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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > September 2005

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Vol. 25 No. 8 — September 2005
Determining and Meeting Personnel Training Needs
By Anita Jennings

The role of the library has changed significantly during the past 2 decades. Twenty years ago, it could have been considered the norm for a small to mid-sized library to have one or two computers for patron use. Staff was fortunate to have a computer connected to a printer—a tractor-feed ink jet printer—with a basic word processing application and perhaps a spreadsheet application. This was before the time of personal e-mail accounts, surfing the Web, online job applications, and electronic identity theft. Today it is the norm for libraries to have full-service computer labs available for patron use. These computers have suites of software, Internet access, CD-ROM drives, and even DVD drives. Do you remember the first time a patron asked you how to use a flash drive or a portable digital audio player? If this has not happened, it soon will.

Welcome to the World of Technology

Here at the Newport News (Va.) Public Library Center (NNPLC), we entered into this new level of technology when we received a United States Department of Education grant in April 2000. This grant provided funding so that we could build our first computer lab. Money was also available for computer hardware, software, furniture, and a full-time community technology center coordinator (CTCC). Since the construction of our first computer lab, we’ve built additional labs at each of our four branches. We provide instruction to our patrons at these locations. An additional full-time position has been created to assist in lab management and instruction delivery to both staff and patrons.

With the increased computer access that we were able to provide, our patrons’ expectations for technology-related assistance increased. In order to provide this new level of service, computer training had to be developed and offered to staff members on a regular basis. As the new CTCC, it was my job to develop the computer training modules for guests and staff. I was also charged with developing assessment tools that could be used to measure the effectiveness of the training we provided.

People who worked in the computer lab had to stay abreast of changes in software applications, online services, and basic computer troubleshooting. It was also helpful for us to follow changes in entertainment and business equipment trends. Even a general understanding of what a PDA or iPod was used for was beneficial. The ability to explain Wi-Fi on-the-fly has also been helpful for me.

NNPLC managers recently developed a new pay plan for our employees. As of December 2004, one of the requirements for promotion is demonstrating proficiency with computer applications. This new system met with a great deal of staff resistance. We eased into it by giving staff members the training they needed to progress in the field.

Reviewing the Situation

There were many elements to consider when designing the training modules. I’ll describe our process here.

Analyzing Our Jobs

By using job description analysis and supervisory input, we were able to determine the processes that staff members used to accomplish their duties. This also gave us a picture of what the individual responsibilities of the particular job classifications were. In some instances, employee observation and interviews were used to determine an individual’s duties. A comprehensive an alysis allowed us to specify the level of technology training needed for each classification. Supervisors provided input on their employees’ knowledge, skills, and abilities. We also evaluated the types of technology-related questions that employees could expect from patrons.

Assessing Our Needs

Many of our staff members entered the world of libraries from different occupations, so their mastery of computer skills was different from classification to classification. Even within the same branch, individuals’ computer abilities varied widely. After we determined the knowledge, skills, and abilities that were needed for each job classification, we were able to begin developing the training curriculum. We also used this information to develop our pretest and post-test assessments.

After successfully completing our needs assessment, we were able to answer the following questions:

•    Who needed to be trained? In addition to training our current staff, we needed to teach new staff members as they were hired. We were able to do this by offering computer instruction on a continuous basis. Employees who felt that they were proficient in a particular application were given an opportunity to take the post-test after a general course overview was given. If they passed this test, they were exempt from attending training for that particular course.

•    What should staff know? When determining the level of proficiency staff should have, we reviewed our employment structure. Our categories for support staff included library technician I, library technician II, and senior library technician. Training was available to all staff members. In order for a staff member to progress from one job classification to the next, he or she had to prove certain levels of ability.

For example, anyone qualifying as a library technician I needed to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the following applications: beginning Word, beginning Publisher, beginning PowerPoint, beginning Excel, and resume writing using the Word Wizard. An employee classified as library technician II needed to be proficient in beginning Access, intermediate Excel, and intermediate Word. Those who were classified as senior library technicians needed to demonstrate their knowledge of all of the software applications that were offered to the other two groups of employees. For someone to be deemed “proficient,” she had to complete training and achieve a passing score of at least 70 percent on our post-test assessment. (Staff also received training in the areas of customer services, employee relations, and on-the-job training.)

Collecting the Data

Data collection was a very important part of our organizational development process. Much of the data that we needed for the analysis and needs assessment was readily available. Supervisory staff provided a great deal of input in this process, and I am continually gathering data from patron and employee suggestions, interviews, and questionnaires.

Course Objectives

In developing the course objectives, which are outlined on each curriculum, we defined the particular skills that trainees needed to master for each individual course that they completed. The training objectives were also used to create the pretest and post-test assessments. This allowed us to measure our effectiveness in meeting the objectives that we defined. It also allowed for consistency of training, which was a concern because it was provided at different branches by different instructors.

Performance Measures

By administering pretest and post-test assessments, we were able to evaluate the percentage of change in each individual’s performance. Our assessments were in the form of hands-on exercises: We gave employees relevant tasks to perform using the particular software application they were learning.

Evaluation and Records Maintenance

As our employees progress through training, we maintain records in a Microsoft Access database. We track employee name, title, and number; course title and number; training date; and test scores. We keep this information for reporting purposes.

The Program Is a Success

We have worked for the past several months in developing our training modules and assessment measures. Although training had been provided to staff in the past, it was not offered as frequently as it is now, nor was it tied to promotions. The employees see the education that the library system offers now as a benefit.

Teaching computer skills allows us to have a more well-rounded staff that is better able to use the applications and to provide technology-related services to patrons. Although this is a work in progress, it has been successful.         


Further Reading

Bernfeld, Betsy A. Developing a Team Management Structure in a Public Library:

Rothwell, William J. and Kazanas, H. C. Mastering the Instructional Design Process: A Systematic Approach. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004

Anita Jennings is the community technology center coordinator for the Newport News Public Library Center in Newport News, Va. She holds an M.L.S. from Texas Woman’s University and an M.S. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Central Texas. Jennings has worked in the field of training and development for the past 10 years; the last 5 have been with this library system. Her e-mail address is

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