Teaching Internet Skills to Information Professionals

Paula Mochida <paula@hawaii.edu>
Ralf Neufang <neufang@hawaii.edu>
University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA

Abstract

When the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library staff proposed a plan for the implementation of public Internet access, they strongly recommended a simultaneous staff training program. Trained staff would acquire the confidence needed as yet another form of technology was introduced and develop Internet skills that would increase the potential for Internet services and applications.

As each phase of Internet access was implemented (from text-based Gopher level to graphical World Wide Web), the appropriate training phase was offered using a buddy-like approach of small group coaching sessions. This method could permit a culturally diverse staff to learn at its own pace and could accommodate individual learning styles.

Primary contact: Paula Mochida, phone (808) 956-2474, fax (808) 956-5968, address: Hamilton Library 2550 The Mall, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822.

Introduction

The number of academic libraries offering public Internet access is rapidly increasing. Ralf Neufang (University of Hawaii) and Carol Tenopir (University of Tennessee) have conducted two surveys of university libraries in the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and found that Internet access has increased from negligible in 1991 to over 75% of the 96 responding libraries in 1994. [1] In addition to providing public access via online public access catalogs [OPACs], these libraries are using Internet for reference work, acquisitions and cataloging, and electronic mail.

Internet is the most recent phase in a succession of rapid implementations of information technologies into libraries. In the 1980s most ARL libraries installed first- or second-generation OPACs and automated systems. Almost all ARL libraries currently provide mediated or end-user online searching, CD ROM access, commercial databases via OPACs, and now the Internet. World Wide Web search engines list hundreds of academic libraries on Web servers throughout the world.

Library staff reaction to the Internet ranges from that of excitement and awe to anxiety and frustration. Technological changes require new technical skills, a rethinking of how services can be provided, and sometimes, restructuring of departments. [2] Though librarians have been proactive in user instruction for 20 years, ongoing staff training has often taken a back seat. If anything, training has been ad hoc and job-specific for individuals or a library department. A resource, such as the Internet, can be used in a variety of ways throughout the library, so library-wide training becomes essential. Unlike the early introduction of Internet into libraries, when individuals were left to their own devices to learn, libraries now realize that "formal" training of library staff is essential to maximize use and the quality of this service. [3]

The following presentation describes how staff of the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library have implemented Internet staff training. The Library consists of Hamilton and Sinclair libraries with over 2.7 million volumes on the Manoa campus in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Library had a total staff of 165 during the first and second phase training programs conducted in 1995. The staff numbers declined to 130 during the third phase of training due to a state early-incentive retirement program and an unprecedented freeze on hiring. Most of the process and the format of the Internet training program have worked well. Along the way, the designers of the training program had to acknowledge their own strengths and weaknesses and adapt the training to an Internet implementation timeline that changed as well.

Managing Internet Implementation

In the summer of 1994, the Coordinator of Public Services appointed a Public Internet Access Task Force which included the Head of Information Services for the University's Computing Center, the Coordinator of Library Networks and Automation, and eight librarians representing the public services departments for Humanities/Social Sciences, Science/Technology, the Asia Collection, Government Documents, Microcomputer Support, and the Audio Visual Center. They were charged with formulating a proposal for Library implementation of patron access to Internet resources. The proposal was to include a timeline for stages of Internet implementation, the resources required, and the kind of staff training required.

They recommended three stages of implementation:

  1. Text-based access via the University's Gopher to be made available in January, 1995 from public terminals via the OPAC;
  2. Subject-specific links to text-based resources that librarians would add as sub-menus on the University's Gopher during the spring of 1995;
  3. Prototype workstations for World Wide Web/Mosaic-type graphical interface access in multiple locations throughout the library during the summer of 1995.

The required resources were major: datacommunication connectivity and microcomputers for public and staff access. Coordinated efforts among the public services departments and with the Library Networks and Systems division resulted in almost $300,000 in special initiatives funded by the Library and the Information Technology Services (ITS) division [the computing center] of the University of Hawaii. Public and staff microcomputers were purchased and the Library's three instructional classrooms were equipped with 25 Performa Macintoshes, two printers, and three projection systems.

Managing Staff Training: Weaving the Net

The task force strongly recommended that a concurrent training program begin for the staff to acquire baseline Internet competencies and confidence as the stages of public Internet access were implemented. The Coordinator of Public Services appointed a training team from members of the original task force in October, 1994 to design a staff training program. The team was chaired by a public services librarian who was acknowledged as the Internet expert in the Library, as well as a recognized expert in the state. Members of the team were librarians from the reference departments of the Asia Collection, Humanities/Social Sciences, and Science/Technology. Each of the four training librarians had many years of experience teaching students in bibliographic instruction programs. They determined that the overall goals would be:

  1. Understanding the relevance of the Internet for staff use;
  2. Understanding of the relevance of Internet for public use; and
  3. Professional development for staff.

The four-member training team realized that they alone could not train over 100 staff by January, 1995 when OPAC access to the University Gopher would be available. They decided to train additional coaches from throughout the library. They identified 13 individuals: librarians, technical staff, and paraprofessionals who had demonstrated some knowledge of and interest in learning and teaching Internet skills. The training team trained the coaches to be able to train the staff in small groups.

Other libraries, such as the University of Maryland, have used similar approaches in which "master" trainers are trained and then train others. [4] By distributing the responsibility for training among a broader base of staff, a stronger network was formed. It is important to have library administrators, including the middle managers, supportive of the library-wide training program. Acknowledgment of the value of such training to improve professional skills "certifies" the program. Administrative release time during the course of a workday for all aspects of this training, including practice time, is a requirement.

Technical Issues and Partnerships

Although libraries often begin Internet access with small clusters of workstations in selected areas, more and more libraries prefer to take advantage of the range of Internet applications throughout the library. The University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) Library decided that full-scale activation of telephone datajacks was desirable. The Library worked closely with the ITS staff to determine the best configurations for connections to the University network. Many challenges exist while working on multi-story library buildings built before the era of technology (pre-1980). Communication with technical staff and library staff became important in determining what specifications were required to support diverse uses of the Internet. The Library coordinated the infrastructure project and completed the mapping, cabling, and connections in less than one year.

Libraries are discovering the advantages of partnerships for resources and the sharing of expertise. At the University of Hawaii, ITS includes staff from the Computing Center, the campus Telecommunications Office, and the Hawaii Interactive Television System. Library partnerships with ITS have resulted in: a 100-workstation computer lab in the Library, funded microcomputer equipment and peripherals for library classrooms, and ongoing shared technical consultation and advice. The opportunity to work with the ITS strengthened an important partnership for current and future development of information technologies.

Delivering the Training Program

As of this writing, two of the three phases of training have been completed and the third phase is in progress. All three began with a library-wide, open invitation to attend "kick-off" lecture/demonstration sessions. Each kick-off event served as a fun activity during which:

  1. The training goals and objectives for each phase were explained;
  2. The training program format was described;
  3. Individuals signed up for training groups; and
  4. Demonstrations of practical, professional, and personal use of Internet skills are presented to the large group, as well as at individual workstations that could be visited at leisure at the end of the session.

Refreshments and door prizes added to the fair-like atmosphere of the kick-off sessions, which created an exciting environment for the introduction of new capabilities and learning new skills.

During the kick-off sessions, individuals signed up for the training program itself. Small groups of no more than three individuals were assigned to a coach. They met three or four times in 60- to 90-minute sessions using a workbook created by the training team for that phase of training. The specific skills to be learned in each training phase were covered in the small group sessions. Each new skill presented in the workbook included definitions, commands, examples, and hands-on homework.

The training team had several assumptions upon which they based their training format:

  1. Most, if not all, staff have basic computer (i.e. keyboarding/mouse) skills;
  2. Individuals working in small groups with a peer coach would learn better; and
  3. Peer coaches, colleagues familiar to the learners, would be supportive teachers.

Phase One Training

Phase one training needed to coincide with implementation of the public lynx-accessible Internet via the University's Gopher in January, 1995. Training started at the end of November, 1994 and was completed by mid-January, 1995.

The objectives of the phase one training were to:

  1. Learn to connect to the Internet via the University's Gopher;
  2. Learn to navigate among Gopher menus, Internet directories, and Internet files;
  3. Learn to use Veronica to locate Internet resources; and
  4. Learn to save or transfer located Internet resources.

Phase Two Training

Phase two of the implementation was to build on the lynx-accessible Internet via the OPAC terminals. Using newly acquired Gopher and Veronica searching skills, it was anticipated that librarians would explore the Internet more confidently and locate resources that would be transferred to their own directories and eventually be selected to appear as submenus on the UHINFO.

The objectives of phase two training were to:

  1. Gain an understanding of what the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is and why it is relevant;
  2. Learn how to transfer desired files across computers connected to the Internet;
  3. Learn to identify relevant files on remote computers connected to the Internet;
  4. Gain an understanding of basic file types and file formats;
  5. Learn to manage files and directories in their Unix computing environment; and
  6. Learn to transfer files from their Unix environment to their desktop machines.

It was during the discussions of objectives for phase two training that the team members realized, once again, that they did not have all of the resources (i.e. their own expertise, or time) to devote to the training. They assumed, correctly, that the numbers of library staff wanting to move on to the next level of Internet proficiency would be smaller, but how small? In order to keep the training program on schedule, the make-up of the team changed Two of the original team continued, including the Chair and a librarian representing the Asia Collection. Another librarian from the Asia Collection was added to the team, as well as two librarians from the Public Services Microcomputer Support department, now renamed Desktop Network Services. Because the numbers of staff continuing with the training was smaller, the five team members served as the coaches working with groups of three to five staff. Phase two training took place May through July, 1995.

Dealing With an Accelerated Implementation Timeline

Aware of the major network infrastructure requirements, the lack of staff and public microcomputers in the Library, and the need for staff training, the Public Internet Access Task Force in the summer of 1994 had been conservative with its implementation timeline. As it happened, the Library's funded technology initiatives and the partnership with ITS that became available in early 1995 accelerated the implementation of World Wide Web access.

The Library did not have to limit itself to a few prototype World Wide Web workstations, but could have full network access at all of its reference desks and in all departments, including in most of the librarians' offices and workrooms by the fall of 1995. Approximately 90 microcomputers with the Netscape browser application were connected to activated datajacks by the end of December, 1995.

Not unexpectedly, by the summer of 1995, library staff had begun to learn Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) coding and scripting. Self-motivated, they learned in workshops, classes, or with manuals. Some of those staff were student employees who had had courses in Computer Sciences, Communications, or Library and Information Studies courses. By the fall of 1995, six of the eight departments within the Public Services division had created pages. In addition, Web forms for Interlibrary Loan requests and classroom reservations had been mocked up. In order to showcase these grassroots publications, a Web Page Fair was held in October, 1995.

By December, 1995 the Library Administration decided to provide staff resources to develop a Library Home/Main Page to serve as the front-end to the online catalog system with links to the department pages. A style manual and protocols for page design and content are being established by a library Web advisory board. Just as the Internet has been developed at the grassroots level, so has it been with Internet implementation in the Library.

Although staff with Netscape available on their desktop workstation or on shared office workstations had immediately begun to "play" with the World Wide Web, the Internet training team developed a program to ensure minimum competencies. The four librarians who made up the team of coaches for the third phase included the librarian who had chaired the first two phases, two librarians from the Asia Collection, and a desktop network services librarian. All were coach/trainers in previous phases of the Internet training program. Their shared experience and ability to develop a collaborative, cohesive program brought them together for this final phase.

Phase Three Training

In March, 1996 the Internet Training Team began the phase three training program using the same format of a kick-off session, followed by small group sessions.

The objectives of the phase three training were to:

  1. Continue building on the skills and terms learned in the previous phases;
  2. Learn a brief history of the World Wide Web;
  3. Learn to use the Netscape toolbar and menu options;
  4. Become familiar with searching by subject, resource type, keywords, bookmarks, and bookmark editing;
  5. Become familiar with search engines and selected sites useful to information professionals; and
  6. Learn basic HTML codes and create a home page.

Over 80 staff signed up in March, 1996 for the phase three training to develop their World Wide Web Internet skills. The training team was surprised and pleased with the large response. Most department heads in public services, collection (technical) services, and library networks and systems either required or strongly recommended and supported attendance. The training team had not formally requested this, but the fact that it was so enthusiastically endorsed by the Library's administrators and middle-managers was concrete evidence of the entire Internet training program's success and value to the development of professional skills.

This time the team did not create instructional materials or guides in the way of paper hand-outs, but instead produced all of the information and exercises on their own Web page. The team had to coordinate their specific assignments to pull their home page presentation together on the Web. Staff were forced to use the Web and the Internet skills they were learning. The Web product and the format of presentation incorporated many of the suggestions provided in the evaluations of the phase one and two sessions. The online access to the instructional materials and the availability of the networked classrooms definitely contributed to the ability of the team of four to teach their 80-plus colleagues. The team provided four weekly sessions to each group with no more than four individuals per coach.

Conclusion

The library's training program met the broad goals of demonstrating the relevance of the Internet for both staff and public use and providing an excellent opportunity for developing staff skills before, or during, the different stages of Internet implementation.

125 library staff (76% of 165 full-time staff) went through phase one training. Fifty-five library staff (33%) completed phase two training. As of this writing, more than 80 library staff (62% of 130 full-time staff) are half way through phase three training. What the library administration has observed is two-fold:

  1. An enthusiastic response by the staff for the Internet training program as a form of staff development; and
  2. A surge in department Internet initiatives, such as department home pages; department e-mail addresses; and online Web forms for services such as renewing loans, requesting interlibrary loans, and reference queries.

The evaluations that were returned from participants after each phase of training provided useful feedback on the format of the training program and on the content and design of the instructional materials. Comments such as: "The small group sessions were great! The chance to ask questions and the personalized instructions contributed a great deal to my understanding of the various topics." and "It was helpful to be able to try things as we learned them." gave the trainers feedback on valuable DO'S and DON'TS:

DO

Format

Materials

DON'T

Format

Materials

Besides the apparent success of training library information professionals, there were other benefits from the format of the training program. Colleagues in a trainer/coach role established a "Sense of community; we're learning together rather than a more intimidating student-teacher relationship." The heterogeneous mix of staff in each session (i.e. librarians, library assistants, and technicians and their different levels of computer/Internet expertise) created a sense of learning together. Although there were a couple of comments in the evaluations recommending more homogeneous competency groups, most participants did not perceive this to be an issue. The binding together of Internet-skilled staff has definitely created a staff-confident environment for library information applications of Internet.

In addition, the teams of trainers from different library departments learned that they could work collaboratively in designing the training program and creating the instructional materials. Expertise was not essential. Team members learned from each other and contributed to the format, content, and design. Their individual subject specialization was not a factor. More importantly, the willingness to push and pull together and learn from one another became factors in the successful collaboration of the trainers.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa Library staff have spent the last 18 months learning new skills and implementing public and staff applications of Internet. Clearly most of the staff feel well-grounded in the uses and potential of the Internet. The training of these information professionals was not always quite ahead of the implementation. In any case, because the implementation of the Internet and the training program were initiated and developed at the staff level, they feel more in control of the technology than vice versa. The trainer/coaches, who taught small groups in hands-on sessions, have strengthened the opportunities for information professionals to maximize Internet use for themselves and for the public.

References