Reference Renaissance Conference: Staff Training in the 21st Century

This session featured Michael Whitchurch (Brigham Young University, Utah), Leslie M. Hass (Loyola University, Chicago), Beth Jones (Jefferson County Public Library, Colorado) and Flora Shrode (Merril-Cazier Library, Utah State University).

A brief & incomplete recap:
Beth presented remotely using dimdim (the same virtual reference and web meeting tool the reference librarians use at JeffCo). JeffCo uses online learning modules to train their staff. Beth recommends Adobe Captivate, but also likes Adobe Presenter. Jeffco provides staff with training in downloadables and database use. They use Wet Paint wiki to collect, track and find tacit knowledge, and lessons staff have already learned about using the library district's e-resources. The future of online learning at JeffCo: resource sharing (libraries across the Front Range are sharing resources; visit CLiC for more info) video, and simulations, branching, game theory. Are you interested in training librarians to design eLearning simulation games? Beth recommends Engaging Learning by Clark Quinn.

Leslie hails from the Clark Information Commons at Loyola University (check it out; I appreciate their focus on collaboration, connectivity and community). Their model is so new, they find that their training must be flexible and responsive to the novel challenges and changes the Information Commons format presents. Administrators and organization theory buffs take note: they are finding they need to change policies on the fly. Everyone is logged in to IM while they are on the clock. Like JeffCo, they are using wikis to share information and findings. They are also creating a blog. They wish they had access to Blackboard, as they have found it is an effective training tool that many students already know how to use. They are also earning how to use webcams throughout the building, so students don't have to visit other desks in the building.

Flora's university library also features an Information Commons. They are trying to train all staff to answer question efficiently, so they can avoid bouncing library users from desk to desk throughout the building. The library employs IT student workers to help answer IT questions; Flora really likes this arrangement, and she encourages library staff to make friends with the "computer kids." They also employ student "peer mentors" who focus more on library and reference service. They use libstats to track reference questions. They are implementing an observation system this fall, to monitor reference staff performance. Training is face-to-face, and mostly on the spot. They subscribe to Lynda, an online software learning system. They use LibQual to track patron satisfaction. Flora also suggested that shelvers could use tablet PCs (if good WiFi is available), to answer stray reference questions in the disconnected stacks.

Michael's university trains students to answer basic reference questions. Their staff doesn't work on the desk, but they are available to answer the tougher reference questions student workers can't field. His advice about training student reference workers: train the student worker as best you can, and trust them to do the right thing. An audience member piped up and added: "It's also o.k. to train staff to say 'I don't know, but we'll find you the answer.'"

Many of the audience questions and comments focused on the differences between, and appropriate training for para-pros and MLS degreed reference librarians. This is a big issue at a lot of libraries, including my own. Do you agree? Is it time to revisit the core competencies for reference librarians and para-pros? Do we train everyone the same, or create separate learning platforms? Does your library have a single-point info desk, or the two traditional circ. and reference desks?

What new technologies does your library use to train reference staff?

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