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?
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?