Designing a Library Staff Computer Training Program: Implementation of Core Competencies
Through a process of data gathering and analysis along with a review of current library literature, a need was identified to establish a continuum of staff training in technology. The educational needs of library staff at the Ehrman Medical Library (EML) of New York University School of Medicine were assessed via observation, interviews, logging incoming questions at public service areas, and reviewing Helpline e-mails. Data gathered during the assessment assisted in the development and design of a staff training program and will be used in project evaluation. This tutorial outlines a process of designing and implementing a staff computer-training program while providing general tips and strategies.
The Ehrman Medical Library (EML) has sixty-one FTE staff, a mix of professional and paraprofessionals working both part- and full-time. The majority of staff are onsite; however, about 5 percent work at affiliated libraries offsite at branch facilities. The level of comfort with technology and computer proficiency varies greatly among staff. Each staff member has access to a personal computer and most staff members serve the public at one of three areas: the circulation desk, the information desk, or the computer media center. All professional librarians and several paraprofessionals staff the library's information desk. The library's computers are a mix of platforms and operating systems with about 60 percent of staff using Windows platforms and 40 percent of staff using Macintoshes. Approximately 90 percent of the public computers are Windows-based.
Through data gathering and analysis, a need was determined to establish a base level of computer competencies for all library staff. Although they were eligible to take microcomputer classes in MS Office applications offered by the institution at large as well as Internet training courses offered by the library, there had never been any form of onsite staff computer training. It was determined that an ongoing, mandatory, formal training program for all library staff would prove most advantageous.
The project as conceived by the systems librarian and the coordinator for user services had two main objectives-first, to improve the staff's ability to troubleshoot their own desktop machines, and second, to improve the level of assistance provided to patrons in public service areas. An upcoming library renovation would combine all points of public service into one location. This too was considered in the need for a core level of skills.
Top-level library administrators were queried during one of their regular weekly meetings to ascertain their interest in such a project and to determine if such a program would be supported. Once verbal approval was received from the library director, project development got underway. It is vital to get the support of the library director and department heads before such an undertaking. There must be a buy-in at all levels, but rallying department heads at the onset proved to be an important step in securing attendance and overall support of all staff members for the training program.
Data Gathering and Analysis
A literature review is a good start in developing an ongoing training program. A review of articles on staff computer training reinforced the value of such an undertaking. By further focusing the literature review on academic libraries, good starting points for actual program design began to emerge. In the academic institutions, in-house training programs were more likely to be developed and implemented, while training programs in corporate settings tended to be outsourced, something that library budgets do not often provide for. Academic libraries, in particular, are able to use valuable staff resources to cull instructors and budget constraints have reinforced the do-it-yourself attitude in many individual libraries.
A training model designed for the University of WisconsinMadison was ultimately adopted. This model provided three areas for training: the operating system, hardware basics and troubleshooting, and software basics. 1 Searching skills and techniques were considered an important fourth area of training for the staff that worked in public service areas. Using these four broad areas as a recommended basis, it is important to next get library-specific information to cover in each class. Starting with a basic model is handy, but in order for the courses to be truly effective at individual libraries, course designers must understand which areas are deemed the most important by their staff and also which areas are causing the most problems or computer down-time.
Four methods were used to gather information pertinent to the EML: reviewing Helpline e-mail logs, logging questions at public service points, observing staff, and interviewing staff. Staff and patrons are encouraged to report all computer problems to Helpline, an e-mail alias that is directed to all members of the library's systems staff. Systems staff is then encouraged to respond to problems and sum up the solution for the Helpline alias. These systems-staff replies, junk mail, and all duplicate messages were removed from the logs; the remaining e-mail messages were analyzed for two three-month time periods in 1999. The problems reported were assigned to one of thirteen categories that became apparent as the Helpline logs were reviewed. Of these areas, printing problems were the most frequently reported, followed by hardware and network problems. Other problem areas uncovered included: general software issues; problems using Microsoft Office; nonbooting or freezing of computers; problems accessing servers; student academic courseware; e-mail; Web-browser problems; computer backup; terminal problems; and problems with locally administered database accounts. These thirteen categories were then assigned to one of the four training areas. Categories will differ between institutions given their individual needs. If this analysis was completed today on more recent logs, different categories might emerge.
Realizing that all computer problems are not reported to systems staff via e-mail, it is important to have other means of data gathering. Therefore, staff participated in the study by logging questions and problems at public service areas. Additionally, the systems staff logged all problems reported via phone or in person. Logs were kept for one-week periods at the circulation desk, the information desk, the computer media center, educational services, and the library systems office. These logs can be reviewed to assist with adding pertinent material to each of the four broad course areas: the operating system, hardware troubleshooting, software troubleshooting, and searching skills and techniques.
Observation and interviews with library staff should be used to flesh out the process to find out if there are problem areas that simply are not being reported. Observation and interviews proved to be the most difficult of data-gathering methods to carry out, but ultimately the information gathered thereby was useful and is recommended to others completing this process. It was difficult to simply observe and let the problem run its course without jumping in to assist. Some staff seemed nervous during the interview process, and some felt that they were being evaluated. It was important for the observer to stress the goals of the project clearly during these processes.
After analyzing the data it was decided to split the training into two sections: basic computer classes and information services classes. Course design would focus on basic computer classes first, and information services classes would be designed and taught upon completion of the first round of computer training. The basic computer classes consisted of six courses, including: The Operating System, Computer Hardware and Troubleshooting, Net Applications, Protecting Your Computer, The Ontime Calendar (scheduling software), and Introduction to Microsoft Office. Because staff use two different hardware platforms it was necessary to design sections for both Windows and Macintosh users.
The topics covered in each Windows class are outlined in the figure; similar objectives were met in the Macintosh classes. Key elements of the Windows and Macintosh operating systems were covered in the first course. Class two was a basic hardware and troubleshooting class. The idea was to establish a list of procedures to try before reporting a problem to Helpline, and to help staff feel more comfortable with all the devices attached their computers. Reports of printing problems were widespread; therefore, separate sessions for each library printer were offered to staff. These sessions, about fifteen minutes in length, were held in each department or unit and focused on such skills as clearing paper jams, dealing with common error messages, and replacing toner.
Figure. Topics in Windows Classes
|The Operating System||The Windows desktop; creating folders, icons, files; the control panel; Explorer; error messages; how to start, shutdown, and log on to network resources|
|Basic Hardware and Troubleshooting||What is a computer; input and output devices; step-by-step guide to troubleshooting; printer basics|
|Net Applications||Eudora (creating mailboxes; address books; tools, options, and settings, including directories like PH; memory usage tips); Netscape (preferences and settings, plugins, common error messages)|
|Protecting Your Computer||Security do's and don'ts; installing, updating, and maintaining virus protection; file backup and recovery|
|Using the Ontime Calendar||Calendar navigation; calendar and group types; scheduling appointments and meetings; general calendar maintenance|
|Introduction to Microsoft Office||Key concepts of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access: What program to use? When? Review of staff questions|
Four classes were chosen to represent the area of software reviews. The idea was to make staff more productive users of frequently used software applications and help them troubleshoot software errors. The first class, Net Applications, focused on using Netscape and Eudora, the library's supported browser and
e-mail client. The second class, Protect- ing Your Computer, discussed using virus protection software, file backup and recovery, and basic security dos and don'ts. The third class focused exclusively on the library's Ontime calendar system, and the fourth class was an introduction to MS Office Suite providing productivity tips and tricks.
Outside of content, there are several additional areas that need to be considered with regard to class length, location, and evaluation when designing the courses. It was decided that each class would be held for ninety minutes in the library's computer classroom. Online courses which may have been convenient for offsite staff were rejected for the initial stage of the project because development would be too time consuming for course developers and not accommodating to beginners. However, online courses are being considered for review courses. The systems librarian would teach classes with the help of the coordinator of user services. Other library staff are recruited as necessary.
One of the most difficult challenges in designing the courses can be deciding on a level of instruction, due to the varied competency levels of staff. It was decided that the best approach in this case would be to make each course a beginners-level (so everyone could understand the concepts) while keeping the pace fast. Intermediate courses are added as appropriate; for example, an intermediate-level course for the library's calendar system was requested and created. All staff are encouraged to bring specific problems to the classes and to have questions ready. Competencies were reinforced by requiring class registration via the library's calendar system. Staff who are proficient in one of the areas being taught can opt out of a class with permission of their department head and the course instructor.
Five or six sections of each course were held from April through August 2000 with make-up classes held during the fall of 2000. Additional classes are held as new staff join the library or new applications or software are adopted. Each participant receives a certificate signed by the library director for the successful completion of a course and a copy is placed in the personnel record file. An evaluation form was developed and is given to each participant for every class. Finally, attendance is taken and reports are sent to department heads who follow up with their staff regarding attendance, relieving the instructors of this duty. Course handouts, syllabi, and schedules are available on the library's Web site.
At this point the quantitative research on the EML's staff training project is just beginning, but anecdotal research has proven the classes to have been a success. It was challenging to coordinate a training program in addition to one's day-to-day duties, but the time was well spent. The staff seem more confident in using their computers and helping others. The use of the library's calendar system has increased, and staff appear to be using e-mail more effectively both in reporting computer related problems to Helpline and in general communication.
Initially, the instructors considered implementing a pre- and post-test of individuals' computer skills. This idea was rejected because the library was reorganizing its department structures and preparing for a renovation, and it was felt that testing the staff on their computer skills would cause additional stress. However, without pre- and post-tests it is difficult to show statistically significant changes in computer use. Institutions desiring to show statistical significance should consider a standard pre- and post-test for each course.
The course evaluations give an indication of the students' perceptions of their computer knowledge pre- and post-training. An evaluation developed for the library's Internet training courses was adapted for the computer training courses. Using a rating scale of one (lowest) to five (highest), students were asked to rate their knowledge of the subject matter covered before and after each class. Overall, an increase was seen in the attendees' perception of their computer skills.
Participants were asked to suggest areas for improvement and future training on the evaluation forms. Future training was requested in file management, installing and uninstalling software, Web publishing, and cleaning viruses. Most participants requested handouts for such areas as key commands, troubleshooting checklists, and lists of common error messages. Incidentally, these documents were available on the course Web site. It is not apparent if students found the materials lacking or if they were not fully aware of the Web-site resource. There were many requests for longer and more in-depth sessions on MS Office, Netscape, and Eudora.
A comparison of pre- and posttraining Helpline logs and logs of questions at key information points has begun. It is hoped that this difficult process will provide further information on the benefits of the training program. It is also hoped that new areas for training will emerge from this process.
This tutorial is provided as a basic model. Individual libraries will need to alter the specifics, but by focusing on the five steps outlined above-performing a literature review, data gathering, data analysis, course design, and course evaluation (and continued re-evaluation), course instructors should be well on the way to implementing an ongoing staff training program. A new position of coordinator of computer technology training was developed to address future training needs of both the library staff and the staff of the school at large. This person will be responsible for furthering the goals of this project by developing online tutorials and new areas for training. The staff of the EML is fortunate to now have a staff member dedicated to staff training. However, much can be gained by a little staff cooperation and basic computer skills training.
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Colleen Cuddy ( email@example.com) is the Systems Librarian at the Ehrman Medical Library, New YorkUniversity School of Medicine. Trisha Stevenson Medeiros ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is currently Library Director at the Purnell School in Pottersville, New Jersey. Previously, she served as Coordinator of User Services at the Ehrman Medical Library of the New York University School of Medicine.