“This is why we can’t have nice things!” has been my favorite thing to harrumph lately. Said to my dog, it has a literal meaning (oh, the shedding and the slobber). Said apropos of nothing out loud in my (shared) office, it usually means I’ve read something about libraries that makes me want to scream with frustration. My primary occupation these days is as a library trainer but like many librarians, I’ve always spent some of my time at work teaching people. Also like many librarians, I haven’t had a lot of formal training in training. I missed the bibliographic instruction courses in library school and have figured out what to do through trial and error, watching good trainers, and attending conference sessions on training.
I’m in the “thinking about it a lot” stages of preparing to give a presentation on training at the upcoming Evergreen conference and I’ve been picking people’s brains about training whenever I get a chance. Iterative and incremental improvement has been my practical goal, but I’ve found myself at a philosophical crossroads.
Karen Schneider recently posted on Facebook about a webinar called When A Training Session is Not the Answer, And What Is? The less-is-more approach has loomed large in my personal crash course on training. Fewer trainings generally, and trainings that focus on the big picture and don’t obsess over every new website or piece of software are where it’s at. That’s one of the big lessons of Helene Blowers’ Learning 2.0 – teach a librarian how to navigate MySpace and you consign her to inevitable obsolescence. Teach a librarian how to play with and adapt to social media and you can transform your library.
Yet trainers all seem to agree: librarians have a culture of overdependence on training. Training is supposed to give an overview of a website’s or program’s capabilities and general structure; librarians want blow-by-blow instructions for every task.
Similarly, assessment and evaluation are key to improving training sessions, but trainers are hearing feedback from librarians who often expect to walk out of a training session feeling as comfortable and familiar with new software as they do with whatever programs they use daily. Familiarity is not understanding. So, the goals of the trainer revolve around understanding while the librarians in the class prize comfort.
This is a broken culture, people. This is why we can’t have nice things! Yes, it is scary to have to move from one version of Word to an entirely different “upgrade,” it is a pain in the neck to learn a new email client. And a new ILS? Terrifying, I know! I say a squillion times a session that even though a new system makes you feel like you don’t know how to do your job, it’s really just new buttons to push.
I see my job as making sure everyone understands how the new system handles patrons, items, and bibs, not to hand out checklists of “click here, then click there.” It’s the same principle I used when training the public. It’s impossible to show someone new to Excel everything that in the program during an hour-long session, just as my academic library friends don’t (as far as I can tell) try to show every possible resource during a bibliographic instruction session. In those situations, we hit the highlights, but lay the groundwork to enable and encourage future exploration.
As a trainer, I want to push my little birdies out of the nest and make sure they have the tools to fly on their own. I want them to call me up and tell me they found a cool shortcut that I didn’t know about, so I can tell everyone else (with full credit, of course- the better to encourage everyone to keep their eyes peeled for new work flows). I want to make sure they understand their software, not saddle them with page after page of mind-numbing procedures.
But I’m caught. I want to make sure that my classes leave people feeling prepared, but what if only those “then click ‘ok’” directions are what will accomplish that? I can see clearly how librarian culture has landed in this confusing and frustrating impasse. Each trainer has to find her own balance between issuing directions and working toward understanding.
Finding that middle way is crucial whether you’re training librarians, students, or the general public. Each room full of people will exert its own pull on the trainer and influence where she lands on that spectrum. Like reference work, training is not about the person at the podium or behind the desk. It requires compassion, kindness, and leaving your own needs in the car.
At TechSource, I posted recently about abandoning the fear that keeps us from engaging with new technologies. As trainers, maybe our side of that bargain is to abandon methodologies that encourage fear and dependence. Maybe we have to live through cranky evaluations until the culture changes. We definitely can’t afford trainers who are more invested in their own power than in watching their students soar.
I know other trainers struggle with this culture of codependence. For independent contractors, bad evaluations can cost them future work. For me, unhappy librarians will mean the difference between a successful migration and a really lousy summer. I’m about two months away from the biggest training undertaking of my life and I am still not sure where that balance is.
Luckily, I have fantastic coworkers who have been through huge migrations and the accompanying trainings before, but I still have to figure some of this out for myself. I want the people I train (in any class I teach) to go back to their libraries (or off into their lives) confident not that they know every little step for every possible situation, but that they have the ability to figure out whatever their jobs can throw at them.
Library trainers, we can’t simply shrug our shoulders at the librarian obsession with training. We have a responsibility to fix the broken culture. I know lots of folks are out there trying (I can’t wait for the archive of Pat Wagner’s webinar). So what do we do? What are you doing in your trainings to ease away from the paint-by-numbers methodology? Is there a 23 Things for boring stuff like office software and ILS? What are you doing to make sure we can have some nice things?