Edge Benchmarks – Professional Development for Technology Trainers

In this guest technology training series we have been exploring various public library models and sharing tips and success stories from libraries around the country. 

Previous posts have explored training topics including:

This post focuses on Edge Benchmark 8 which recommends that library staff are given time and opportunities for training in learning so that they are prepared to provide technology assistance and instruction. Investing in library staff helps increase the effectiveness of your public technology training and empowers staff as they learn essential technology skills.

The Need for Professional Development

Technology training may be a new skill set for many librarians and library staff, and professional development is an essential element to developing these new skills. There is a saying in education that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Library management should identify which skills and knowledge (competencies) are most important for staff to learn. Even experienced technology trainers benefit from setting goals to continue learning and improving their skills. Professional development can be in the form of webinars, in-person trainings, local meetings, or regional conferences. Professional development also can be the allowance of time for self-directed learning through reading, practice, and exploration.

In order for professional development to be effective, staff need support from library management. If library staff are given the time and permission to participate in learning activities, they will be more likely to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. All library staff can benefit from professional development, and their growth can help further the mission of the organization.

Strategies to Support Staff

Provide Access to Learning Opportunities

  • Allow time each week (15-30 minutes minimum) for staff to learn about technology training topics.
  • Share blogs, articles, and books about technology training.
  • Promote training opportunities like webinars, regional workshops, and conferences related to technology training.
  • Allow staff time (and funding, when possible) to attend training workshops.
  • Offer in-house training workshops about technology and computer instruction, led by experienced technology trainers on your staff. Librarian Kristen Draper provides e-reader device training for her colleagues at Poudre River Public Libraries (Fort Collins, Colorado). Anythink Libraries (Thornton, CO) hosts an annual Tech Fest, a day for staff to learn about new technology, to network, and to share ideas in a creative environment.
  • Use existing staff training materials to develop an in-house training workshop. The New Mexico Broadband Program developed a Train the Trainer Toolkit. The e-Vermont Community Broadband Project also has several toolkits available. The Colorado State Library developed a Train the Technology Trainer curricula.
  • Allow staff to learn from each other through meetings, discussion, and online collaboration.

Promote Adaptation of Existing Instructional Materials

  • Encourage staff to seek out and utilize materials that already exist, rather than create from scratch. Lesson plans, handouts, videos, and exercises can all be adapted in a “mix and match” style to create technology instruction to meet any audience.
  • Use websites such as DigitalLiteracy.gov
  • Check the copyright to be sure materials are available for public use. If you aren’t sure, email or call to ask permission.

Encourage Planning & Preparation

Before planning a new class, find out if there is enough interest in the topic to make the effort worthwhile. If there is only interest from a few people, it may be more effective to offer one-on-one instruction to meet their specific needs.

  • For a new class: allow ample time for planning and preparation. It can take up to 10 hours to prepare for a single class session on a new topic, especially if developing the material from scratch.
  • Encourage staff to create an outline of what they teach so that others can follow the same basic steps.
  • Promote flexibility in class planning: be willing to deviate from your plan to meet the needs of your participants. Allow space for questions to direct the class.
  • Review and update class materials before teaching to ensure that the information and examples are accurate, and that everything still works as expected.

Share Resources

  • Create a shared archive of instructional materials created at your library, so that other  staff can utilize them.
  • Create a public wiki or website to house them and share them with the entire library community. The New York State Library shares instructional materials on their website, as does the Hennepin County Library.
  • Give your materials a Creative Commons license to indicate that it is okay for others to use and adapt the materials.
  • Upload and share instructional materials on WebJunction.org.

Learn from Other Libraries

Tech Squad: Johnson County Library (KS)

The Johnson County Library serves approximately 400,000 people in the Kansas City Metro Area, with 13 locations including the main library. They recently decided to focus on several key areas across their system. One of these areas of focus is technology, in response to the recent demand for technology assistance.

Scott Sime is the Technology Training Specialist at the Johnson County Library, and his main role is to provide professional development for staff related to technology and technology training. He began by introducing tech competencies to measure the level of staff skills and knowledge. The competencies help library management identify goals for improvement. They also create a structure for staff to set goals for their own improvement. The competencies were adapted from existing models and were modified to meet the specific demands of their library.

In an effort to focus on technology competencies, Johnson County Library developed an initiative for staff called Tech Squad. Members of the Tech Squad are the designated “tech helpers” at each branch, and help both staff and the public with technology. They help troubleshoot technology problems and work with the IT department to provide basic tech support at each branch. They also are the de facto tech trainers at each location, since they often get asked questions about how to use technology. The Tech Squad is a unique leadership opportunity, made up of people who are passionate about technology and enjoy helping people. As members of the Tech Squad, they receive additional training to improve their own skills, which are then passed on to the rest of the staff through interactions at each branch.

As a result of this professional development initiative, staff are better prepared to assist their tech savvy library users. If you are considering developing new professional development initiatives like this in your library, Scott offers this advice about starting small and learning from your mistakes:

“Don’t be afraid to do something big... If you are going to fail, fail quickly. Put a pilot up. Don’t design a whole system wide campaign. If you can, do it quickly and see if it works, or see if you need to make any changes. Do it as a pilot program and make sure it works before you spend a ton of time on it.”  

Read more about Scott Sime in this TechSoup Spotlight.

Regional Training Opportunities: Morrill Public Library (Hiawatha, KS)

The Morrill Public Library is a Carnegie library serving approximately 10,000 people in northeastern Kansas. Susan Bryant is the Outreach Librarian and coordinates all the computer related programming at the library. They have 7 laptops for programming, and they have offered a wide variety of computer classes, from basic computer skills to Microsoft Office to digital media. One of their most popular basic skills classes focuses on how to cut, copy and paste.

When Susan first began offering technology classes she had no prior experience as a teacher. She attended a “train the trainer” workshop that was put on by the Northeast Kansas Library System (NEKLS). When she attended the workshop, she met several others from the region who were already offering technology instruction and the connection led to more opportunities to learn. Other libraries in the region shared handouts and tips for managing a computer classroom. Susan also attended some computer classes at other libraries in order to observe how they were taught. When asked about how this experience prepared her to be a technology trainer, Susan said “That just really helped me think about how I wanted to organize my presentations and what really does work with a group of 10 people in a room who are all clicking differently.”

Susan says that she never thought of herself as a teacher, but she has learned how to be one.

The interesting thing for me was how much I learned about technology, because I always felt I had to be a step ahead and anticipate questions that might come up. I did a lot of beginner tutorials myself that helped me learn and also helped me teach. People who don't think they could do it might give it a try.

Susan also says that having the right attitude is important for a successful program. Patience, generosity, and flexibility are all important to remember when teaching technology. New technology learners can be frightened or timid, so Susan tries to reassure them that they are doing a good job.

Read more about Susan Bryant in this TechSoup Spotlight.

Share Your Support Strategies

How do you offer support for your staff who provide technology training? What systems do you have in place to make technology instruction easier to deliver in your library? Please share your stories in the Edge Benchmark Survey. Respond to the survey, and you could win a prize!

Interested in learning more about how to support staff? Read these blog posts: