Guest contributor Amilcar Perez is Adult Services Librarian at Forest Park (IL) Public Library. Contact Amilcar at firstname.lastname@example.org. Amilcar is currently reading Quicksand: What It Means to Be a Human Being by Henning Mankell.
Community access and technology training are crucial components of public library services. The American Library Association’s (ALA) 2015 Digital Inclusion Survey found that “those who receive formal digital literacy training were significantly more likely to use the Internet to pursue economic opportunities and cultivate social ties.”1 In this context, at Forest Park (IL) Public Library (FPPL) we decided in 2016 to revamp our programming efforts to serve our suburban population of 15,000. Helping patrons effectively use technology to achieve educational, economic, and social goals became our shiny new objective. We were eager to launch a new lineup of programs. However, beyond the many questions and dilemmas inherent in launching a new initiative, I wondered who in the world would facilitate the workshops?
That’s right, how would we find reliable trainers within our budget and assess whether they could fulfill the needs of the audience? Should we develop an internal curriculum for staff to use to instruct the public, or would it be better to combine staff and outside trainers to make a consistent whole? These are the types of questions that can use up all the RAM in your brain! With these questions in mind I want to share our experience in finding and partnering with tech trainers for our library.
Read the Community to Identify Training Needs
Communities have their own personalities and needs. A successful trainer in one setting might not be as successful in another. It Is important to explore the needs of the community before or as you go. For example, if you nd out that the older population is in clear need of basic tech classes, a trainer who focuses primarily on more advanced topics might not be suitable for the actual attendees who show up. Talking to your colleagues is a great way to gather perceptions of what the community needs. The interaction between sta and patrons at the service desk or during programs represents access points to the thoughts of the community. Con- versations with the public are a great way to use your listening skills and discover what the community is saying rsthand.
Another alternative is to tap your established networks and partnerships to gather data. Depending on the rapport you have with local organizations, you might be able to discuss the needs they see in the community. For example, we partnered with the local Chamber of Commerce to submit surveys that would help pinpoint topics for future presentations.
Finally, looking at the demographic composition of your community can go a long way toward determining the type of trainers you need. Census and city reports are good ways to get a bigger picture of the local population composition. You are more likely to define the type of programs and thus the type of trainer you need if you have a sense of what demographic you are targeting.
To accommodate FPPL’s needs, we created a walk-in program to cover questions on any type of device or platform, and an ongoing program to cover basic computer and Internet search skills for an older audience. In addition, we found that we needed a program to focus on basic technology skills for composing job application documents and completing online applications. Finally, another set of programs would target advanced productivity topics. Then our search for trainers started.
Attributes to Look for In a Trainer
Once you have a sense of the type of program you need, it is time to define the attributes you are looking for in a trainer. Unlike programs where the speaker is solely there to present information, you may need a trainer who goes beyond the rhetoric to teach a new skill. With your program plan, format layout, and learning objectives in hand, you will be more confident, focused, and informed about what you will be looking for when discussing the program with potential candidates.
Relying on partnerships with local organizations and seeking recommenda- tions from other libraries has been the way to go for FPPL. Being part of a local Community of Practice or interest group is a great way to seek recommenda- tions. Most likely a suggested trainer has conducted workshops at more than one library in the area giving you access to a larger set of reviews.
Of course, your trainers should have experience, be efficient public speakers, and be patient and knowledgeable. You want trainers to intuitively accommodate and tactfully deal with the disparity of knowledge and particular needs of the audience members. Certainly, you want them to be dynamic and enthusiastic but not to speed through the session. Trainers should stop and gauge the audience receptiveness or address questions. Indeed, a trainer must be more of a teacher than a presenter.2
I found that there are other attributes that are not so evident from the get go, yet they are instrumental in ensuring success for your program. Aside from the attributes mentioned previously, a trainer must be adaptable and flexible. You are more likely to better meet learning goals with a trainer who allows feedback and changes in their curriculum. Ultimately, a trainer is a partner. The more communication you have with a trainer, the better your opportunity to finetune the learning approach, thus maximizing every session as much as possible.
Once we had a sense of what type of trainer we needed, FPPL partnered with a local career center to provide job-related technology sessions. This was a win-win situation as the trainer was qualified and the nonprofit career center provided the sessions for free. This helped FPPL channel its financial resources to the more advanced work- shops. We also sought recommendations from libraries in metropolitan Chicago and surrounding areas. Some of the suggested trainers are currently conducting sessions at FPPL and, together, we have been able to experiment with layouts and curriculums.
Assessing a Trainer Performance
Because “good” is subjective to the needs of the specific audience, sometimes you won’t know if the trainer is actually good until you see them in action, or until you get feedback from the audience. The way to collect feedback can vary in format and depends on several factors such as library size, type of program, and so forth. The bottom line is that, regardless of the method of collection, capturing feedback can yield valuable information to assess the impact of the trainer performance on the learning process of the patron.
For instance, some of the initial feed- back on a given program expressed that the content was too generic, that the trainer was too fast, or that the subjects covered were not relevant. This information provided the necessary evidence to approach the trainer and offer concrete suggestions with clarity. The improvements were reassuring. Statements like “the speaker helped me develop confidence” or “I felt comfortable to ask questions and be answered” clearly illustrated the changes in the trainer’s approach and the positive influence of the trainer on the patron learning.
Librarians as Trainers
A large percentage of Americans acknowledge the important role libraries play in supporting the educational needs of their communities and families; but many do not know about key education services libraries provide. According to a 2016 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 49 percent of adult Americans don’t know that online skills certification programs are available at their libraries.3 At FPPL, we have noticed this trend and often discover that community members are not always aware of the library’s online tools.
Tools such as Lynda.com, Universal Class, and Tutor.com can help boost economic development in your area by providing instruction that can help bridge employment gaps on job seekers’ résumés. Additionally, these online tools can contribute to further narrowing the digital divide by allowing basic computer users to pursue more advanced courses online. The relevance and significance of online learning is undeniable. Depending on the size of the library, this represents an opportunity for librarians to train patrons on the purpose, access, and use of such tools.
Establishing a method to monitor your community needs, whether internally or through community partners, will help you better determine the type of trainer you need. Leveraging your professional network or becoming part of a local interest group can prove a great source of candidate recommendations.
In addition, combining staff and outside instructors makes for a consistent approach. We want to make wise use of a librarian’s time and skill by asking them to focus on promoting and teaching library resources. We seek support from nonprofit organizations such as career centers to provide tech workshops to support job search. Partnering with nonprofits also contributes to maintaining a healthy distribution of the financial resources to stay on budget.
Finally, ensuring that you stay in tune with the community feedback in order to tailor the trainer’s curriculum to audience needs is vital. This means that adaptability and flexibility are key attributes to look at when searching for a trainer. Establish- ing a feedback mechanism enables data collection that can further help you illustrate and demonstrate that what you are doing is not only useful, but instrumental in fulfilling your library’s mission.
1. Larra Clark and Karen Archer Perry, “After Access: Libraries & Digital Empowerment—Building Digitally Inclusive Communities,” A Report from the American Library Association Digital Inclusion Summit, Dec. 2015, accessed Oct. 29, 2017.
2. Peter Bromberg, “10 Steps to Promote Learning in Your Conference Presentation,” WebJunction, Mar. 21, 2012, accessed Oct. 29, 2017, .
3. Lee Rainie, “Libraries and Learning,” Pew Research Center, Apr. 2016, accessed Oct. 29, 2017.