is that we are trying so hard to make sure our patrons are trained to use computers and then providing them with the latest technology, but we are forgetting about doing the same for our staff members. The realization hit when you stand back and look at all these beautiful new machines, and then turn around and see these old white clunky dinosaurs with TV type monitors. You have a back to back comparison of the latest technology versus the 1990s technology. Yikes!

The problem with computers for staff is that we have to rely on the city’s schedule. They will replace all of the computers on a three year cycle. Cities and libraries don’t have the advantage of a Gates Grant or applying for any grant that just covers administrative overhead or basic infrastructure. No one wants to fund a grant like that, just the same as not many people would vote for a bond to renovate their own city hall building. The funding agency should be able to cover its own internal matters. So as a library, we forced to sit back and wait for our city IT to move its own infrastructure into the 20th century when the citizens its serves are moving at the speed of light. I guess that is good and self-less, but it doesn’t feel good for those who work for the city and don’t get the same attention.

We are doing the same thing with training opportunities. We have this great line-up of classes and programs for the public. It teaches them information on financial literacy, information literacy, and all sorts of literacy type stuff, but we are not doing the same things for our staff. We have technology classes twice a week to teach basic computers, internet, email, and even e-bay, but we are doing the same things for our own staff. Granted, they have this basic knowledge. When they first came on board, we taught them how to use our Integrated Library System, we taught them how to use the internet and the basics of a computer, so these same classes are not needed. However, we still need to teach and re-train basic computer and catalog concepts. What we really need to do is transform our staff into computer techie people so that they can trouble-shoot and assist our patrons more readily. The problem with this is that only I and one other person really have those technology skills to teach. We need to teach our staff how install and un-install programs, how to troubleshoot simple computer and internet problems, we need to teach them basic IT things so that they can provide some sort of triage before calling in the cavalry (IT). The problem is that I have to squeeze time to make this a priority. I need to sit down and write a manual and teach it. We are in the process of forming our technology plan and I am writing the manual, but all these concepts will take forever to teach all of them.

How will I ever find the time to teach them especially when we are so thinly staffed most of the time? All of the technology manual concepts will be forever changing. That was one of the reasons we stopped teaching our computer maintenance class, it is too complicated and takes too much time to keep up on the concepts that are needed to help ourselves and our public. The only training opportunities are over an hours drive away and we can’t afford to send everyone to the training. Usually, it is not even library specific. I am looking into using several techniques to help our staff become naturally inquisitive about technology. One of the problems is that they don’t want to touch anything on the computer. It is too intimidating. I need to break the habit and get them to learn concepts on their own. My plan is to develop a library technology manual, some of it will be developed with the help of Webjunction and some from our Library Technology Plan Consultant that was funded by a Library Services and Technology Act from the Arizona State Library Archives and Public Records. (I try not to use acronyms) I also plan to use some Library 2.0 training concepts. I am using a modified 43 Things concept I found from the Information Outlook, February edition called 23 Things. I am planning on creating incentives for staff to learn on their own. Just don’t want them to get spoiled and then not want to do anything unless they get a cookie. That is always a tough line to walk. I hope the plan works, it seems like it is working over at Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County County (PLCMC). I will keep my fingers crossed.

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