Librarians As Trainers

By Deanna Barmakian, Harvard Law School Library

As most law librarians have explained to anyone who'll listen, we do a lot of teaching. "Librarians as teachers and trainers" was the topic of an excellent panel presentation at the LLNE fall meeting. Four law librarians from different settings reviewed their role as trainers. Expertly moderated by John Pedini of the Social Law Library, each panel member shared their experiences and offered some helpful tips.

Training other Librarians…

Nancy Zaphiris, from the Harvard Law School Library, discussed her participation in a major staff training initiative. When Harvard migrated to a new ILS, Ex Libris' Aleph, the 1200 staff members of Harvard libraries needed training. Although Nancy was a monographs cataloger, she was asked to join a team of eight to teach the Serials portion of Aleph. Serials training consisted of five classes, each two to three hours long. Nancy's group gave 200 classes in 3 months.

Drawing on this extensive training experience, Nancy offered five great teaching tips. First, "Make the Script Your Own." Write it out in the order and the way you want it. Practice it out loud and standing. Second, "Know Your Classroom." Understand the classroom technology, quirks, lights, thermostat, and the best place to stand. Third, "Walk in Relaxed." Get there early; bring everything you need including water. Dress in layers. Fourth "Do Your Housekeeping." Tell people where bathrooms are, how long the class will be, how you will handle questions during class, and where to send questions after class. Fifth, "Delivery is Everything." Be confident; speak slowly, clearly, and loudly. Be interested and animated--even if you don't quite feel that way!

Training Firm Managers…

Georgia Ypsilantis, CEO of AccuFile, followed with a very different teaching perspective. Georgia teaches two different groups, her staff and firm managers. The law firms she works with often lack a librarian. She has to continually convey to firm managers the importance and usefulness of law librarians and library collections. She explains the need for certain materials, comparative costs, and the importance of maintaining collections properly.

Georgia trains her staff in what she jestingly calls "Kamikaze librarianship." Her people go into firm settings, and in just a few hours, sort mail, organize bills, file looseleaf updates, and sometimes even shelve library materials. Consequently, Georgia makes sure her people understand these tasks and can work quickly. Realizing their frustration at not having more time to accomplish everything, she makes humor and morale boosting a big part of her training style.

Training Students…

Joan Shear from the Boston College Law Library teaches the research portion of a yearlong 1L writing and research class. Joan discussed how she helps her students self-assess their learning styles so they can effectively modify their study behavior. As she explained, it's her job to teach the material, but it's the responsibility of each student to figure out how best to learn it.

Joan demonstrated a simplified version of a clever exercise she does at the beginning of the course. Using a long-ish series of numbers, Joan first said them aloud and quizzed people briefly. (What was the fourth number?) Then she quickly flashed a large card with the same number series and quizzed the audience. Finally she held the card up and allowed people to take notes briefly and then quizzed them. She concluded by asking people to note whether they did best by listening, by reading, or by note taking. She uses this exercise to demonstrate to students, that if you learn best aurally, maybe you should not distract yourself by taking notes. If you learn best by reading, make sure to do the assigned reading. If you learn best by note taking, then take notes, despite the fact that lecture outlines are distributed. Feedback indicates this exercise is revealing and helpful.

Training Judges and Court staff…

Ken Withers, of the Research and Education arm of the Federal Judicial Center, discussed an interesting phenomenon he has observed at the FJC. Encouraged to deliver information and training remotely rather than in-person due to budget issues, his department converted handbooks to pdf, videos to Real files, and added a lot of seminar information to web pages. The result? After all that effort, their constituency could not find what they needed, even though the information was there. Putting information on the web did not automatically make it accessible.

Ken's group subsequently initiated a fascinating study of the information seeking behavior of judges and court personnel. As he explained, without first understanding how people, and specifically judges, articulate and seek to satisfy an information need, his department will be wasting their time mounting more and more material on the web. The panel audience, a group mounting their own information and tutorials on the web, expressed a lot of interest in seeing the results of Ken's research on information seeking and successful e-training.

This panel was successful in highlighting the training efforts of librarians, to varied audiences, in varied settings. Notably, whether hearing from trainers of students, colleagues, judges, or members of a firm, the same tips came through: prepare your session; market the importance of the content; be cognizant of how your audience best learns; and try to understand what they need and want to learn. Warm thanks to the panel members who generously offered their perspective and advice.


Next: Ken Wither's Presentation

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