Good morning, my name is Philippa Johnson; I work in the information services section of Gosford Library. Ellen has asked me to talk to you today about how we used the Ref-ex online reference training in our library.
We started rolling out the training for our staff in May 2009. Training was compulsory for all librarians and technicians. We divided the staff into groups of 6 people. We sent them a link to the Ref-ex site, and asked them to read one module per week. When we began the training, there were only 6 modules, so the training ran for 6 weeks per group. Each week the group would meet for one hour with Michelle and myself to discuss the issues raised in the readings. We prepared a PowerPoint presentation for each week and asked the staff questions relating to their weeks reading. These questions were intended as a starting point for discussion. Some of the questions we asked were based on the activities on the ref-ex site, while some of them we tailored to our own library service. We felt that a one-hour session per week would be sufficient to cover the information in each module, but short enough to not impact too heavily on the roster. This turned out to be generally the case, although some sessions ran over slightly and some finished early. In week 6, the final module was followed by a 3 hour Readers’ Advisory session. We had not made this compulsory in the past so a lot of staff had missed out on this training. We feel it is one of the most vital areas of reference service so we included it in our training. Some staff are a bit hesitant or resistant about Readers’ Advisory, but once we get into the session nearly everyone really enjoys it.
Why? – One of the main reasons for making it compulsory was to ensure a there is a standard level of reference service across the whole library system. Our library manager has been keen for us to have some kind of competency or standard for reference across all our branches, so the ref-ex training was a great way for us to proceed with this. Making this training compulsory meant that all staff would be made aware of what is expected of them. We also wanted to ensure as many staff as possible took part. When we did Library 2.0 training, about ½ staff took up the challenge, but a lot of people did not finish. Because it was voluntary, there was no expectation on people to finish.
Why did we include face-to-face sessions when the training is all online? Partly to keep the enthusiasm going. We felt that without ongoing encouragement people would begin to fall behind or drop out of the training. It is also a great opportunity to share techniques with peers. This was one of the aspects of the training the staff enjoyed most and commented on in their feedback forms. We also discussed issues relating to our library service, eg. we spent some time looking at our Information Services policy. In Week 5 on evaluating Resources, we asked each person to bring along one reference book they particularly like or use, and evaluate it according to the criteria in the week’s readings. They then shared this with the group. (if you do this, get everyone to tell you in advance what they plan to bring. We had one session with 3 people talking about “Who else writes like”. We also used this opportunity to highlight our online databases and pathfinders – again. We also talked about ideas that may be put into practice in the future eg. Roving Reference We also wanted to approach the sessions with Michelle and myself as facilitators, rather than trainers with all the answers! In actual fact, we both learned a lot from the training.
We asked staff to fill out an evaluation form after they finished the course, and I have included here some of their responses. You can see the training was well worth doing.
When we started thinking about how to run this training, we came up against the same challenges we usually face when running training- staffing. We have: 42 Professional Staff, 8 Branches, 3 mobile services, No casual staff, Widely varying hours of work For example we have some staff who only work Thursday and Friday evenings and weekends. Many staff don’t work Mondays or Fridays because they have worked the weekend.
Group dynamics and getting the mix of people right can be very important. We found one particular group challenging because we had not thought through how the dynamics would work. This group had some very experienced and very high-level staff mixed in with some staff who lacked confidence. The less-confident people struggled to contribute and obviously felt awkward. They may have been able to shine more in a group of less-experienced people. For our first session, we handpicked the group. We wanted to have a group of staff who had both a high level of reference experience and confidence. We wanted to get truthful feedback after each module and make changes as necessary. This turned out to be one of the most rewarding sessions, and everyone learned new techniques from one-another. Make sure that you send regular reminders to the participants to keep doing their reading and the date and time of the next session. Two of the major frustrations were staff not doing the reading before the sessions, or forgetting the date of their next session (even though they were on the same day each week). As the face-to-face sessions were designed to be follow-up discussions of the material, it made it almost impossible for those staff who had not done the readings to participate. In these instances, I just stressed to the people involved that the training is actually the readings, and it was very important for them to go back and complete them. Another issue to keep in mind is that some staff will participate more than others in the discussions. Sometimes you will need to direct a question towards one of the quieter members of the group to get them involved, or to draw the attention away from one of the “talkier” people.
What’s next for training in our Reference team? We will continue to use Ref-ex for our new staff or for students. We will get the new staff to work independently on the online training rather than hold discussions, as there won’t be the same dynamic with just one person and a trainer! We are also considering running training using the Slam the Boards model which has been used at Fairfield library. We will probably not be able to make this compulsory due to time restrictions.
Thanks for your attention. Are there any questions?
Reference Excellence Training at Gosford City Library