Much of this piece is personal observation, using as an example the Technical Services Department here at the Pappas Law Library where I work as a Catalog Librarian. Many of the ideas contained in this column are ones we have put into practice or are exploring at the moment. I also spoke to a few of my colleagues at other local institutions to get some input as to how things might be handled differently from our methods. I hope you will find some answers to your training questions; feel free to send your suggestions or comments along to me.
It would seem that by virtue of our area of concentration in library science, namely "technical services," techies should be experts with technology. After all, aren't we the folks who are hired and praised for our attention to detail, our ability to code and decipher MARC format, our rigid adherence to the belief, "Garbage in, garbage out?"
This is not always the case. We have learned to use "our" technology, while other parts of the law library have gone on to use mainstream tools such as LEXIS/NEXIS, DIALOG, WESTLAW, the Internet, and the World Wide Web. We can read a MARC record like nobody's business, yet many of us can't do more than a simple search on WESTLAW. This isn't for lack of intelligence; it's a product of our environment. The basis of our world is the catalog, and for some small libraries, that may mean no technology if the catalog isn't online. Some of the above mentioned tools might be very helpful to us in our job, but we've neither bothered nor been given the opportunity to learn the intricacies of their use.
What should the technical services person
know about the technology in his/her
I believe you should know whatever is necessary to do your job. However, you should probably know something about all the technology in use in your library, if only to know why it's there and how it fits into the general scheme of the daily operations. And, most importantly, to make technical services librarians feel a part of the whole, not a separate, puzzling entity that does its work behind closed doors.
Why train technical services personnel in
the use of the Internet at all? We usually
don't sit at the reference desk fielding
questions for patrons, so why would we
possibly have to know about the Internet,
about the World Wide Web, about any of
the new technologies?
To do our jobs better, that's why!
In truth, technical services librarians are reference librarians -- the only difference between us and our public services colleagues is that our patrons are our fellow librarians. We answer questions every day, using our technical services training and experience to provide information that public services people need to do their jobs.
Many online catalogs now include records for relevant WWW sites with hot links to reach them directly through the library system. To catalog those sites, you must know how to access them and how to describe them. That means knowing the technology. And the same thing goes for computer disks (increasing in number ever day) and CD-ROMs and the networks that access them. You have to look at a CD-ROM to catalog it.
How do we use the Internet and the World
Technical services librarians run the systems that keep catalogs functioning. We use RLIN, OCLC, and other networks that are now available over the Internet. If we are part of that giant network, we need to know how to use it. When I can't find a record on my bibliographic utility, I use the Internet to search individual library catalogs that may hold the piece I'm trying to catalog.
For true cooperative acquisitions programs to work, libraries must have access to other libraries' catalogs. The easiest way? Over the Internet. Is your law school contemplating a new subject concentration, or is your firm taking on a new area of practice? To start building a new part of your collection, besides relying on the standard bibliographies, you could dial into a library known for having a good collection in a particular area and peruse its material by subject heading, or title key word.
E-mail makes communications easy. Discussion lists provide a unique opportunity for the technical services staff, because we don't seem to have the occasions for networking and sharing resources that public services people have. Library conferences are top heavy with public services programs and technical services workshops are few and far between. Even the nature of the work in public services invites collaboration that does not occur in technical services. So, with a little knowledge and effort on our part, we can begin sharing ideas and seeking solutions to common problems.
One of my columns focused on Web sites of use to technical services staff. There are places to find Cutter tables, foreign publishing terms, general language dictionaries, and classification schedules for catalogers. Sites for collection development have links to publishers' catalogs (also of use to catalogers for determining supplementation), and library catalogs. Many departments have put their procedure manuals on Web pages, for access by their own staff and others. Even if the Web page is housed at your own institution, you have to know how to get there to be able to use it.
Who should train law library technical
services personnel in the use of this
Look to your own resources first. There may be training programs for students or staff in public services. Ask if you can sit in. When I felt the need to learn more about LEXIS/NEXIS searching, I attended a student training session taught by one of our reference librarians. Or there may be the opportunity for some less formal instruction from one of your colleagues. Perhaps you have a computer person on staff who would be willing to spend an hour showing you the ins and outs of surfing the Net. And it's a great opportunity to acquaint that person with the mysterious inner workings of technical services.
There is also the concept of cross-training. We hear about it in athletics, and it's a good plan for a library. Cross-training allows everyone in the library to become acquainted with all aspects of library procedure by learning and doing other jobs. And, for technical services, which always seems to be an enigma to everyone, cross-training is a great marketing tool.
Are you part of a larger institution? Find out if your university or firm offers workshops on the technology you need to learn. At Boston University, the Information Technology Department runs workshops open to all on topics as diverse as Unix, e-mail, and computer graphics. Also, when we felt in need of an introductory workshop on computer use for everyone in the law library, Anne Myers, our Head of Technical Services, arranged with Information Technology to do a special session developed to address our specific needs -- e-mail, ftp, gopher and the Web. Having people from all departments in one room for just an hour was like a "Cyberspace Outward Bound" experience. We had to interact; the result was a better understanding of how we are different, and similar, in our approaches to technology.
If none of these situations is yours, there are always outside firms that specialize in computer training. I have taken Pagemaker classes, and others have attended sessions including Introduction to Personal Computing, Windows, WordPerfect, and Lotus, topics not taught in the university community.
You could combine resources with other libraries to share training or develop some classes through your local professional organization. Law Librarians of New England runs an annual legal bibliography class, which is always well attended. Here in Boston NELINET offers many opportunities and, in researching this article, I received a brochure from SOLINET containing their class offerings. Check with your network for training opportunities.
One of the predicaments of computer training is the reality of dealing with the people involved. It's the same problem associated with any change in procedure. Some people will take to computers easily, some will have to be gently led by the hand, and some will have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the keyboard. Take advantage of the people who take to it naturally, but not too much advantage. Offer opportunities for more advanced training, if that will help make instruction the easier. Encourage the timid people to get involved through a personal interest or a specific area of knowledge; many a person has learned to use a mouse by playing solitaire, and discovered how to use the Web by looking for a movie review. In the worst case scenarios, a mandate may be necessary, something like distributing all department memos via e-mail instead of paper, or putting all new procedural documentation on the departmental Web page. Not everyone needs to learn HTML and how to set up a page, but everyone does need to know how to find the page in order to use it.
So, then, what specifically should
technical services people know about
That depends on your job and the tools available. I would suggest the basics, such as what I've covered in my columns -- learn the terminology of the Internet, how to use e-mail (for personal communications and for participating in discussion lists), Usenet (for discussion lists), how to access the Internet (ftp, gopher, telnet, etc.), and how to navigate the World Wide Web. Mastering these technologies may also entail learning Windows and a word processing program, two areas of knowledge crucial in today's technology.
Whether your institution is on the cutting or dull edge of the technological revolution, you should at least know what's in use and if it can help you do your job. If that information, and the knowledge of how to use the technology, aren't readily forthcoming, push for it. Technical services librarians can make just as valuable use of these tools as anyone in the library. Techies unite!
See you in Cyberspace!