Steal this Idea: Learning 2.0 at PLCMC

By Michael Stephens | A librarian colleague e-mailed me yesterday and asked about the libraries I'd visited this summer: "Which ones really had some cool things happen? Which ones were innovating?" Truth be told, there were many to choose from, like:
Today, however, I want to report on something that librarians can adapt for their own institutions.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was there to visit the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County and to take part in the Technology Summit on Library 2.0.

I was honored to be asked to speak for a few reasons: I've followed the innovation of PLCMC from afar for years; the visit included a tour of the ImaginOn, the joint building effort of the library and the Children's Theatre of Charlotte; and... I was sharing the speaking bill with Michael Casey!

Photo, Newsweek Web 2.0 Cover, on M. Stephens's Flickr Account Helene Blowers, the Director of Public Services Technology at PLCMC and author of the Library TechBytes blog, coordinated the day. We opened with giving away copies of the Newsweek issue with Web 2.0 on the cover. I spoke about Library 2.0 with a focus on planning, people, and participation.

Michael Casey took over then, and he addressed implementing Web 2.0 technologies and Library 2.0 thinking in a library branch. It was fascinating to hear about his experiences and the philosophies behind his decisions.

The event was opened to library folk from the region as well, including some most-cool people from the South Carolina State Library. Curtis Rogers (Director of the Division of Statewide Library Services from SC State Library) actually blogged the program in poetic verse. Here's a most pleasing portion of Michael Casey's talk:
    Purposeful contact change
    …new users
    …new technology
Check the whole post out here on his blog.

After the event, folks toured the ImaginOn, including the thriving teen space "The Library Loft," and some of the visiting librarians, fired up from the discussion, even tried DDR! (They missed the big Soul Calibur Championship by a day!)

The best part of the day, however, was Helene's kickoff of the PLCMC's "Learning 2.0" initiative—which involved experiencing "23 Things" in this 2.0 world. (This is where the "Steal this Idea" part comes in!) I truly believe any library could launch a program like this! I was so excited about it, I blogged at TTW the next morning:
    Any staff who complete all 23 Things will receive an MP3 Player and be entered in a drawing for a laptop and other prizes at library staff day! What an incredible opportunity to learn new tools and get some cool tech as well. I kid you not, if every single staff member completes the course, they get an MP3 player!

    The most encouraging thing to me is ANY LIBRARY CAN DO THIS! Helene has used totally FREE tools to set up an engaging learning environment and built some exercises and explorations. Take a look at Week 3:

      Week 3: Photos & Images
      Explore Flickr and learn about this popular image hosting sites.
      Have some Flickr fun and discover some 3rd party sites.
      Create a blog post about anything technology related that interests you this week.

    Pretty easy and straightforward, yes? In my talk yesterday, I encouraged the librarians attending to have a sense of play, to be curious and to have a willingness to try new things—these 23 Things fit the bill nicely!

    Over dinner last night, we discussed how other librarians outside the PLCMC system could follow along and see how it's done and then try their own Learning 2.0 initiative with their staff. This is a model any library could adapt and use. And I really believe any of us, with some motivation and resources like this, could explore, learn and, in the end, make their library more "social."
So I had to get back in touch with Helene and talk to her about this innovative program. We met via e-mail and she shared her inspiration and goals. I appreciate Helen's time and her answers and wish all the staff the very best with the 23 Things!

MS: What was your inspiration for Learning 2.0 at PLCMC?

HB: Good question. My initial desire was to do some type of self-discovery program for staff came, which came from some initial brainstorming with a few other staff members as to how a large library system like ours could bring a large portion of our staff up to speed on all this Web 2.0 technology quickly. As I started thinking more and more about this challenge, I remembered an article I had tagged in my account that Stephen Abram had written for Information Outlook, titled "43 Things You (or I) Might Want to Do This Year." [pdf] I can remember thinking as I read the article, "This isn't rocket science; I could have written this"—because Stephen's concepts were just so simple: set small goals; discover a few new things; and take time to play. So, with Stephen's article and the concepts as a springboard, I began building the "Learning 2.0" program online.

MS: Who can participate? All staff?

HB: This program is open to ALL our staff members, even part timers and support staff. The main goal of the program is merely to encourage staff to play around with all these new Web 2.0 technologies freely available on the Internet.

One of the most exciting things for me so far is in only the first week of the program 75 staff members jumped on board early by creating their own blogs—and this was even before the discovery exercises for blogging (which is the focus of week two) were published. With staff throughout the system working together and sharing discoveries, I know this number will grow, and with any luck, I'll be giving away lots of MP3 players when PLCMC's "All Staff Day" occurs in early October.

MS: The prizes are rather exciting—each staff participant will get an MP3 player? How did that come about?

HB: Yes, each staff participant that completes all 23 Things—each thing is a small discovery exercise—over the course of the next eight-and-a-half weeks will get an MP3 player he or she can use to listen to music, store files on, or play downloadable audiobooks. In addition to the players, we also plan to give away a new laptop, PDA, and other prizes to participants in a drawing at All Staff Day.

The reason for the MP3 player incentive was easy. Our library system has had downloadable audiobooks through NetLibrary/Recorded Books for well over a year now, but the number of staff that feel comfortable with the technology is very small. Through the Learning 2.0 program, we are not only encouraging staff participants to play and learn about some new tools that are freely available on the Web, we're also giving them a tool they can use to get familiar with an already existing library service. I guess you could kind of call it "killing two birds with one stone," but in this case it's knowledge and comfort level with technology that we're tackling—not water fowl or birds of prey.

How did it come about? Honestly, it was pretty easy. I'm lucky enough to work for such a great library system that when I approached Charles Brown, our Library Director, and Carol Myers, the Assistant Director, with the proposal for the idea, they were both 100% behind it—even the incentives. And it's been neat to see and hear the reaction from staff. Many are pumped up about the program even without incentives, but we all know that incentives do help.

MS: This blows me away. I would love to see other libraries adopt this model. It could really get staff involved and "in the know" about some of the new technologies folks are using. What would you most like staff to get out of this endeavor? Learning 2.0 at PLCMC by Helene Blowers

HB: The biggest thing I'd like for staff to get out of this program is a sense of what these new Web 2.0 tools are all about and how we, as a library, might be able to develop new ways and services to connect with our users. The tools themselves aren't really what's important; but rather, it's to help staff experience these new channels of conversation, communication, and community building that just weren't possible ten years ago. By encouraging staff to just play and try out new things, we're helping our library system move forward.

And, in essence, this program is really just about lifelong learning—a tenet that practically every library staff member shelves their books by—with a small twist: we're encouraging and rewarding our staff to play!

MS: Are other librarians or library staff following along? Can anyone?

HB: Yes, and it's exciting! In the first week alone, I had five library systems contact me to say that they were either planning to follow along or were thinking about duplicating or modifying this program for their staff. The program is even being followed by a few librarians from Australia, which is very neat to see.

MS: This seems scalable to me—from a tiny little library to huge systems. All could benefit. Can other libraries use this model? Steal this idea so to speak? :-)

HB: By all means—I hope they will. The interesting thing about this program is it's entirely built upon the very same tools that participants are learning about—blogs, wikis, podcast, image- and video-hosting sites; the entire online learning program was built upon Web 2.0 tools and sites freely available on the Internet. You don't have to download or install a thing. All the content for the program is hosted on popular free sites such as Blogger, PBWiki, Flickr, YouTube, and Bloglines, and these are also the very same sites the participants will be exploring and using as they complete their 23 Things.

MS: What's your advice for librarians and staff curious about Web 2.0 and Learning 2.0?

HB: It's the same advice or ground rules that I gave to our staff when I kicked off the program at PLCMC's Technology Summit this month...
  1. Give yourself and others permission to PLAY
  2. Make time for DISCOVERY
  3. And have FUN!

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