Creating a community of connected learners in the NZ library landscape: Could we? Should we?

In recent months I have been contemplating ways of facilitating professional development for our wider public library team – currently a very diverse group of 50 plus people.  Some are highly qualified professionals, some are quite content to rock up on a daily basis to perform mundane tasks, and have little interest in developing their skills or in climbing the library ladder.  The very diversity of their needs makes the challenge even greater.

In addition to this, my ‘other’ work takes me back into the world of school libraries, where there is an urgent imperative for school librarians to become ‘connected learners’, who can support digital teaching and learning in their schools, and lead the charge as Ultra Fast Broadband is rolled out around the country. The needs of both communities are remarkably similar, in my view.  There is a desperate need for information professionals to embrace connectivity as the way forward in their professional practice, and in service delivery.

In order to do this successfully, we need to first provide opportunities for staff to immerse themselves in the technologies, wallow in their application, and explore ways that we can leverage them for the benefit of all.  By ‘owning’ the technology and becoming, if not experts, at least confident co-learners, we can begin to move the beliefs, dispositions and values of our team members towards a real commitment to connectivity as the primary way we do business.

There has been much talk, and I have been one of the talkers, pushing the notion that our people need to get online, use Twitter, learn to blog, develop a personal learning network, and begin to make connections, find useful tools, and pull all of this learning and connectivity into their daily practice.  But where is the help for the many among us who do not have a natural aptitude towards technology?  How are we providing the opportunities, the support, the encouragement, and the vital feedback that they need?  As an early adopter, I need to remind myself that in order to change the disposition of these, often reluctant, learners, I need to understand their uncertainties, and, even more importantly, I need to acknowledge that they do not necessarily have any intrinsic motivation driving them forward on the connected learner’s path.  They are not in love with the tools themselves, and so struggle to understand how and why they should be using them.

I had half an ear on a webinar with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach last week, and went on to download a copy of The connected educator: Learning and leading in a digital age.  The thing that makes this approach different to others is that the writers provide an online platform and environment within which the readers (and learners) can connect.  I am only part-way into the book, but already see how these ideas can translate directly to the world of libraries.  There is tremendous power in being digitally connected, but many of our colleagues just don’t know how to get there…  and the consequences for libraries and librarians who do not take the leap into the digital world are, in my view, grim.

So my question is, how do we strategically support our library teams in becoming connected learners?  First, let me acknowledge that there is significant work being done by individuals and organisations – National Library are providing excellent online initiatives with communities where learning and sharing are beginning to happen.  SLANZA provides an excellent wiki which acts as both repository for resources and as a forum for discussion.  We have a diverse range of listservs to which we can subscribe, and LIANZA provide excellent access to a diverse range of professional learning opportunities.  There doesn’t, however, appear to be any component in formal library education for frontline librarians that relates to digital connectivity.  Is it time that we all asked that question of the providers?

There are a plethora of online activities that individuals can complete, as part of their learning journeys – if they have the intrinsic motivation to do so.  You can go off and do the 23 Things, and learn much of what you need to know by so doing.  By completing the activities, you will ultimately form your own personal learning network, and by way of that, become a member of a connected learning community.  But wouldn’t it be more effective if we had our own connected library community, in the broadest sense, here in New Zealand?  Where all librarians could begin their journey, find all of the resourses, links and ongoing support from mentors that they needed?  Where an already established community would be there to encourage, respond, connect, advise and collaborate with them on their journey. This recent post on Powerful Learning Communities reinforces the value of encouragement as a facilitator of connection in an online community.

We are each, in our own silos, beavering away at reinventing not just wheels, but dancing on a treadmill of our own making.  There is so much advantage in collaborative learning, and the act of collaborative learning is, in and of itself, something to be encouraged and celebrated.  Can we work together as a national community of librarians to facilitate a community of connected learners?  Might we then position ourselves to lead in the digital age?

Please share your thoughts –  am I imagining the reinvention of yet another wheel?  Or is there merit in a collaborative approach, and a shared platform for connected library professionals, learning together?


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13 Responses to Creating a community of connected learners in the NZ library landscape: Could we? Should we?

  1. Sally says:

    I’m the kind of person who likes to strip things down to the bare essentials before figuring out potential possibilities. Here’s my take on your blog post:
    * You’d like to find a way to offer professional development opportunities that all library teams want to participate in.
    * Organisations such as LIANZA and the National Library have some great initiatives but these don’t offer the advantages of collaboration.
    * A suggestion is to develop a community of connected learners for librarians.

    As you’ve indicated there are a plethora of professional development opportunities out there already. Yet they aren’t being widely used or shared. Therefore, I think that the only way this will work is if we create an environment where library teams want to participate.

    With that in mind: what will make your library team want to participate in professional development initiatives?

    Here’s a list of what would make me participate – relevant to my job, fun, not too time intensive, practical, relevant to my community, makes it easier for me to get stuff done rather than adds my list of stuff to get done, voluntary, produces results, recognition of results.

    • Thanks for your reply Sally.
      You have, as always, come to the heart of the matter perfectly. I believe that we need cross-sector collaboration in the library world, we have a need to upskill our staff in the digital environment, and that a platform which offered fun, relevant, timely access to useful tools, how-to guides, and was supported by mentors who could chime in with comments, encouragement, suggestions and feedback – this kind of platform might easily grow and become well-used. We are all thinking about how to do this in small pockets of interest so why not collaborate for the wider good?

  2. Fiona says:

    Thanks for excellent post, and thought provoking response from Sally.
    It is hard to find a one-size-fits-all. We need to be able to create a community of learning across regional and sectoral boundaries, and that needs to be facilitated by someone, or some body, (LIANZA?) providing leadership, vision, and resources.
    We do not lack desire or enthusiasm as a profession, but I think many of us, individually, lack the time and resources to commit to establishing and developing something that would then make our professional lives more rewarding, more fun, and more effective! I find it hard enough in my own workplace!
    I think this is a great conversation to be having. I think an online community of practice and learning for the Library profession would be a very valuable and powerful thing.
    I feel a Working Party coming on 🙂

    • Thanks for your response Fiona. Like you, I think it deserves some real thought and discussion, and probably does mean a working party! Eeek!
      I am hoping that we can look at what we are already doing well in various sectors and on a variety of platforms, and work in a cross-sector environment to consolidate our efforts for the benefit of everyone. Warning, though. Collaboration is hard. But worth it.

  3. Sally says:

    In the next Library Life issue I’m going to be providing an update on the most common challenges for libraries, as discussed at a workshop session at the LIANZA conference. Not surprisingly, one major challenge is staff development in all its forms – professional registration, finding time, keeping relevant, recognition etc. As a first step I’m going to ask for volunteers to brainstorm possibilities for addressing this issue and then for people who are interested in making it happen.

    Perhaps this is a good opportunity to see else (in the library profession) thinks the same, AND wants to do something about it.

    • I agree, Sally, this is an area of concern for all libraries, and it’s not going away any time soon. Great idea to link it to the work you have already done and generate more discussion. I have emailed Hana to see if a precis or update of my blog post would be a good idea in the next issue, so maybe we can work together to link the articles… thoughts?

  4. Sally says:

    Excellent idea! I’ll send a draft through to you when it’s ready.

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  6. Bridget says:

    I’d been keen to be involved in a collaboration on these kind of things. Sally raises excellent points and speaking on behalf of school librarians I’ve met and done workshops with, it seems that people who are unsure of where to start really like to be guided step-by-step through the learning processes, but this leads to a situation where they often don’t /won’t work away by themselves to continue to learn independently with confidence. I really like the idea of a cross-sector project. If you want me to help in any way let me know.

    • Fantastic, thank you Bridget! You are just the sort of brilliant person we need on board. Your expertise at every level would be valuable. There have been a couple of replies away from the blog, so I will be in touch with the group of interested people in the near future to see what comes. Sally and I both have articles coming out in LL today that build on the theme, so I would like to see who or what else comes out of the woodwork before going further.

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  8. sav says:

    WTF “we need to first provide opportunities for staff to immerse themselves in the technologies, wallow in their application, and explore ways that we can leverage them for the benefit of all” !!!

    They need to be doing this in their life and understand how it fits their job.

    Be harsh not kind.

    Or else libraries will just continue to be all about liking nice books and nice people who read them (whether e or not)

    We have ignored the failure of libraries to deliver for too long – do so called librarians really care and if not lets just have nice places for nice people to borrow nice new and clean books

    • I agree with your point about needing to use the technologies in our everyday lives, and yes, probably in our own time. It’s the only way we will truly understand their relevance to our patrons, and why we need to meet them there. My point, though, was that management teams in libraries also need to shift their thinking about workloads and assigned tasks, and acknowledge that we must create a working environment where it’s not only OK, but expected that our staff will be using these tools in their daily work. That’s quite a shift for some!

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