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Bridging the Digital Divide in Your Library Staff

by on February 15, 2013

Digital literacy training for library staff can often feel like an insurmountable job. Too often, we attack it sporadically and half-heartedly. But by incorporating technology training into the fabric of your regular library practices, you can start bridging the digital divide in your library.

We all know how critical digital literacy is and what a huge part we as public libraries play in it. This is our moment and our time: the U.S. Department of Commerce is pointing right to us on its Web site, www.digitalliteracy.gov. We have an enormous opportunity and challenge to create more digital citizens and we need to be prepared.

To be successful, we first need to train our library staff effectively, so that they can teach patrons. Too often, staff training takes a back seat in libraries. Universally, public libraries are understaffed and overworked; how can we move forward with these constraints? Rather than approach digital literacy as an ephemeral trend, we need to make it a habit in our work lives. Training is a continual, ongoing practice, not something we address only at quarterly staff meetings.  Let me clarify by saying that there isn’t a one-size fits all approach for digital literacy training.  From personal experience, I can tell you that if you don’t make technology training an embedded practice, chances are training will become haphazard at best.

Begin by asking what digital literacy means at your library. Define and then prioritize. At my library, we contemplated which aspects of technology, particularly those related to our services, are most crucial for customer interactions. Translate general technology goals into palatable portions; then, you can more easily create task-oriented learning objectives. Consider adopting a mix of approaches in your digital literacy training, combining face-to-face sessions, group and individual classes, and self-paced lessons from established resources.

Since in-practice illustrations are frequently useful, allow me to share the many shapes our digital literacy training has taken in our library.  Currently, we feature a weekly, fifteen minute “mini-training” a couple times a week on specific, task-oriented lessons. Past lessons have included top tips for troubleshooting computers, using the copier, and searching overviews in specific databases. In addition, we have a weekly email that focuses on functionalities in our library automation system with homework assignments. Topics cover the Public Access Catalog and staff client systems; our goal is to educate our staff and also lead them through how our patrons are accessing our library. Individual training on our three digital libraries, which currently include OverDrive, Zinio, and Freading, with different devices is a priority.  One of the best vehicles for learning is on-the-spot coaching with staff for walk-in customers with digital needs. Trainings – be it for new services or refreshers on established ones – are always a part of staff and department meetings.  We’re working on developing a portable digital lab for staff training as well.

All of the above was created with no additional resources: no extra personnel or funding. We’ve involved staff at every level as both trainers and trainees. Rather than grumble about increased expectations, staff have been enthusiastic and eager for learning opportunities.

As public libraries evolve, the demand for technologically fluent staff will only increase. By making digital literacy training a habit for our library staff, we have effectively been able to bridge some of the digital divide.




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