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Readers' Advisory

Just-in-time training: DIY online RA education

Nothing lasts forever—especially when it comes to training. Consistently learning, growing and refreshing your skills is not just for new professionals, but a value-added ability for all library staff. Markham Public Library (MPL) has been working diligently to respond to staff requests for more training and working to reduce the barriers, such as a lack of time. So we developed MPL Education, our very own staff-focused online learning site. Our first modules teach core Readers’ Advisory (RA) skills and the results are positive: Individuals can now access “do it yourself” online education as they need it.

Training can be difficult to access, costly, time consuming and a problem to schedule. Ad hoc training, rushed coaching and short refreshers often leave staff feeling less confident in their abilities overall. At the MPL, we have adopted a number of strategies to meet the need for training but, even with a dedicated Learning & Growth Librarian to attend to staff training needs, we have found that we need to provide more opportunities and resources. So we decided to venture into the world of online staff development with MPL Education. Made up of bite-sized, eLearning modules, MPL Education is like a learning academy for all of the library’s staff where individuals can access content independently and as they need it (i.e., just in time).

A scrreenshot of the Markham Public Library online training site
(Markham Public Library, 2018)

We based the initial MPL Education content off of our existing policies, procedures and already developed in-person training workshops. Before developing the site however, we consulted library staff on their training needs. We met to discuss the content to be included in each of the online modules. Plus, we created a pre-training evaluation to gather information on existing staff knowledge as well as the education individual wanted to receive. The results of the pre-training evaluation were very revealing. Of those responding, 41% reported that they had never received any RA training at any point in their library careers, 61% reported they were unfamiliar with the RA competencies and 38% reported that they did not know the steps to the RA conversation. As a result, we decided to start by expanding the RA training already provided.

This information contrasted dramatically with our 2017 Survey Week statistics in which staff reported 9,463 RA questions—clearly, the demand for RA services and the lack of staff education in this area raised a large training concern. How can we expect customers to receive exceptional RA service when staff are not fully trained in this core library skill?

Initially, we decided to focus the training on individual genres, but upon reviewing the pre-training survey, we decided to reprioritize the eLearning modules. In response to the needs assessment results, we moved up the launch of two modules: Appeal factors and Readers’ Advisory conversation.

A screen shot of the Markham Public Library sample online training site
(Markham Public Library, 2018)

By taking an elearning approach to our MPL Education program, we have made training accessible to all staff at any time. Plus, online training appeals to a variety of learners through its engaging use of videos, graphics and quizzes that support the subject specific content. Staff can even earn digital badges upon the completion of each module—a little bit of gamification never hurts.

While we created some in-house content and tools, our “R&D” costs were relatively low because we were able to build the program using free online tools and run it on the Google Sites platform. We cited the resources used (e.g., videos and other curated content) at the bottom of each module and  presented this project at the 2018 OLA Super Conference with the hope others can use these tools to provide better staff training in all aspects of our profession.

Try a sample of  the MPL Education site or watch a recording of the presentation given at the 2018 OLA Super Conference.

Written by Andrea Dunn and Jodi Marr

Jodi Marr was the Learning & Growth Librarian for the Markham Public Library, and now holds the position of Manager of Customer Opportunity at the Aurora Public Library. Her focus is on finding creative and engaging ways to the train library staff and help them to succeed in all aspects of their work. Before becoming a librarian Jodi managed a skateboard store and earned a BFA in Sculpture/Installation from the Ontario College of Art and Design.

Andrea Dunn is a branch librarian at the Markham Public Library and a member of the OPLA Readers Advisory Committee.


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