Building a Culture of Technology at Your Library

Librarian. Library Assistant. Page. Information Specialist. Cataloguer. These are just a handful of some of the job titles you'll find at a library. But what about "Tech Worker"? Pam Saliba and Andrea Cecchetto, branch managers for the Markham Public Library, embarked on a mission to change the way library staff viewed technology and their place in the technology world.

We invited Pam and Andrea to our July webinar to share with other libraries how they got the Markham staff on-board with technology. Andrea and Pam opened up the webinar by asking our attendees whether they think of themselves as technology workers. Interestingly, 67 percent responded that yes, they do see themselves as tech workers.

A Cultural Shift Toward Technology

Markham, located just north of Toronto, is known as Canada's high-tech capital. It's the home of 900 technology companies and their employees. In response to the booming technology industry, the Markham Library started hosting maker and coding events, launched a digital media lab, and purchased 3D printers. But to get the staff on-board with this cultural shift toward technology, the Markham Library had to do some work internally.  

But First, a Little Mythbusting

Some of the staff members were excited about the new technology at the library, but others were reluctant to embrace it. To figure out the abilities and tech comfort level of the staff, the librarians created a self-assessment. From the results, they determined that there were three underlying myths among staff when it came to technology:

1.      It's scary

2.      It's difficult

3.      It's not my job

So Andrea and Pam set out with the goal to bust these myths. They realized that what the staff needed was technology training as well as some opportunities to engage with technology.   

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Creating Opportunities to Learn

The first thing the librarians did was set up a curated online space where staff could find relevant articles, videos, and other training resources around technology. They chose Pinterest as the platform because it's fun, easy to use, and popular. But not all staff knew how to use Pinterest, so they had to do training for their training platform. 

They also organized technology "lunch and learn" sessions where staff members could listen to presentations delivered by their peers. Some of the topics included how maker technologies work, how to use technology for learning, and how the library's internal systems work.

Organizing a TEDx Conference on How Tech Affects Careers

But the coolest, most creative thing the Markham Library staffers did (in my opinion at least) was hold a TEDx conference. They actually had to apply to get a license to be a TEDx organizer.

After you get approved, the TEDx sends you guidelines for organizing your conference. The Markham team chose "Spark" as the theme and chose speakers with diverse backgrounds to talk about how technology affects their career — from scientists to samba dancers. While it was geared toward staff, it was open to the public as well.

The library also held a staff-only tech conference over the course of three days. Staff members had a chance to listen to presentations regarding the library's strategic initiatives around technology. There was also the opportunity to get "hands on" with the technology and use some of the library's recent purchases. Pam and Andrea wanted to emphasize how fun technology could be through these hands-on adventures — it isn't scary, it isn't boring, and all staff can try it out!

A Digital Artist in Residence

One idea that really stood out from Pam and Andrea's presentation was having a Digital Artist in Residence at the library. Some libraries have hosted writers in residence, but Markham wanted to see what it would be like to host a digital artist at the library.

They recruited an artist, Stephanie Wu, who pitched a project that explored the concept of "escape" and the process of being present. As a part of a workshop, patrons and staff members took a picture or video of themselves at the library, and then drew a background of where they want to go to, such as the beach or a forest (see image).  

Digital Artist in Residence

These images were incorporated into looped animations, which will be turned into a collaborative community mural that will be projected at all of the Markham Public library locations. This project was not only a way to get staff interested in technology, but to engage the community in a collaborative digital project as well.   

Fail Camp for E-Books

Another cool idea that would be very easy to replicate is holding a "Fail Camp" for your staff. This was to help quell some of the anxiety around e-books that staff had reported in that initial tech assessment. The training was required for all information services staff members, regardless of their comfort level or experience with e-books. 

The training was framed around troubleshooting e-book readers and tablets. Staff members were taught that troubleshooting tech is like conducting the typical reference interview: you ask a lot of open-ended questions to help the customer as much as you can.  The staff broke up into groups to share tips, experiences, and resources around assisting patrons with e-book devices.

The "fail" aspect of these trainings was an opportunity for staff to be candid about any failure they had with e-books. Why embrace failure? Pam shared:

"Celebrate the fail for what it is — a solid attempt at making an improvement."

These are just a handful of the ideas for incorporating technology into your library's culture. All of the ideas Pam and Andrea shared can be easily replicated, no matter the size or staff of your library! Watch the whole webinar to learn more. 

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