ASSOCIATES (vol. 1, no. 2, November 1994) -

Table of Contents

                      _IN-SERVICE TRAINING_
                           Jim Jackson
                        Library Assistant
                        Deputy in Charge
                     Main Library Issue Desk
                      University of Exeter
This title may well tempt some people to reach for the delete
button, but don't - yet!  The whole subject of training any form
of library staff immediately brings problems: the actual how,
when, and where for a start, followed by the university, college
or institutional policy with regard to the status of
paraprofessionals.  Are paraprofessionals less important and,
therefore, less in need of training?  Of course not, and I hope
to show how, with a little thought, a lot can be achieved.
It is important that paraprofessional staff are able to express
their perceptions on their job and their role within the library
structure.  Managements which encourage staff to develop and be
better aware of what they can offer should be congratulated.
Those which retain a rigid "them and us" management style are
living in the past, and will not be able to supply the needs of
present day and future users.
There are, I am sure, many library staff who have been faced with
new or updated systems with little or no training, and then been
asked to put such systems into daily use at short notice.  Here,
the library management have to consider the needs of people for
both long term and short term training.  Most paraprofessionals
are keen and willing to learn - given the chance!  We recognize
that nothing stays the same forever and that changes in daily or
regular routines may improve the service we give.
Let me explain how one aspect of general staff development is
being pioneered at the University of Exeter, England.  Before
progressing further, however, it is important to examine briefly
the role and status of nonprofessional but highly trained and
experienced library staff.  The old idea of academic and public
libraries being places where you borrowed books you liked the
look of has changed.  Today, libraries have, in the main, become
information centres.  Libraries can now greatly assist teachers,
students and researchers of all types by supplying an almost
endless demand for different information needs.  Books will
always remain a backbone service of a library, but the library of
today and tomorrow will be able to supply so much more.  It is
vital that the institution to which they are attached realize the
importance of libraries in their new role.
One major problem is that access to the extra information often
comes from database files located all over the world.  Words such
as "Dialog" have entered many people's vocabulary.  The
professional library staff have their role to play by knowing
which files and methods to use to obtain the best results.  But
here we often hit a major snag.  There are not enough
professional staff to cope with the increase in user numbers.
This is where the paraprofessional finds him/herself in a
position of being requested to supply information which, in the
past, would have come from a professional.
It is generally accepted that it is impossible to take away
library staff from their posts for extended periods because there
are not sufficient members of staff to cover for them.  There are
often no relevant courses available locally for library staff,
with "relevant" being the important word.
So what does Exeter do to help?  Apart from a series of available
courses which are adaptable to changing needs on most computer
uses, the university has a staff exchange scheme.  This scheme,
run by the Staff Development Unit, involves universities in
southern England which encourage staff to apply to go on a staff
exchange to another university.  The purpose is to obtain first
hand experience of another educational environment, experience
that is directly relevant to your job.
I have recently returned from such an exchange with the Hartley
Library at Southampton University.  Here I spent a week observing
all departments and seeing how they coped with all manner of
daily problems.  One of their staff offered to assist me with the
visit and to take part in a return visit to Exeter.  As this was
a first for us both, we put together "wish lists" of things we
wanted to see, enabling us to concentrate on needed areas.  One
of these lists is reproduced below.  It shows which areas we
thought most important:
Enquiries           Acquisitions           Special Collections
Issue Desk          Cataloging             Interlibrary Loan
Bindery             Periodicals            Short Loan Collection
     Photocopy Services       Disabled Student Provision
I found many of their practices different from mine, as you would
expect, but I was able to decide if those practices would assist
me in Exeter.  After both exchanges, we were able to report to
our respective Librarians on our experiences, and came back full
of ideas and news.
At Southampton their issue desk was organized very differently
from Exeter's.  At Exeter, our main desk deals with all issues,
returns and renewals as well as general inquiries.  But at
Southampton, all returns are by book chute, and are discharged
later that same day.  This was a system I had not seen before in
action.  Renewals, after a first renewal which the reader can do
on a public terminal, are done at the issue desk.  I found the
practice of returning books by return chute to have more
disadvantages than advantages.  For example, the number of books
needing repair was considerable, and the number of books "lost"
to the system was too large to outweigh the advantages of saving
staff time and reducing waiting times at the issue desk.  In
addition, any enquiries were dealt with at a separate desk.  Some
people found it annoying to have to ask for information in two
separate places.
On the other hand, the practice of having photos on library cards
and the use of PINs was a good idea.  All too often library cards
are lent or lost, and this later causes conflict when the
original borrower is invoiced for lost books.  Exeter has now
introduced PINs for its users to gain access to user records on
public terminals.  The library catalog can be called up on the
local network and a reader's record can be accessed remotely.
This again saves the readers time if they only want to know if
books they have received have been returned and are awaiting
collection.  Future developments expected here are the self renew
option and self issue terminals.
One step taken by Southampton is to change staff in departments
on a regular basis by rota.  Instead of being located in one
department and doing occasional duties in other departments, they
are based in one section but actually work in several during the
day.  While this may lead to a lack of continuity, it does
increase the ability of staff to work in other departments
without the need for continual supervision.
In-service training need not be hugely expensive and time-
consuming.  My costs only involved accommodations and travel
expenses, and these were met by the Staff Development Unit.
In-service training offers an opportunity to exchange
ideas and working practices, some of which are proven successful,
others best forgotten.  Like the rapid development of the
Internet, in-service training has given us the opportunity to
take part in what can truly be called "distance learning".  It is
only by reaching out across the country and the world that we can
truly say we have widened our experience.