ASSOCIATES (vol. 1, no. 2, November 1994) - associates.ucr.edu
Table of Contents
_IN-SERVICE TRAINING_ by Jim Jackson firstname.lastname@example.org 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.