One of our team members recently completed an assessment of the pilot site program that’s been running in Romania for the past eight months. Through the Global Libraries – Romania pilot program, 12 libraries were equipped with computers (anywhere from four to 16, depending on the size of the library), printers, and webcams, and librarians were trained in basic computer skills and Public Access Computer (PAC) center management.
I’m new to the GL team, and reading the report gave me a strong sense of what’s been happening with the program, as well as some things to consider as we look ahead to national program implementation.
Many of the librarians developed services and programs in response to community need, services that had not been covered in the training programs. It’s clear that the introduction of this new equipment has inspired librarians to think about their libraries, and their libraries’ relationship to the community, in a different way. Some examples:
- Librarians are developing and leveraging relationships with local government officials to accomplish a variety of tasks, from increasing staffing levels, to purchasing books and fixtures, to accomplishing small renovation projects. Many librarians are also involving government officials in library events, a definite win-win situation.
- Librarians are making connections with community groups – schools, orphanages, NGOs, retiree groups – and also establishing community advisory boards (Friends groups in the making?).
- Using this equipment was, for many library patrons, a first encounter with computers, and quite a lot of one-on-one instruction was needed. This put a strain on librarians’ ability to perform their other job functions, and many began scheduling regular computer training courses for their patrons.
- Librarians have demonstrated enormous enthusiasm for the program, to the point of using vacation time to attend regional training sessions.
Many libraries have physical layouts that limit placement of the computers.
Librarians are experimenting with different options, with mixed results. Some have used a separate room, but having the computers away from the librarian’s primary work station has made oversight of the computers difficult. Places where the computers are grouped together have dealt with noise issues, and, in some cases, generational discord. Based on the experiences of these librarians, we’re planning to develop suggested guidelines for computer placement under different conditions / with different space limitations.
Managing the line
Monitoring the queue for computer use is something libraries have struggled with since the advent of public access computing. All pilot site libraries have implemented time limits and posted guidelines for using the computers. Managing the waitlist, though, is time consuming and frustrating. This just isn’t what people sign on to librarianship to do. Going forward, the training courses will have a greater emphasis on line management best practices.
From advertising the new service, to monitoring use, to providing instructional courses, librarians are experiencing a dramatic increase to their workload. The majority are “solo librarians” with multiple tasks to manage. Some local governments have responded by adding a librarian, but this has been the exception and not the rule. There has been initiative in recruiting volunteers, but we want to see some best practices developed (hopefully by the librarians who have used volunteers). Volunteers can be wonderful, but managing them has the potential to be a minefield.
Considerations for the national program
One key to success in the national program will be facilitating communication between librarians. Since librarians will be experiencing similar situations and challenges, there is an opportunity for collaborative problem solving and development of best practices. Social networking, of course, is one venue. We’re also discussing sending librarians through the training courses in cohorts to encourage the establishment of long-term working relationships.
There will have to be a broad focus on policy, as many libraries will be in need of new and revised policies. I personally hope that a strong network of librarians will emerge to work on this together.
Perhaps what is most exciting is the ripple effect the pilot program has had beyond the libraries directly involved. Other libraries are picking up programming ideas and implementing them without any support from our program. Mayors are getting competitive about who will be involved in the national program, to the point of allocating funds now for renovation and preparation of libraries.
The results of the pilot program give me great hope for the national program. We do have to keep in mind, though, that our staff won’t be able to provide the individualized support that the 12 pilot libraries experienced to the hundreds of libraries that will be involved in the program. Still, we have learned quite a lot from this experience, and we’ve been able to adjust the program and our mindsets as we prepare to move forward.
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