With the boom in tech over the last several years, more and more public librarians are finding themselves thrust into training roles in an attempt to meet community needs. These "accidental trainers" want to equip their patrons with knowledge and skills to successfully navigate the digital age but often lack the time and experience to take the first steps. Gail’s Toolkit, a free resource from the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, Illinois, answers this need.
Free, Downloadable, and Customizable Tech Classes
My colleague, Melissa Bernasek of Gail Borden Public Library, and I created a repeatable design model for tech classes and implemented it with our librarians. Seeing the model's success, we secured a two-year Carnegie-Whitney Grant through ALA Publishing to create an online portal to share it with others who train technology users in libraries.
Gail's Toolkit, as we named it, offers premade tech classes that are free, downloadable, and customizable to fit trainers' needs. Launched on September 30, 2015, the site has enjoyed a positive reception because it solves a big problem for small libraries: How can accidental trainers find time to develop and teach classes when they're already playing so many roles?
A Resource for the Accidental Trainer
One such accidental trainer is Mary Stoner, Director of the Anne West Lindsey District Library in rural Carterville, Illinois. Stoner, one of the first adopters of the toolkit, has been using it to teach classes on email with a great response from her community. She even became the first librarian contributor when she used the toolkit's free templates to create and teach a class on Gmail. Says Stoner, "I absolutely love Gail's Toolkit! It is such a timesaver! I wear many hats at the library, and I am very appreciative of anything that is useful and timesaving!"
That is exactly what we were hoping to accomplish with Gail's Toolkit. As my colleague Melissa says,
"The success stories we're hearing from users are transformative. It makes us proud to have contributed a tool that can be used by every member of our profession to improve the digital literacy skills in his or her community."
What's Inside Gail's Toolkit
Gail's Toolkit is an easy-to-use platform that features Gail the Gnome, the team's mascot, on every page. The Home page highlights recent class contributors and shares information about upcoming appearances. The About the Toolkit page shares information about our grant and provides bios and links to hook up with the team and our project contributors on LinkedIn.
The Learning in Libraries part of the toolkit allows visitors to find books, articles, and links to resources about adult learning principles, teaching, and managing the classroom, among many other training-related topics.
The Tracks & Classes section holds materials for the classes available in the toolkit. My favorite thing about the toolkit is the ability for users to customize the content to fit their communities. Since all the documents are in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, it's really easy to insert your logo, cut out parts that aren't relevant to your patrons, or add additional sections if you need to go deeper. Some librarians even print the materials and send them home with patrons to study, or they use them to conduct one-on-ones at their reference desks. Customizing the solution really allows one size to fit all.
The Future of the Toolkit
One year in, there are 38 classes posted on the website, and we have been busy speaking at conferences and to interest groups and helping other librarians implement the toolkit model for their tech classes. So what's next for us? We want to find a permanent home for Gail's Toolkit. Our goal was always to start it, grow it, and then hand it over to a larger organization that could manage it and take it to the next level.
Says Melissa, "We’re really hoping PLA, ALA, or some other major library player can be the next step in our growth as word of the toolkit continues to spread."
About the Author
Monica Dombrowski is the technology education manager at Gail Borden Public Library. Her specialties include writing classes, designing materials, managing projects, and developing people. Monica worked as a corporate trainer and manager for nearly 20 years before joining the library in 2014.
Images: Monica Dombrowski