You Can Do I.T.! How to Empower Library Staff with Basic Tech Management Skills

The Solution: Training and Empowerment

Library services rely heavily on technology, but many libraries face the challenge of staying up to date with technology, especially when it comes to basic information technology (I.T.) concepts. While libraries may have I.T. managers or access to I.T. services, few front-line staff receive training in basic I.T. concepts. Having adequate training can build confidence when managing public access computer and working with patrons.

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) faced this challenge in more than 400 small public libraries in rural areas. They responded with You Can Do I.T. (YCDIT), a friendly, approachable hardware, software, and networking skills training program. At our February webinar, we heard from three guests who talked about this project and shared their curriculum, which is available for free online. Cindy Fisher and Henry Stokes joined us from TSLAC, along with library technology consultant Carson Block, and shared their goals and methodology for the curriculum, as well as examples for how it could be used in other libraries.

What Is included in the You Can Do I.T Program?

The curriculum for YCDIT was designed to cover foundational technology skills and was designed with small and rural libraries in mind. They developed with two in-person workshops, which they delivered around the state from 2015 to 2016. The first workshop covered everything related to the Internet: networking, broadband, Wi-Fi, and speed tests. The second workshop covered computer equipment: hardware, software, and all the parts that make up a computer. These workshops were designed and delivered by Carson Block. Henry explained that the goal of these workshops was to train and to "empower library staff to think about I.T. differently."

Common Library Technology Issues

Cindy took us through four of the common issues with library technology that are addressed by the YCDIT curriculum, along with recommended solutions.

  • Are your public computers loading videos too slowly? The solution is to monitor Internet speeds with a speed test tool to see if the issue is with not having enough broadband at certain times of the day.
  • Are your staff computers slow, despite your Internet speeds being fast? The solution is to draw a map of the library's network to see if there are issues with the cabling or hub technology.
  • Do you need to buy hardware and software for a new technology lab? Review the components of the technology to better understand the specs, and then use a technology purchase evaluation guide (included in the curriculum) to help make decisions about which technology will fit your needs.
  • Do your public computers get viruses, despite having antivirus software? Protect your technology and data by using system-restoration software like Deep Freeze. More on this subject is covered in the YCDIT section on Computer Security 101.

You Can Do I.T. Solution #1 - Review the speedtest video to understand how network traffic works. Test your library's internet speed using a free online tool.

How Can You Help Others Learn I.T.?

Carson talked about what it is like to provide I.T. training to library staff. He said that one of the questions he often gets asked is if it is "possible to teach complex I.T. concepts to laypeople." To this his answer is an emphatic "Yes, you can!" He went on to say that the commission's goal in developing the YCDIT curriculum was to help people learn how to think about tech in new ways. He acknowledged that technology concepts are often invisible to us, something that we take for granted.

Carson talked about how important it was to allow people to ask basic questions, such as "what's inside this black box anyway?" He encouraged participants to share their problems and explore their curiosity. Carson's approach worked to demystify technology and visualize complex processes like speed tests and network diagrams. During the workshops, Carson brought computers that could be taken apart, so all the parts like the circuit board could be explored.

You Can Do I.T. Network Diagrams - A presenter draws a network diagram on a whiteboard

How Can the Curriculum Be Used?

All of the curriculum is available and free for libraries to use from the TSLAC website. The materials can be used to deliver a training, but they can also be taken individually as a self-paced course. Some of the workshop content has been recorded, so you can actually see Carson explain the concepts. If you are considering teaching I.T. to your library staff, remember that you don't have to be an expert in all things technology. Being a "guide on the side" is more effective than being the "sage on the stage." Remember that the goal of this type of training isn't to make experts but to help establish a basic knowledge of I.T. concepts.

Keys to Success

The keys to success when it comes to I.T. knowledge are having a basic understanding, knowing key vocabulary, and feeling empowered to do something. Carson shared an experience with a librarian who had worked with an outside I.T. professional and who was having an issue communicating about Wi-Fi signal issues. After the YCDIT training, she was able to better communicate about the possible issues, and the issue was soon resolved. She said she felt more confident being able to communicate and in the end had success resolving the situation.

This post provides only a brief overview of the information Carson, Cindy, and Henry shared about this free set of training materials that they developed for libraries. Watch the entire webinar here on the TechSoup website and access the training materials from the TSLAC website.