Computers in Libraries
Vol. 22, No. 6 June 2002

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Writing a Library Training Policy 
by D. Scott Brandt 

Do you need a driver's license to drive a car? Not really—if you can reach the pedals, see over the steering wheel, and steer halfway decently, you can drive whether you have a license or not. But the process of getting a license ensures that you've taken the necessary steps to understand what driving is all about (laws, courtesies, common practices, etc.). Working with a training policy is similar—you can train without one, but by writing one you plan, develop, and implement a system that takes into account systemwide needs and perspectives.

What Is a Training Policy?
A training policy is not a panacea. Just because you write one doesn't mean you'll suddenly have a great library, super-smart patrons, or a self-actualized staff. But at the same time, the policy does indicate that you want to have those—it's just up to you to make it happen once you've committed to it. However, remember that adage about teaching people how to fish so they'll be able to feed themselves? There's a parallel here—you should be sure to carefully think about and prepare your policy before you try to implement it! As someone who once stumbled blindly into teaching three kids how to fish, I just want to warn you that you don't want to end up with a metaphorical (or literal!) fishhook in the back of your head.

A policy sets out in writing the purpose, scope, and composition of a training program. It is useful to have a document that describes the training program from several perspectives. Administrators may want to set limits on how much the training program undertakes. Staff members who implement it need to know what their boundaries and expectations encompass. Staff members who participate in the program may want to know what they can expect from it.

In many settings, the program may actually be a section of another unit, such as personnel, human resources, or staff development. In other cases, it may sit off by itself and include multiple reporting lines (solid and dotted). For instance, in my case I work in an area called Staff Development and Training. I work closely with the staff development coordinator, who reports to the director for administrative services, although I report straight to the director for information technology. A well-written training plan makes clear the responsibilities of all vested parties.

What Should You Include?
Your policy may include a number of elements:

  • a mission statement, and/or a purpose, that delineates the policy's scope
  • goals that indicate the direction a policy takes
  • objectives of what will be undertaken (often reformulated each year)
  • overall guiding principles that
  • are general and important to mention upfront
  • considerations regarding people, places, or things that impact on or are impacted by the training program
A mission statement is much broader than a goal. It is a vision of why something exists. Some may argue that a policy is subordinate to and thus shares the institution's primary mission. In lieu of a mission, the policy should at least state the purpose of the program. In its most general terms a training program exists to further the mission of the library to serve the information needs of its constituents. Stated a little more concretely, the purpose of a training program might be to provide support in the form of training to staff members so that they can carry out their responsibilities. Likewise, depending on the mission, the program's purpose might also be to provide support in the form of training to patrons (customers, clients, etc.) so that they can effectively fill their information needs.

Part of the purpose statement may include background information concerningvarious relationships regarding training, such as where the responsibility for the training exists and what avenues exist for collaboration and cooperation. As I said, in my situation the responsibility for running the program (administration, management, registration, promotion, etc.) lies with the staff development coordinator, while responsibility for developing courses (design, implementation, evaluation, etc.) lies with the training team.

A training program can achieve its mission or purpose by having a variety of goals. These are usually broad statements of intent. For instance, it may be, "To train staff to better help patrons" (i.e., technology training). Or a goal might be, "To train staff to better carry out the mission of the library" (i.e., professional development). Another goal could be, "To train patrons to use information technologies" (i.e., catalogs, indexes, search engines, etc.).

Know Your Objectives, Principles, and Impact
An objective is more like a summary of a plan than a broad direction. To distinguish goals from objectives, I like to use a definition that has its roots in education: Objectives are specific statements of action that result in a measurable outcome. Similar to learning objectives, policy objectives can describe who is impacted (audience), specific activities involved (behaviors), the circumstances under which the activities take place (conditions), and the criteria for measuring success (degree).

For instance, an objective to initiate training on a new index may be stated simply: "Training will be given on the new index resource." Expressed a little more concretely, this objective might be, "Training will be given to staff to ensure they are able to assist patrons when index X becomes available in the summer." An even more detailed objective may be stated: "Hands-on training will be provided so that staff or patrons [audience] will be able to perform searches and retrieve pertinent results [behavior] when searching the new index for consumer health information [condition] and download or print off full-text articles that meet their needs [degree]."

In addition to mission, goals, and objectives, a training policy may state principles that should be followed and considerations that need to be taken into account. For instance, the library may establish principles involving how or when training is performed. Perhaps it indicates a set number of hours of training per individual per year (20), or when training would best be presented (over the summer), or whether staff would be compensated for coming in during evenings.

Finally, you should consider variables that can impact or be impacted by the policy. Often it can be difficult to know exactly how or where these things will be affected,but they should still be factored into the equation at the appropriate time. For instance, it may be hard to determine exactlyhow funding will stand in 9 months, but consideration must be given to the budget (though not as a driving factor of the policy). Likewise, variables like how many staff members from the same unit can attend at one time wouldn't be spelled out in the policy, but there might be a bulleted item that states, "Consideration should be given to covering absences during training."

Many Types of Training
What types of training should your policy cover? First, it is likely that this will change over time. Second, there are many types of training that can take place in an organization, and so you may have more than one such policy. As I mentioned, I oversee technology training, from the operating system (Windows) to some applications (browsers) to electronic resources (indexes) to the Internet (search engines, etc.). The staff development coordinator oversees "soft skill" training (working in teams, etc.). Other departments on campus cover things like ergonomics, safety, teaching, etc. Thus, a training policy may describe which training it is responsible for and also indicate other areas of training.

As noted, technology training can cover a wide gamut. It may be broad (Introduction to the Internet) or specific (Converting Handouts to the Web). In my situation, we teach some basic application courses using available textbooks (e.g., Windows, PowerPoint) but "farm out" more specializedcourses (Linking Spreadsheets) to local trainers. Most courses we develop in-house (Searching for Current Events, Troubleshooting Your PC, etc.). Other development courses may likewise be general (Supervision), a little more specific (Managing Team Meetings), or work-integrated (Discussing Expectations in the Libraries Performance Management System) and are lumped together under our staff development and training umbrella.

Now, Use It or Lose It!
Why should your library have a training policy? First and foremost, a policy is critical to articulate and share the vision and direction of professional development. It is essential in a time and environment when gossip can fly as fast as an e-mail virus to set things down in writing (though not necessarily in concrete, as things may change). The policy is a way to tell staff, patrons, supervisors, administration, the board of trustees, etc., that you value and are committed to keeping up with change.

A policy is useful when you're first carving out responsibilities for training. If training already exists, but without a policy, it would be worthwhile to capture what is going on. Also, when responsibilities grow or shift, it is very helpful to articulate goals, boundaries, and expectations. For instance, if one person who has been leading the training effort leaves, it may be time to reconsider how training will get done. Will responsibilities remain in the same unit, with one person? Who should do it—someone new or someone already within the library? Should the work be shared—among people, among units?

Making a commitment to using the policy means that you believe strongly in the mission of continuing education, instruction, and teaching. To do a good job means putting the energy, people, and resources behind needs analysis, design, thorough development, quality implementation, and serious evaluation. The willingness to put an emphasis on training also means promoting it and creating a way to maintain and track it (e.g., a thorough system of prerequisite filtering, registration, and follow-up to ensure its effectiveness).

If training hasn't already achieved formal recognition or program status, simply writing a training policy is not going to achieve it. There must be some kind of buy-in from administration on the one hand, and staff or patrons on the other. Can you show your administration measurable outcomes of success that directly support the mission of the library? For instance, more informed staff could help patrons to a greater degree, and patrons' greater satisfaction could then be demonstrated via surveys. Perhaps staff would see payoff in positive change in their responsibilities or promotions. Or, well-trained patrons would use the libraries' resources more, and success would be demonstrated by increased usage.

As I said before, almost anyone can drive a car. But only someone who has studied driving will be well-prepared. A training policy doesn't set up the rules of the road—those would be the training procedures—but it does map out the lay of the land. Developing a training policy requires people to think critically about moving forward, and prevents them from simply reacting to the landscape in front of them.
 
 
Sample Sections of Training Policies

1.Background: Though it seems a bit flowery, I kind of like the attitude these people have: "As a good employer, we recognize that training and development is an investment and not a pure cost and we are, therefore, committed to the career development of all our employees and the fullest possible use of their talents and interests as an effective use of our most important resource."

2.Purpose: Forceful, perhaps, but tells it like it is: "The training program shall consist of specialized courses of study that shall be designed to prepare public supervisors and managers to function effectively in today's ever-changing workplace."

3.Goal: Can't get much more explicit than this: "Provide timely planning, development and delivery of training services, and promote and deliver cost-effective training that is critical to the mission."

4.Principles: I really like this one, as I am a strong advocate of not only posting prerequisite skills needed for a class, but actually identifying them in the first place: "Once a request is received, employees will be enrolled in the class if they meet the stated course prerequisites."

5.Considerations: I think I know what this means, but found it amusing how one university emphasizes previous learning: "Teaching, learning and research skills and knowledge must be considered when staff are at or near the beginning of their working lives."
 


D. Scott Brandt is technology training librarian at Purdue University Libraries in West Lafayette, Indiana. He has won several awards and frequently speaks at professional conferences. His e-mail address is techman@purdue.edu.
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