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Informal Training: when staff requires more than just on the job learning

15 May

Libraries are spaces that foster learning. Most librarians love helping users and teaching information literacy skills has become a fundamental concept in librarianship studies. So what happens when it is the librarians who need help learning? We are all conscious that libraries are constantly evolving; systems are updated with new features, new services are added, policies change to better reflect the times, etc. Yet are we doing a good job of making sure that all staff are aware and comfortable responding to these changes?  In a large library system like mine, we can receive several memos a day informing us of new additions to the catalogue/circulation system, services, policies, etc. There is a huge difference between staff reading these memos and being vaguely aware of them and then having staff who actually understand the changes on a level that permits them to integrate them into their work or confidently explain them to a user.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately specifically in relation to our provincial library system’s introduction of OverDrive. In the fall, our Public Service Librarian from our regional office provided us with a brief OverDrive training session. This training was unfortunately during opening hours of the library which meant that we were constantly being interrupted by users with questions and having to answer the phone. With all the distractions, it was very difficult to assimilate what we were being shown and as we know, OverDrive is full of little hiccups regarding compatibility issues and software which are hard to address until you run into them. As time goes on, more and more users have been asking about Overdrive and I realized that staff were completely reliant on me to answer all OverDrive related questions. People who work in libraries are very intelligent. However, without being taught the knowledge necessary to accurately respond to users’ inquiries, the situation between staff and users can be very discouraging and possibly even embarrassing.

Last week, I decided that it was time to sit down in front of a computer with a full-time librarian assistant and a library volunteer and download together an audiobook onto my Ipod. It was informal and during the process I was asked so many questions that went much beyond OverDrive concerning the differences between devices like iPads, iPods, MP3 players, smartphones, etc. I was happy that even though I am not the most tech-savvy person out there, I was still able to share knowledge that I do have. It was extremely rewarding to see how appreciative both women for the informal training. They now feel better prepared responding to inquiries and conversing with others on the subject of the different formats of e-books/audiobooks and how to download them.

It is fantastic that libraries present themselves as keeping up with the tech trends including providing the download of e-books. However, how well is staff being trained to respond to all the new technology in their workplace?

What is the environment like at your library for training librarians and staff and then working together as a team so that everyone feels comfortable with their new knowledge and skills?

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4th Annual Web 2.You

16 Jan

My experiences co-organizing Web 2.You at McGill University in 2009 and again in 2010 were definitely pinnacle moments during my MLIS degree. Not only did I gain incredible experience in event planning and management. I especially got to meet some very awesome librarians! Before beginning my MLIS I had never thought of the possible existence of librarian superstars.  Luckily thanks to the inspired library school student I was quickly introduced to the world of the biblioblogosphere when I started in McGill’s MLIS program and through Web 2.You I got to meet some of the most well-known and influential modern librarian thinkers like Michael Stephens, Stephen Abram, Jenica Rogers, and Michael Porter. Not only did I get to hear them speak from the heart about important issues but after the conferences I got to hang out with them over supper! Both years provided me with such fantastic memories.

In fact, now that Michael Porter (keynote speaker ,Web 2.You 2010) has been elected to the ALA Executive Board, I can officially say that I’ve been to supper with an ALA Executive Board member. How cool is that?  All thanks to my involvement in Web 2.You!

Although I can’t attend Web 2.You 2011 due to distance, I am still thrilled to see the incredible line-up of speakers that my former co-organizer Adrienne Smith has rallied together for this year’s event.  By scoring Jason Puckett as a keynote speaker as well as several other well-known and respected specialists in the field of information, the proud tradition of Web 2.You will continue to bring innovative minds and new ideas to library school students and information professionals in the Montreal area. I strongly encourage anyone in the Montreal area to attend this event. Registration and information about the speakers is available on the Web 2.You 2011 wiki.

Witnessing the technological divide

2 Jul

The past two years in library school I have fallen into a rather “techy librarian” group. I’ve been greatly influenced by local librarian friends like Amy Buckland, Lora Baiocco and Graham Lavender who all promote web-based technologies and e-resources in an effort to improve and expand on current library services. My involvement in Web 2.You has also allowed me to meet and discuss new technologies in libraries with great minds like Michael Stephens and Michael Porter along with many other engaging thinkers. I even found myself visiting out of curiosity the websites, blogs or Twitter accounts of various libraries to see how they were using the web to reach out to users. I took the only Web Design course offered through the School of Information Studies at McGill in an effort to increase my ability to reach out to users via the web.

The main reason I have been such a huge proponent of Library 2.0 is its attempts to “meet the users where they are”. I have heard so often in the past two years the phrase “we can’t wait for the users to come to the library; we have to go to them”.  All this has gotten me very excited about the potential of Web-based technologies in libraries. Then I began as a director of a small library in a more “rural” area. In the past week that I have been directly serving our users, I have realized how far off my expectations were of the average level of the technological literacy of the library users in my new community.

I thought that when it came to the technological divide it was mostly an extension of the generational divide; some older people are still clueless about computers whereas all children are being brought up as members of the NetGeneration. I’ve had two encounters this week with young users (a girl who was probably 18 years old and a guy who was around 25 years old) that has demonstrated the inaccuracy of this theory. These users came in separately but they both were both experiencing the same problem. They wanted to use the library computers to print their C.V.s that had been burnt onto a CD and they were having problems opening the file. I checked and in both cases, the original document had been saved as a “Microsoft Works” file which meant that it was not compatible with the library’s Microsoft Office. I was full of questions: What was Microsoft Works? (I’ve since looked it up) Who still uses CDs for saving files needing regular updates like a C.V.? Apparently the users in my community do. For the girl, I was able to help her by walking her through the steps of connecting to the library’s wireless connection with her laptop, showing her how to resave her C.V. by modifying the type of the document to a Microsoft Word document. I then instructed her how to email the newly saved document to herself so that she could then open it on a library computer to print. She had never created an email attachment and I was happy to be presented with such a teachable moment. So the next day, in comes a guy with the exact same issue. I figured I could handle it again, no problem! However, when I started asking the guy more questions, I realized that it would not be as easy. The guy revealed that he did not have a computer, he had used his sister’s computer to write his C.V. and it wasn’t even clear to me if he had saved a copy of the C.V. to the computer’s hard drive or if it had just been burnt onto the CD. When I suggested that he go back to the original computer, change the type of file and then email it to himself, he informed me that he did not have an email address. A guy only a few years younger than me without an email address? Well didn’t this revelation just rock my world.

Come’on users, didn’t you get the memo? Information is all going to be e-based. For library services you will interact with librarian avatars and follow our tweets to discover new releases and upcoming activities. Ahem, I think that I will need to rethink my Library 2.0 approach with my new library community.  I’m not saying that all members of my community are technological illiterate but I think that rather than starting a library twitter account for my library users to follow, I might concentrate my efforts on offering some good old fashion computer workshops like “How to open an email account”. I really like the courses offered by the Milwaukee Public Library. I might use some of their computer class curriculum as a template for developing my own courses. To be continued…

Internet Filtering in Libraries

25 Jun

In my most recent issues of both Library Journal (June 1st 2010) and School Library Journal (June 2010), there is discussion of the recent decision of the state of Washington’s Supreme Court to allow libraries “to filter the Internet without being required to disable the filter when an adult requests access to websites with constitutionally protected materials”.  I especially appreciated Brian Kenney’s editorial on this matter in School Library Journal when he compares Internet filtering to outdated collection development policies where librarians select only the “best material” for their users.

My opinion on filtering has changed quite drastically since I began library school two years ago. In fact, I remember being surprised during a library school trip in the first year of my MLIS to the new Greenboro branch of the Ottawa Public Library. The librarian conducting our guided visit proudly talked about their no-filtering policy and their computer privacy screens. At the time, I thought “What, they don’t filter and they use privacy screens? Are they asking for trouble?” I have since developed the opinion that access to information entails access to all information without discrimination. It is ironic then that I have experienced filtering at my new library since arriving only a few weeks ago. I’m proud to say that our public access computers have no filtering; however, there are sites that I, as library director, am not authorized to access on my staff work computer since it technically belongs to the provincial government. Now we enter into a weird grey area because I do completely understand and respect the difficulties of managing the technical support for an entire network of provincial computers. From what I’ve been told viruses and bandwidth problems for such a large network cause major headaches for everyone involved especially the tech support team.  The public access computers are set up to be wiped every time someone logs out. This eliminates whatever software/viruses might have found their way onto the computer when it was being used. However, the settings for the staff computers are different. I smile weakly at the irony of the public having better internet access than the library personnel.

I am fairly certain that I will be so insanely busy in my new director position at the library that I won’t be tempted to browse the internet for fun while at my job. However, yesterday I was on our Intranet looking for sites with free clip art/images for a poster when I discovered that a link to Flickr was blocked.  It seemed like false advertising to post a link on the Intranet only to block its access. I have discussed the issue with our regional tech guy and he completely agrees with me that there should not be blocked links on the Intranet and he is working to fix that problem. He has informed the “powers that be” at the provincial level and either the site will be unblocked or the link will be removed. Flickr is a site on which you could possibly find questionable photos but there are also a lot of great images with creative commons licences that could be useful for all sorts of library use. It’s like the Internet; you have to take the chance of there being some bad in order to access all the great stuff that is available.

Instead of adding filters, I think libraries and government bodies should be more focused on educating users about internet security. Teaching users how to identify and avoid the dangers of the internet from viruses to internet fraud to damaged reputations (posting indecent photos) is a valuable investment of an organization’s resources. If organizations like libraries were to provide training sessions on these issues then they might save a lot of the time they currently spend on surveying and modifying their filters. Not to mention, they would be empowering people by providing them with more knowledge instead of disabling them by censoring their access to information.  What do you think? What do you do in your library?

Christopher Marsden speaks on Net Neutrality at McGill

22 Jan

Chris Marsden PhotoLast week, I attended a fascinating talk on Net Neutrality hosted by Media@McGill featuring Christopher Marsden. Christopher Marsden is a professor at the School of Law at the University of Essex and a guru on the legal implications surrounding information transfer.


Net Neutrality is a term that I had heard thrown around a lot recently and I was interested in attending the talk because I still did not have a clear idea of how to define the concept and I was curious to learn more. I assumed that Net Neutrality referred to the opportunity the web provides to obtain Open Source software and applications such GIMP 2  and Open Office or the possibility the web offers to consult material made available through Open Access publishing. This talk, however, focused more on the pricing of Internet Service Providers and the regulations in place in Europe and in North America to ensure that consumers have a right to basic internet service. When I first walked into the room, I noticed that it was packed with students and faculty none of whom I recognized as being from SIS. The Power Point Intro Slide read “Medium Law and Network Neutrality – History, Common Carriage, Bottlenecks and Oligopoly “, “Oh my God!” I thought; I had no clue what that title even meant! Since I knew the speaker taught at a faculty of law, I was concerned that I had unknowingly walked into a talk directed at law students and that I should leave while I still had a chance. Luckily I stayed and learned about network capacity and the hidden costs of the internet. Most of the students and faculty present were from Communications or Media Studies. However, these issues have huge implications for Information Professionals such as librarians and I wish some of my fellow SIS students had attended.


It is fascinating to think of how fast the internet evolves and one of Chris Marsden’s points was the difficulty of Internet Service Providers to predict the changes in consumer needs and wants. Originally the internet was primarily text based and therefore basic internet service was more than adequate. However, with arrival of Napster, consumers demanded much faster network capacity (do you remember how exciting it was when a song took less than twenty minutes to download?). Now consumers want to upload photos and stream videos to their hearts’ content which requires extremely fast networks but they don`t want to pay more than they did for the basic service. The most alarming concept for me as an information professional is the idea of price scaling which means that network providers could charge more for different types of service (websites with more applications). In a tech-based society where so much information is shared on the web, especially through Web 2.0 technologies, having network services with differentiating prices would reinforce a tier-society of those who could access online information and those who could not. From Chris Marsden’s talk, I took away the idea that since network providers are companies seeking to make a profit, as librarians, we must fight to keep the information highway open to everyone by lobbying for Net Neutrality and for striving to keep our users information and technology literate through open technology in the library and programs like workshops that users to develop the knowledge and skills crucial for their advancement in our internet-based society.

Chris Marsden also took the opportunity to promote his upcoming book on the same subject as his talk Net Neutrality: towards a co-regulatory solution The book is not yet available in print but while waiting you can also pick up Chris’ previous publications Regulating the global information society (2000) and Codifying cyberspace : communications self-regulation in the age of Internet convergence (2008). I cannot say that I completely agreed with everything that he said on the topic of Net Neutrality but he is incredibly knowledgeable man and I count myself fortunate that I could attend this talk. Thank you Media@McGill for hosting this great speaker! In the future I will consult their list of events with greater interest.

Web 2.You 2010

6 Jan

I have the honour this year of co-organizing the 3rd annual Web 2.You conference. Web 2.You brings together information professionals and MLIS students for a day of learning and exchange on the implications of Web 2.0
technologies in professional information settings. This event was originally organized in 2008 by Amy Buckland and Jan Dawson who, at the time, were both MLIS II students at McGill University. The first conference was a huge success with speakers like Jessamyn West and John Dupuis. One MLIS I student who attended of this first conference, Graham Lavender, was inspired by John Dupuis’s presentation to start a blog and went on to co-organize Web 2.You 2009 the following year. Well, this year it is my turn, luckily with Adrienne Smith, a fantastic MLIS I student, at my side, and we have had quite a learning experience! Organizing a conference is hard work! From finding speakers, to securing a venue, to applying for grants, this year’s organization has been full of ups and downs. This is why I am SO proud to announce that registration has now begun and we have an amazing line up of speaker: Michael Porter, Jenica Rogers, Graham Lavender (I am aware that this leaves me open to accusations of favouritism) and a panel discussion group featuring Michael Lenczner, Patrick Lozeau and Michele Ann Jenkins.

Web 2.You 2010 will take place on February 5th 2010 at McGill University’s Thomson House. I hope to see as many of you there as possible!

For more information on the event, our speakers, or registration, visit the Web 2.You Wiki.