Digital skills training
Kate reflects on what she learned coordinating training for colleagues at the National Library of Australia
25 March 2015
...to build practical, effective digital library collections and services requires more than a few technical cognoscenti... It takes many individual librarians… with imagination, and with the guts to do something with it. It will, in the end, take all of us.
Roy Tennant, 2004
While digital collections are by no means a new phenomenon at the National Library of Australia, the transition of the publishing industry from print to digital places us at the tipping point of the long predicted ‘digital deluge’. In the coming year, our digital collecting work will expand from the specialist areas of the web archive, oral history recordings, digital photography, subscription journals and our expansive digitisation program, into our core activities—and none of us will be unaffected.
We are experiencing a historic transition that is broad as well as constantly changing. For the library sector in Australia, along with other twenty-first-century industries, this state of change has become and will remain the norm. For an industry which prides itself on global standards and a best practice which is complex and precise, structuring training which encompasses great swathes of unknowns is more than a little daunting.
Learning and innovation
However, as OCLC’s Competency Index for global librarianship makes plain—continuous learning has always been at the centre of library culture and innovation is inherently a learning process. Moreover, being a part of shaping change is exciting. At times, innovation runs the risk of taking place solely in the realm of technical specialists and discrete projects. It is professionally rewarding, and institutionally vital to bring our library specialists along with such developments and, crucially, use their front-line expertise to direct new ideas. It also goes a long way to share the ownership of change with everyone. At their best, our training efforts are a conduit for knowledge and creative thinking in both directions and foster a culture of openness and collaboration.
The training course
As Robin Plenyi mentioned in a previous post ‘Our digital present’, I recently coordinated the first phase of digital collecting training which targeted the published collection. It kicked off with a presentation, 1010: Introduction to digital collecting, delivered to approximately one hundred staff in the Collections Management Division. It presented a conceptual map of what the route of an ebook would look like as it is collected by the National Library of Australia. This involved some practices that are currently in place, some approaches that are being explored and developed in different work and projects around the Library and some which are very much in the vision space.
I then ran the six week 1020: Collecting ebooks training course with a team of six co-trainers, who are specialist colleagues. It was delivered to a targeted 68 staff. The course built on topics introduced in the presentation, with a week each on:
- 1021: Formats
- 1022: Digital rights
- 1023: Acquisitions issues
- 1024: Software
- 1025: Cataloguing issues
- 1026: Advanced formats and digital preservation
The aims of the training program were to:
- increase familiarity with digital collecting terminology
- communicate different current and future projects, procedures and workflows to staff in a coherent and consolidated form
- imbue confidence to identify, problem solve and collaborate around issues associated with ebook collecting
- communicate the big picture of collecting published digital items
- equip staff to assess benefits and risks associated with collecting ebooks
- inspire enthusiasm and dispel anxiety towards changes to work practices
While I was new to the role of Digital Skills Trainer, my personal experience of working in NLA Publishing (the Library’s very own publishing house), and moving to content coordination for the website, really assisted me in empathising with the fear, or at least, the frustration that IT can instil.
It was also a pleasure for me to fully grasp that we are not talking about a historic disruption; it’s not old world versus new world. The manner in which we produce and disseminate humanity’s information, knowledge, stories and creative expression has, from the beginning, been defined by technological developments and libraries have always adapted to support the preservation of these, and to provide access. Plugging our current and future developments to the profession back into a longer story had a significant impact. The biggest priority was to inspire enthusiasm in colleagues to engage with their own ongoing learning.
Ten things I learned about training and learning
(Number 10 is the best.)
1. Make it voluntary and exciting
Early communication set the tone which had a non-threatening and light touch and exciting visuals. The course booked out within 48 hours.
2. Keep it short, regular and super structured
We considered running the Collecting ebooks training course over full days, but it proved a much better idea to use one-hour sessions once a week instead. One hour chunks of information were digestible and felt like an achievable amount of time away from work, particularly for part-time staff. Each week of the Collecting ebooks training course followed a set structure, beginning with an outline of what would be covered and a ‘Recap round’ of a few multiple choice questions for the group. This switched everyone back into training quickly. I found that 11am was the sweet spot for an attentive (read: caffeinated) cohort, and it gave them the option of having a break for their minds directly afterwards.
3. Make sure it is practical and clearly tied to their work
It is a big investment for staff to give up time for training. For them to value it, it needs to be directly related to the systems we use at the Library, and all theories need to be clearly linked to something resonant in their own experience. It may sound obvious, but this involves really understanding what it is the trainees do and fostering an environment of appropriate mutual respect.
I found it was about striking the balance between training my colleagues in what we are currently doing, flagging to them what will change and when, and exposing them to theory and broader directions we are travelling in. It was also important to not get bogged down in technical complexity.
4. Pick a dream team
I had a superb set of co-trainers who contributed a great deal of excellent content and creativity to the training. It also kept each week fresh. The team was a mixture of staff with technical expertise and library specialists who had first-hand experience in some of the issues. Being involved in training gave the latter group the opportunity to dedicate time to coming up with solutions to some of these issues and the former group closer exposure to the current experience. Collaborating with staff and asking them to research and deliver content also creates a new set of digital collecting specialists within the affected work areas.
5. Tell stories
People love stories. This is something librarians know well. Narratives, particularly ones from personal experience, are a great way to get a message across.
6. Include problem solving
It feels really good to solve problems! It is especially effective if these are real problems experienced by trainees. The revelations we have when we come to solutions ourselves stick in our memories.
Our staff cohort is on the whole, relatively introverted. I was unsure if collaborative work and group discussions would be the most appropriate and successful style of learning. However, attendees overwhelmingly identified their favourite parts of the training as the activities and group work.
8. Challenge them
Challenging my colleagues was a challenge for me! Setting tasks that were tricky and at times pushing them out of their comfort zones had big results for building confidence. It was also great to introduce content or perspectives which were surprising, somewhat controversial or unexpected. Disruptions like these made people tune back in.
9. Have as much fun as possible
Humour is a great tool. I also laughed at myself a fair bit, which I think helped create an accepting environment. Prizes are also fun motivators for adults as much as they are for children.
10. Tap into the feels
I am incredibly fortunate to work in an industry which is absolutely full of people who are truly passionate about what they do. All of my colleagues are conscious of the important role their work plays in preserving our cultural output for future generations. Everyone involved in the training has a love of reading, or books, or have benefitted directly from the services of a library at some point in their lives. It can be all too easy to lose sight of these emotional motivations in the daily stresses of deadlines, targets and changes. It is always worth allocating time to remind ourselves of what makes our hard work and dedication to ongoing learning worthwhile.