Six Years of Instruction

About six years ago through a mix of luck and being willing to say ‘yes’ when opportunity appeared I taught my first computer class at my library. It was Internet Basics  – aimed at people with some basic mousing and keyboard skills, but no knowledge of the internet.

Since then I have offered classes on ‘Advanced Internet Use’, Microsoft Word, Excel, library databases, ebooks (ebooks and more ebooks), social media, privacy, and more.

Technology classes offered by public libraries are weird beasts. Very rarely are our classes about ‘library use’ or ‘library website use’ (although I have done those as well), but more about helping people develop the skills to participate in the digital world. This can involve buying and selling, job hunting, creating resumes, creating a digital presence, and searching effectively.

I like to call the skillset of ‘participating in the online realm’ Digital Literacy. This is a contentious term, some like to think digital literacy is just research based skills, others, coding skills. In my organization we also have used ‘Digital Life Skills’ as an umbrella term.

But, whatever we call it, the goal is to help our community members access content, and participate in the world. And the amount of time, and expertise that many public libraries are able offer suits the needs of our community members.

When I started teaching at my library I had zero instruction experience and very little public speaking experience. I had worked at a circulation desk at a different system for two years previous and had held a couple of customer service jobs beforehand.

So going into a session all I had was a brief orientation on the space and a set of outlines and handouts.

sometimes you feel like you might be straying from the path.

Then it was me, and twelve eager learners.

With very little it is possible to do a lot! You will make mistakes, there will be questions that you don’t know how to answer, but with patience and a loud voice you will be able to do it!

Instruction became of of my favourite activities, and something that I discovered that I am skilled at. Which I, as a shy teen, never would have guessed about myself. Instruction has allowed me to connect with my community, help fellow staff members, and develop a love of public speaking.

So, think about what opportunities that you might take advantage of, even if you don’t necessarily have any experience in them. You never know what you might discover.

Continuous Learning

I am all about professional development (which is a bit obvious, I’m sure), and I like to live my soapbox rantings.

In addition to workplace based professional development, such as webinars, workshops, conferences, and feeds/journals, there is also learning things by living them.

It is really hard to learn new technologies (Reader’s Advisory, Excel) if you aren’t using the skills you are being taught. But that doesn’t mean that learning can be avoided!

Next year I’ll be offering a “Getting Started with Instagram” session,but before I found out that, I had never used Instagram before!

So I created a learning plan.

Over my summer vacation my goal was to post one photo to instagram a day , follow 3 people, and practice the idiosyncratic tagging system.

my instagram landing page

It wasn’t a strenuous task, I do enjoy taking photos, and playing with social media is a lot of fun for me. But sometimes I do need to learn things that already 100% to my tastes.

What setting up learning goals for yourself consider:

  1. Do I need to be an expert?
  2. What will I be doing (teaching a class, running the library’s account, or gathering ideas for programming)?
  3. How do I learn (playing around, watching tutorials, reading instructions)?

Then set something up that works for you. Make sure to have goals, and an end point – when will you know that you are done?

In this case I am finished learning (for now) since I found a way to integrate Instagram into my social media workflow. I will likely dive in a little deeper when I get closer to my class.

Try creating a personal learning plan for yourself this fall!

Not Knowing the Answer

I’m going to try and get back into the blogging habit, since I find it a helpful exercise, and reflection is an important part of my work that I tend to ignore. (More on that at another time.)

Sometimes not only is there no easy answer, there is no answer at all.

And that is scary.

I had the opportunity to take a one-day course on Leading Change. It has already had a significant impact on the way that I think about my project work, and my ongoing responsibilities.

There were a lot of neat tools one was: Project Management is the thing (hardware software, activity), change management is the people. And the people part is just as important as the project itself.Change is hard. Here is a perplexed looking schnauzer to make it seem a bit easier.

Also, resistance to change is normal. Have a plan that involves upfront communications (and feedback if possible), sponsorship of your project (think champions of your change), and have those champions model the change and reinforce the change.

The scary part of the day came near the end, when we were reviewing a list of questions and statements that might come up in response to a change.

Some were easy to address “There wasn’t a problem with how we did it before, why are we changing things?” and “There are more pressing problems for us to address right now”, I could explain why we were making the change or what processes were in place.

The second page of questions included:

“I am concerned about my ability to learn the new skills required for this change to be successful”

and

“This is going to require me to alter some of the belief I hold in how business should be conducted”

and

“This change will require me to learn a lot of new information or viewing existing information differently.”

And I found myself checking the “Truth” box next to those questions and the action plan box sat empty.

These are big questions. These are things that come up when you are changing people’s perceptions in how they do their jobs- why they do their jobs. It isn’t always verbalized, but if you ask yourself “What is really being said?” This might be what you are hearing.

And (as an added issue) in the library world, often a good part of our personal identity is tied up in our work. “I am a library technician” or “I am a librarian” and “that means that I do ___”. Find books for people, act as a gatekeeper, answer reference questions…. To some people it means  that they are an expert in information.

Acting as an agent of change (my unofficial job title) around digital initiatives means that I am almost constantly causing people to doubt their skills and their ability to appropriately meet the needs of the public. When I need people to learn new skills, they can feel like they are no longer experts in their jobs. They can (and do) feel like I am changing what it means to work in a library. And that is understandably scary for them.

I don’t know that there is a fix for this. There is no easy answer to these questions, that is for sure.

But, even if I don’t have any answers, I can commit to taking time with staff and supervisors who are afraid of what the impact of changes are having on their perception of their jobs, and their identity, and work with them to adapt, and find the places where things are still going to stay the same.

How do you deal with someone who is worried about the future of their job? Their profession?

Learn to Love Ladies Learning to Code

If you are in Canada and are interested in a well designed introduction to code, try Ladies Learning Code.

I recently took a Saturday to learn about Javascript. I had some experience, but really didn’t understand why things occurred the way they did. The description of the class from Ladies Learning Code was perfect for my needs.

Each class is one day, includes hands-on practice, and uses great examples and explanations. They promise (and deliver) a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere.

The atmosphere was welcoming, the presenter was fantastic, and lunch was included!

An Endorsement

Kains Woods 2011Sharing resources is a key part of our work, and one of our greatest resources (if not our greatest resource) is our expertise. Whether it is your thousandth day or your first day, there is always something you can share with someone else.

I am in the midst of my first mentorship program through BCLA. The BCLA Mentorship program runs twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. The partnerships run for 8 weeks, and you get to meet up with an awesome person!

As I understand it (and a quick internet search mostly confirms), mentoring isn’t a one time process, or something that you participate in only as a mentee or a mentor. In different places in your life you will need mentoring, and in other places you will be the mentor. Sometimes you might hold both roles at once.

For example, I am acting as a peer mentor for my current BCLA Mentee, and I get mentoring from my supervisor and other more experienced librarians in my organization. I gain knowledge and share knowledge as a part of my daily working life. It is a ton of fun.

To be a library assistant, library technician, or librarian is to be part of a vibrant and welcoming community that is made better with every person that contributes. There is nothing more enjoyable than discussing the profession with someone else who loves it as well.

So, if you have a chance, participate in a mentorship program!

Keeping Up to Date

Part of being a library professional (not limited to someone who holds an MLIS), especially one employed in a position that deals heavily with technology, is keeping up-to-date on developments in the field.

In fact, for my position, keeping up to date is part of my job:

“Keeps abreast of developments in emerging technologies, digital library interface capabilities and enhancements and trends in user behaviour and the consumer technology marketplace…”

Staying up to date in a library might once have been possible with journals and conferences, but now with new developments and announcements, news is something you need to stay on top of every day. This allows you to know about new gadgets before patrons bring them in, know about changes to databases before they happen so that you can prepare, and know what to order when new products hit the market.

Before starting my Lib Tech Diploma I depended on a well organized list of links in my browser that I would visit, one at a time, hoping that I would catch interesting updates. Discovering RSS feed readers was a game changer. The ability to have website updates delivered to one place, was wonderful. I recommended using a feed reader to everyone that I thought might be interested (and even those who might not be). I am a huge fan of RSS.

Fast forward to 2013 and Google’s announcement that they are powering down Google Reader. I get it. It isn’t a product that provides revenue for them, and perhaps it isn’t as well used as their other free products. But those who do use it are news junkies, and news junkies can be technology writers. When you sunset a product loved by writers, you hear about it. The best commentary on the event is this Economist article Utilities: Google’s Google problem.

While upset about the news, I immediately started looking for an alternative service. For the last two weeks I have been using Feedly almost exclusively. It has been very good, the interface is great, and even though it is currently just syncing with Google Reader, the company promises to be ready to standalone come June. The app is also available on Android (and iOS), but on my tablet there is a weird caching lag that makes paging through articles a bit difficult.

If Feedly doesn’t sound like the RSS feed reader for you, Gizmodo helpfully listed 8 Google Reader Alternatives. There should be at least one there that works – The Old Reader looks nice, but it is having some difficulties keeping up with the increased number of users.

But it is important to stay up to date, and RSS is still the best way to manage news, since updates wait for you- unlike Twitter.

Agree? Disagree?

 

#DataCamp Spring 2013

Part of my new reason for existing in the library world is to make connections between the digital and physical library. One of the ways to do that is to work with open data. Unfortunately, out of all my many and varied technological interests, open data always seemed beyond my skill set.

As part of a quest to learn more about Open Data I’ve been to two data gatherings since February. I would normally call them conferences, but neither event used the term conference deliberately. I really enjoyed that both events included hands-on projects, and the chance to network.

The first event was the BC Open Data Society’s Open Data Summit. The event was a mix of high-level presentations about programs that had been, and are being done with open data, and hands-on activities to answer problems posed by the group. It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot about what is happening in the world of open data, what people are interested in taking on as projects (lots of civic data) and a bit about collaborative group projects (with strangers!). Despite that, after the event I felt even more out of my depth on the topic of open data than before.

This past week I went to my second event- #DataCamp, an organic half-day event that was focused on finding solutions to Open Data problems. This event was aimed at librarians and educators and had a different feel than the summit. There were questions solicited from the attendees, who then, by voting, chose eight topics to workshop. The person who originally posed the question was the person expected to facilitate the discussion. It was fun, I was able to discuss questions of library staff digital literacies and how to advocate for open data projects & hackathons for libraries. While I would have liked to have heard summaries from the other groups, I am hopeful that we’ll have everything online soon. The group was very twitter friendly.

I will be the first to admit that I still have a lot to learn – especially about how libraries best fit within the open data landscape, but I have learned a lot in a month, who knows what I’ll know next month.

If you have a chance, take a look at these open data sources and tools:

 

I will likely revisit this topic in the future!