Saturday, June 29, 2013

ALA: Days 1 & 2

I was fortunate enough to attend ALA this year in Chicago.  As I wrote in one of my very first posts on this blog over a year ago, one of the main issues surrounding conferences like ALA is the dissemination of information to those who are not able to attend.  To help rectify that, I will be sharing everything that I've learned via this blog.  A lot of the information contained in this post, and the post to follow, will be directly in line with what I've discussed in the past.  I hope that you find some take away value.

My first session of ALA was all about thinking in terms of Lean Start Ups.  Referencing the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, the biggest take away from the presentation was the importance of failure.  If you take a look at the slides from this presentation, you should note the graphic on slide 11 which explains in pictures the best way to find the solution to a problem.

Often, we perceive problems and come up with ONE solution.  The solution, as demonstrated by the graphic on the left, misses the mark just by a fraction.  Thinking of many solutions, however, greatly increases your chances of hitting the target.  But thinking of many solutions and testing them means that failure is bound to happen - and that's okay!  In order to come up with these many solutions, it's important to get out of the building and talk to the target audience for insight.

Of course, getting insight, brainstorming ideas and testing those ideas takes time.  For this reason, the Lean Startup model employs the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in order to keep failure from being one big colossal mistake.  Early adopters of beta versions are a prime example of MVPs. Beta versions help you work out all the bugs before deploying solutions on a massive scale.  In relation to libraries, you may want to test out the popularity of a new class in one location with a small audience before rolling it out to the whole system.  For more information on Lean Startups, you may be interested in Think Like a Startup by Brian Matthews.

In the Orange County Library System of Florida, the Director and library administration began a new program for library staff called Librarians as Learning Leaders (LLL.)  The purpose of this group was to gather librarians from all the branches and bring them together to open lines of communication.  The meetings happen every other month and, while not mandatory, have a loose agenda to discuss projects in the works and to generate new ideas for the branches.  Meetings focus on a variety of topics from collection management (staff observations of what is being used and not) to programs that staff would like to offer.

Although librarians were a little leery of the program at first, Orange County reports that staff morale has increased significantly as a result of these meetings which promote trust in the organization's professional staff.  Orange County Library System also implemented yearly staff surveys to give staff an opportunity to give their brutally honest opinions of the organization.

User Experience theory says that the user is what should dictate how and why we do the things we do.  The University of Florida, along with four other universities, conducted research that revealed the divide between staff perceptions of what customers do at the library and what customers are actually doing.  Some standout numbers  include 48% of customers have never approached library staff.

The survey also revealed the research habits of students who begin their search very broad using Google, then using Wikipedia, and the library's website coming in as the third location visited.  Library staff, on the other hand, start with the library website before moving on to library guides and then the library catalog.  Applying user experience theory, we should meet our customers where they are.  This would suggest that, instead of fighting customers over their use of Google and risk losing trust, we should instruct them on how to perform better Google searches.  Doing this along with library instruction will ensure their trust and satisfy their queries to the fullest extent.

Furthermore, staff perceived themselves to be much more irrelevant than customers considered them.  Overall, customers think of librarians very fondly and do not perceive them to be irrelevant.  This suggests that the more librarians frantically tout the vanishing library, we seal our own fate.  According to this survey, libraries do not need saving!

Trainers often have a "best in the class" complex - a need to be the smartest and most knowledgeable person in the room.  This is the worst attitude for a trainer because that means we've forgotten what it's like to be new to a subject, just as those we train are new to the subjects we teach them.  In order to keep yourself from being a know-it-all, follow these steps:

  • Learn something knew to remember what it's like to be new to a subject
  • Have empathy for your trainees
  • Don't show off by jam-packing your training sessions with information just to make you look like an expert.
  • Refresh your training knowledge with these 50 training theories

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Learner Will

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend an Continuing Education class on Training Design taught by Emory.  My biggest take away from this class was, surprisingly, writing objectives.  The objective tells the learner what he or she can expect to get out of the class but it also provides a good roadmap for the content creator.  Before taking the Training Design class, I had no idea how much writing an objective could truly help me understand exactly the points I wanted to cover.

Every objective attempts to use descriptive words to communicate what the learner will have achieved by the end of the training module. In many cases, those words are not as descriptive as they should be.  Take, for instance, this sample learning objective for an introductory class to iMovie:

Participants in this class will learn the ins and outs of the popular Apple software, iMovie.  Join this session to get a better understanding of how the editing process works and, by the end of 1 hour, you will have made a movie of your very own.

At first glance, the objective may not seem so bad.  It informs the learner that the class is about iMovie, that a movie will be made, and that the class will be taught in one hour.  But how is the learner supposed to know if this class is appropriate for their level?  And how will the course be taught? The objective makes no mention about what specifics of iMovie will be covered and, although the objective hints at a hands-on learning method, it is not clearly stated exactly how the participant will learn the material.  

So, how can we make the objective better? Let's dissect:

The example above uses vague verbs such as "understand," "learn," and "master" to indicate what the participant will do or achieve in the class.  The problem with using such words is that they are no-brainers.  Of course the participant is going to learn  - that's the whole point of training.  There are much better verbs to describe what will actually take place during the course of training. Verbs such as "build," "create," and "explore" say so much more, so let's try replacing these verbs:

Participants in this class will explore the ins and outs of the popular Apple software, iMovie.  Join this 1-hour session to build upon your knowledge of iMacs by creating your very own movie.

Using different verbs paints the training in a different way.  Don't you think the word "explore" sounds much more fun than "learn?"  The verbs also help establish who this class is for (those that already have a working knowledge of iMacs) and what they will be doing (creating a movie.)  There are so many great verbs to use that you should never have to default to these seven deadly verbs: Understand, Learn, Know, Appreciate, Enjoy, Help, and Master.

The orginal example did at least one thing right, it gave the participant a time frame.  Whether the training is 1 hour, all day, or over the course of several days, a good objective will inform the learner how long it is going to take before they have gathered all the information pertaining to the topic.

A poorly written objective may result in participants who are either too advanced or not advanced enough to be in the class. Our original objective failed to describe how the participants will gain their knowledge.  When it comes to training, methods can vary widely. From panel discussions to group exercises, learners deserve to know what exactly they will be doing.  In applying a method to our objective, you should aim for stating, not only the method, but supporting details as well.

In this hands-on class, participants will explore the ins and outs of the popular Apple software, iMovie.  Join this 1-hour session to build upon your knowledge of iMacs as we discover how to manipulate audio and video, add transitions and music, and use advanced features such as green screen editing.

This objective has come a long way! Now, the participant knows exactly what to expect upon stepping foot into this class.

Writing a good objective forces a trainer to seriously reflect on the content he/she wants to cover.  In conjunction with the ADDIE model, it is a very powerful tool to keep your trainings on track and increasing retention rates.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Getting Creative for Summer

I don't know about your library, but mine is in full swing for the summer.  This means lots of kids and lots of books! Before summer started, however, my manager had a vision and a plan.  The goal: to make picture books more accessible to children while relieving the stress on our backs from shelving the piles of books that come in.  The idea of no longer shelving books on the bottom shelf and using it for display may seem a bit out of the ordinary but, after a month of displaying materials in this manner, I can say it was one of the smartest moves we've made.

You'll find in most libraries that the shelves used for picture books are short, usually allowing for a height of three shelves.  In the libraries I've visited, the standard has always been to use all three shelves for the books and using the table-like top to display anything from popular series to seasonal favorites.  Displaying items like this had always been the norm to me, but after giving it some thought and a long discussion with my manager, it became obvious why these displays may not work.
  • Kids Are Short - The shelves for our picture books are designed to be a certain height for a reason - kids are short. Displays on the top appeal to parents only, which is okay, but you are missing your target audience.
  • Clutterful - A display here or a display there may be nice for the parents, but a never ending sea of books on the top can make you feel like you are drowning.
But, fear not, for I am not asking you to expose the top of your picture book shelves - at least not all the way.  You may consider a more planned, thematic display of your picture books instead as featured
here.  But, as I said before, the top only markets to the adults and those that can see above the shelves.  So, what about the younger kids?

Books on the bottom shelf are the last to be pulled as Paco Underhill will tell you that the prime real estate is eye level.  For kids at the picture book age, that's the first and second shelf.  Now with the bottom row free, we realized we could avoid the never ending problem of constant upward shifting by using this space as "kids only" display.  The difference in aesthetics from the top two shelves to the bottom shelf draws the eyes of both adults and kids alike to the bottom shelf.  

One of the biggest perks that came from this change was not having to shelve on the bottom shelf.  No more crawling around on the floor for my branch!  If not for any other reason, I highly recommend using this shelving and display method just as a means to get off the floor and save your back.