Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service:
There are many breaking trends in the library technology field. It might be imagined that the most important are those that are the newest on the scene. However, certain recent experiences convinced me that a different subject was in order. I recently encountered two people in my personal life (not in a library setting) who remarked to me that they were confused and unsure of how to take advantage of the e-book offerings at our local library. One was my own grandmother!
E-books have been offered in one form or another through our local library system for several years, so the fact that there is still uncertainty in the community is an issue worth addressing urgently. Therefore this proposal concerns the implementation of e-reader training programs in our library as a regular feature.
Technological implementations will be of no value if our user communities are not able to make use of them.
This concept underlines a key principle of user engagement: technological implementations will be of no value if our user communities are not able to make use of them. This use must provide for equitable access – in this case making sure that age in no barrier. As Amy Gardner notes in the introduction to her report Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries “access to… digital literacy skills are essential for full participation in modern society.”
A 2013 article by K. T. Bradford in Digital Trends argued that “borrowing an e-book from your local library is still a difficult and confusing process that varies wildly depending on what kind of e-reader or device you own.” Unfortunately, six years later while improvements have been made, many patrons still find this description to hold some truth.
Description of Community you wish to engage:
The anecdotal evidence suggests that older adults may experience difficulty in adapting to new technology. Our local library recently switched software providers of e-book library services. They now use the Overdrive and Libby systems. These provide a useful app for users to read e-book materials on a variety of systems, and checkout can be integrated directly into those systems. While the features offered are great, the switch left some users unsure of how to fully access the technology. Training should be provided both in-person regularly as well as through easily-accessible self-tutorials. This second mode is important to meet user preference, as contrary to common assumptions, “self-training using text materials” was listed by Mitzner et. al as a common user desire in their study Older Adults’ Training Preferences for Learning to Use Technology.
Action Brief Statement:
- Convince older patrons that they will be able to successfully use e-book hardware and software after attending library-sponsored training sessions.
- Convince library staff that training patrons on e-book software is a critical part of the library mission and referring patrons to this training program will greatly benefit the patrons’ experience.
Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service:
A curated list of the resources I found most useful on this subject:
Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service:
The library has historically participated in educational and training programs on a wide variety of subjects. The policies for these programs will be relevant to this project. In fact, the library may have participated in a one-off training on this subject some years ago. Example policies can be gained from these past programs. If the library wishes to offer e-readers as part of our library of things, the policies and guidelines relevant to other items in the library of things would be relevant.
Because this is a plan for the implementation of a training program, no new policies may be needed. However, an internal guideline should be created regarding the level of familiarity and expertise required to be an instructor. Of note: training is a special skill, and the ability to teach is needed in addition to subject expertise.
Training is a special skill, and the ability to teach is needed in addition to subject expertise.
I note that Raphael Heaggans from Niagara University has suggested the following in SRATE Journal as considerations for training seniors on technology-related processes: “larger screens, larger keyboards… learning styles inventory that assesses how seniors best learn, repetition of steps, discussion of how technology can improve seniors quality of life, and practical application.” These sensible ideas should be incorporated into the vision and training for this program
Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service:
There are two models to consider. First, a library assistant could be assigned to conduct these regular training programs. This would be a relatively minimal impact to the library budget, as this would be at most a few hours each week, and the library has a substantial staff presence. However, it may be that grant funding can be obtained, as training older adults is an important endeavor supported across many governmental organizations. Local community colleges also often participate in similar programs, so reaching out to partner with them on this project could reduce expenditure and increase awareness.
Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service:
As mentioned above, there is a second model that could be envisioned to mitigate staff time commitment. It is good to note that our library has a large number of volunteers from the community. It may be that library staff could, as a one-time time expenditure, create training materials for use as self-tutorials and assign willing and well-qualified volunteers to use that material in conducting trainings. Volunteers at the library already participate in homework help programs for students. They also lead occasion enrichment classes and book groups. Therefore they may be well-suited to participate in this e-reader training for older adults.
Action Steps & Timeline:
I propose developing the training materials and subsequently scheduling a series of classes with the use of a staff member. Then willing and well-trained volunteers can conduct programs. These sessions can then be compared to determine if the use of volunteer instructors is of equivalent quality and effective outcomes. That data can then inform whether to proceed with full-scale volunteer roll-out, or whether to return to staff-led training programs.
This will be subject to approval of the relevant assistant-director-level approvals, by the team responsible for program offerings.
Training for this Technology or Service:
As noted, initially the materials and plan will be developed by library staff who are highly-familiar with common e-book hardware and software. They will make use of training guides produced by the relevant companies. Then this material will be used by library staff and by volunteers to teach the classes. The training for volunteer instructors can be scheduled at a time that will accommodate them best within the library’s regular operating hours. The volunteer services team that manages volunteer on-boarding can surely participate in this scheduling process.
Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service:
After approval, advertising in the program catalog that is periodically produced will be appropriate, as will online advertisement. As a service particularly developed with older adults in mind, partnering with senior-oriented organizations such as the senior center and the city government’s recreation department is highly desirable.
While quantitative data certainly has its place, a training program like this is most-appropriately evaluated by a review of user-responses – how did the patrons being trained find the training? Are they using their e-books more now? Is e-book circulation up at the library? As Michael Stephens noted with regard to library technology more generally in his article on Taming Technolust: “the return on investment for many of the emerging technologies will be proven with qualitative data such as positive stories from users.” This idea holds true as well for training effectively on our e-reader software and check-out programs.