Click here to learn more about this conference.

Volume 12 No. 4 • June 1998
Disprove Old Library Perceptions Through Technology Training
by Francie C. Davis and Joyce Renfroe Gotsch

Distance learning and virtual libraries need not mean the demise of the library or the extinction of librarianship. We need to take a proactive role. We need to develop programs to train customers on search strategies and source evaluation in order to provide better customer service and to save the profession.

With our expertise in search strategies and evaluation techniques, librarians are not only ideally suited to assume a leadership role in information technology; we are a valuable resource. Our teaching skills and adaptability to constant technological changes are earning us new respect and new allies. This article will discuss these changing roles and how we pursued them through programs we developed at Dowling College to teach World Wide Web training techniques.

Dowling College is a small liberal arts college on the south shore of Long Island, New York, with 6,000 graduate and undergraduate commuting, nontraditional students with an age range of 18 to 90. Founded in 1955, Dowling is a relatively young school with a small library and a heavy reliance on electronic resources.

Community Outreach Programs

Under the auspices of the Dowling Institute, the continuing education arm of the college, Dowling has become a resource for Internet training throughout Long Island. Two years ago we began teaching World Wide Web search techniques to hundreds of public and school librarians, public library patrons, and special interest groups including career counselors, scientists, and engineers. Our sessions have varied from Beginning Internet to Train-the-Trainer workshops; our students have ranged from total novices to skilled Webmasters.

Many teaching skills have to be developed to accomplish this task. First, for each new group we're asked to address, we naturally have to anticipate their mind-set—who they are and where they might be coming from intellectually and technologically. Secondly, we have to determine the content for sessions of differing lengths. Our solution has been to develop a universal manual with a few variable sections we can customize for each group. The essential components are: table of contents, Internet history, glossary, error messages, browser basics, bookmark organization and manipulation, printing and downloading, e-mailing, saving, search engines, evaluating, Internet resources, Internet tutorials, and local providers. The information comes from a variety of sources. We have written some of the materials ourselves, but they also come from print, documentation, browser help screens, tutorial glossaries, journal article tables, etc.

We start all our sessions with personal introductions, for several reasons: It's a good icebreaker, it helps participant networking, it clarifies what skill levels are present in the group, and it is a perfect lead-in to an overview of the class content.

We've learned some lessons from our teaching experiences. The first was to get over feeling that we had to be the "know all/teach all" experts in the classroom. Often we would be teaching very experienced Web searchers. Fighting our own insecurities, we remembered that for every Web workshop and demo we have attended, we have learned at least one rewarding trick. We have also found that reviewing material is a good thing, as many of us have gaps in our navigating knowledge since we've learned largely by trial and error. We've accumulated a list of tricks that brings at least one exclamation out of the crowd every time:

We conclude all our sessions with a simple evaluation form. They are wonderful and often lead to improvements in future sessions.

Campus Computer Literacy Programs

In addition to the classes for the Dowling Institute, we have begun to provide computer literacy classes for our entire campus. We teach classes on Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, database searching, World Wide Web, Netscape, and search engines. Projecting our own misgivings, we would assume that many of you might find this a controversial direction in which to take the profession. We no longer think so. Reflecting on an electronic resources arcade model of information retrieval and delivery, who else but we librarians/information specialists are so well-suited to teach all of these skills? Take a moment to consider what you have had to learn in the last year. Our computer lab people don't know how to do everything anymore. We do.

Our computer literacy sessions have been offered two or three times a year. The classes were promoted to faculty and staff. The attendees were, overwhelmingly, staff secretaries, with a handful of faculty. As we felt the faculty could benefit greatly from Internet instruction, we tried to attract them again by offering a faculty colloquium. The response was greater, as predicted. Faculty do need the privacy of their own peer group to learn. We are now applying the same principle to the administration and offering demonstrations to the President's Administrative Council and the Provost's Council.

In every class and demonstration, we offer individual follow-up instruction. We will go to the participant's office or provide telephone consultation. We remind everyone that each of our 15 librarians who staff the reference desk is an Internet expert and can assist researchers on our 13 Web-connected computers. We can't begin to tell you how our newly developed expertise has changed our self-confidence and improved the image of the library.

Library Instruction Programs

Our third area of teaching falls under the traditional realm of student library instruction classes. These are usually one-session introductions to subject-specific resources, conducted at the request of a professor. The classes are held in the campus computer lab located in our building.

In our sessions, we review the functions and accessible gateways from our library catalog, demonstrate use of appropriate networked and Web-accessed databases, and introduce Internet searching on a particular subject. We give an overview of the browser, bookmarks, and search engines. We discuss effective search techniques, evaluative techniques, the importance of dated pages, the significance of ownership of a page, and what they should expect from the various domains, etc. We try to share any helpful hints or shortcuts that time will allow.

As the lab schedule becomes increasingly tight, we will not be able to conduct as many individualized classes. Therefore, we will be posting our former handouts on our library home page to create a self-help tutorial. We will encourage professors to incorporate some of this subject-specific orientation into their classes.

Staff Continuing Education Programs

Finally, our last area of instruction is staff training. Strong database searching and teaching techniques are so essential to our program that our recruitment process requires candidates to demonstrate their expertise. In-service training is, therefore, vital to maintain and improve this level of knowledge.

How do we stay one step ahead? Basically, the full-time librarians receive the initial training and then provide in-service training for the part-time staff. The group presentation is then followed by one-on-one consultation with the full-time librarians during scheduled hours at the reference desk.

Redefining the Role of the Profession

This training has redefined our campus role in several areas.

Lessons Learned by Teaching Others

Don't be afraid of change or the work it generates. Change helps keep you vital, and adapting to it helps you keep your job. Learn the new technologies. Approach them with a positive attitude and you may be surprised at how much you enjoy the challenge of learning and how proud you will be of yourself.

It's OK to make mistakes—we firmly believe that you learn much more by doing something wrong. When you do something right, you never analyze what you did. On the other hand, when you have totally messed up, you have to figure out just what you did wrong.

Remember that no one knows it all. Ask for help.

Fundamental library skills are as valuable now as ever. Materials still need to be organized, searched, and evaluated. The difference is that now you should not keep this expertise as a deep, dark secret for your use only. We are no longer gatekeepers of information—we are partners in its pursuit.

Francie C. Davis is coordinator of electronic resources at Dowling College in Oakdale, New York. She has an M.S.L.S from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Joyce Renfroe Gotsch is coordinator of information instruction at Dowling College and holds an M.S.L.S. from the University of Rhode Island at Kingston.

• Table of Contents Marketing Library Services Home Page