I’m doing a showcase at OLA/WLA 2008 this year, so I’m gathering all my thoughts together.
Classes are now being offered at 11 branches. Of the two remaining branches, only one could host classes, the other is very small and is open only very limited hours. This in itself normally wouldn’t stop me, but we have classes starting at a nearby branch, so if that fills the main need we’ll be good. If it becomes apparent that something is needed at the tiny branch, then we’ll have to work something out.
As usual, every branch is very different. It’s funny because what happened in the first 8 or 9 months was that the more formal classes evolved into one-on-one sessions at many of our branches, and this we greatly appreciated by all. However, some of the recent additions to the roster, where we started the service as one-on-one, have been desirous of more group activity. So I’ve had to backpeddle a little bit, and try to figure out a way to offer a good class to a small group of people, with just one or two computers, or a laptop.
Oh, that’s a new one too – all our libraries now have wifi, so it’s possible to circumvent all the strange restrictions on our internet computers, and worry less about the catalog computers, and just provide a session using a tool that will look more like what the patron is already using. A lot of people are getting a laptop as their first computer, which is creating all kinds of interesting issues – for example, mouse usage. Most laptops come with the little touch pad and buttons for moving the arrow around the screen. You can plug in a mouse and use it, but a lot of people are simply learning to use the touch pad, which means that when they come to a class, or try to use another computer, they hit a roadblock – they don’t know how to use the mouse. This can add a level of confusion with determining which class would be a good fit for them – based on their mouse skills, we might want to start them out at the very beginning. But they might be very savvy on the basics, and are looking for more advanced search skills. But they can’t take classes on our computers because of the mouse.
Some other updates – we started doing a new set of classes called “Find Info.” These are offered twice per month at the main library, on a different topic each time, with some topics recurring periodically. One of our most successful of these classes is the Find Info: Shopping class, where we teach people how to use ebay, amazon, and craigslist, among other popular shopping sites. When some of our branches where we can offer larger classes heard about theses classes, they asked if we could do some of them for their monthly session, and so we started doing that.
Issues with taking the Find Info classes out to the branches: When you only go to a library once per month to offer one or two classes, then you have a different dynamic from the main branch, where you can offer classes ten or twelve times per month. At a branch, you want to start out with the basics, which is where the real need is – people who don’t have any other way to learn the basic skills to get started. So you’ll always get some people who are at this level, which makes it hard to take a month away from basic teaching to do more advanced teaching. However, there is a way to make classes like the Find Info classes easy to access, by making them at least partially demonstrative, and by tying in the activities that people are doing/seeing with other things they will do or see on the internet. So, ebay is a great site for teaching people about shopping, but it’s also great for teaching people about the difference between subjects and keywords, evaluating sources, determining credibility, and practicing safe techniques. I’m hoping to do a full presentation on this very topic at some conferences later this year.
Another update – starting in February or so, mainly because i had so many scheduling conflicts from vacations and things – I had to start letting other librarians in my department do some of the branch classes. Up to that point, it had been mostly me, with some of them going with me on the longer trips to help teach. I’d been at it for about a year, however, and I started to realize that it was time to let others take over some of the burden, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of the program – I have my way of doing things, and my areas of expertise, and if people get used to that and expect it, it will be harder for another librarian to step in and be of help to them. Now that all the other librarians have had some turns going to the branches and teaching classes and doing things one-on-one, I think that the program is overall a lot stronger because if I’m sick or traveling, the classes won’t suffer as long as someone can get to the branch.
That’s also part of my philosophy of creating programs and services – I like the feeling of being indispensable, but I’d rather have a service that can survive over time if I need to move on. At this point, with everyone taking part, it would be less of a shock to the system if anything like that were to happen. Plus, it’s freed me up a bit to pursue some other program ideas I’ve been working on but haven’t been able to find the time to pursue.
Here’s something – Regular scheduling has its pros and cons. Right now, our classes are based on a schedule model of “the same day of the month, every month,” so for example, a class will be in the same place every “second Monday of the month.” This works great for travel days , and makes some sense for scheduling our main computer lab – regularity means predictability for scheduling on our end. However, beyond these regular class days and times, I’m thinking of offering more random classes, one-shots and so forth. I don’t think we could support a regular monthly class about Excel, but we could do a class once, and see what the attendance and response is. We could do one about Computer Maintenance practices, and see how that one goes. A test-bed for classes, if you will. Hey, maybe that could be once a month on the same day…
If you put out enough of your schedule far enough in advance, then you can put more random classes into the mix, because people will have more time to find out about them.
I had this thought last night while i was writing but by the time i finished writing about that other thing that i was writing about, i forgot this thing, until i got out to one of my classes, and i was talking to the librarian and i remembered.
My thought: How does it affect attendance, sign-ups, popularity, success, etc. to restrict how soon people can sign up for a class. Some larger library systems do not allow people to sign up until three weeks before any given class. Currently, we let people sign up as far in advance as they want – we have a schedule set for up to three months ahead, and people can sign up for any class that we have scheduled.
Theory: The farther in advance that people can sign up, the more likely it is that one or more of those people will not be able to attend. Even when we call people a day or two ahead to remind them, our attendance for some of our classes is low.
Fear: If we don’t allow people to sign up for the classes until 3-4 weeks before the class, we won’t have very many people signing up for the classes.
Solutions? Well, what about a longer sign up period - say, 6 weeks. There can be a waiting list. Call people ahead of time to remind them like usual. Inform people on the waiting list that there has been a cancellation.
What about a “drop-in” time for computer-related questions? In the timeslot schedule, you could leave one of the hours open for “Computer Q&A” if that seems like it would be useful – a lot of times i’ll get someone in a class that just has one question – “how do i open an attachment” or “How do i add an attachement” or “how do i use craigslist,” or even “what is craigslist?” These are questions that a reference librarian can ehlp with, but some of them are also ‘hands-on’ – such as the email type questions, which will differ slightly depending on the program.
So I’m looking at doing a little “streamlining” on how i organize these classes that go out to our branches. In general I think this will have a positive response from everyone – it’s not like i’m firing anyone or anything horrid like that.
For the first 8 months of this program, pretty much every class time at a branch has had two library instructors. The reason for this was that our original model for the classes was based on the idea that one person would talk and instruct, and the people in the class would follow along and ask questions. Because we were dealing with a small number of computers in any given area, most classes like this were just 3-4 people. In other cases, where there were only two computers, the two instructors simply paired off and did one-on-one instruction with the students signed up for the classes. In another case, where there are plenty of computers, but never that many people signed up, we would often do the same thing – one instructor goes with one or two students, the other instructor goes with the other two.
Any time you’re teaching to a group of people, even if it’s just two or three people, there’s a lot of time lost in making sure that everyone is keeping up with the speed of the class. That means that the class moves along at the speed of the person who is having the most trouble, or has the greatest need. In that case, a 90 minute class can be barely sufficient to get through any given class topic, and some students won’t get a lot out of the classes for their time.
So, if you can expect that you’ll only have three or four students, then you might consider going to a one-on-one schedule, and signing them up for 45 minute time slots, with a little break in between (even five minutes can give you a chance to regroup, etc.). In three hours you can see 4 people, and each one of them will get more for their time than if they’d sat through the 90 minute class. Is 3 hours for you a better use of your time than 90 minutes? Well, in our model, with two librarians in attendance, that’s 3 staff hours anyway, plus travel time for both staff members.
By going to a single instructor model, and going with time slots, you can be a lot more flexible – only one librarian’s schedule is affected, which means getting coverage is a lot easier. Further, instead of committing to the travel time twice (once for each librarian), you only have to commit once.
Consider: 2 librarians go to a class at a local branch. They have to leave at 9:30 a.m. to arrive by 10 a.m. From 10-1, they work with people one-on-one. In total, they help 6-8 people. Afterwards, they debrief with local staff and head back to their main branch, arriving there at 1:45. That means that two librarians are tied up from 9-2, or 10 staff hours. 10 hours to help 6-8 people. If one librarian goes to the branch, and stays there from 10-5, with a lunch in between, they can see 6-8 students (depending on how much time is scheduled per student – 45 minutes or an hour), have lunch in between, and travel to and from their home library, in 9 hours. One hour is saved, but on top of that, the second librarian can work on all their other projects and things. Plus, an extra sub doesn’t have to be called in to cover hours, etc.
On top of all that, if you offer classes from 10-1 once per month, then your students will only be people who can get to the library on that day of the week and during those hours. By being their over a whole day you give more people access to you than you would have otherwise.
If you have a 3 person class that you teach, and it takes 2 hours, plus the travel time either way, you’ve got 8 staff hours committed for 3 people – one librarian could do the same amount of instruction, with one hour sessions with each person, in 5 hours. (including travel, etc.) Add an hour or two on there, and that one person can see 5 or 6 people.
So really, the two librarian model works best when you have class sizes in excess of 5 or 6, or when you have a very long way to travel for classes of 3 or 4, where you wouldn’t have the flexibility to stay longer to see more students in a regular work day.
All in all, i think once you’ve committed to driving somewhere, you would do well to do as much as you can while you’re there.
Overall, I’m trying to revamp the computer classes, in what they offer and in how they’re perceived. As we do more and more classes out at the branches, I need to make sure i have regular dates and times for everything. So I have a calendar that stretches several months into the future now, instead of creating one month to month, which was how classes were planned previously. It wasn’t completely pell-mell before – the classes at our main branch were offered on the same days and at the same times, but the classes rotated randomly, and the final schedule was usually set in stone only a couple weeks before the next month. I think this worked okay when we were only offering a handful of standard classes. Now, we’re starting to offer unique classes mixed with the old standbys. We’ve got some classes that don’t need to be offered once per month – they could go once every two or three months. We’ve got a population that’s had all the basic classes, and wants to learn more – about email, about the internet, about ebay, about myspace, about all kinds of things. If we can plan a little farther into the future, and tell people about it, maybe we can offer some of these unique classes and actually have people hear about them and show up.
OK, what else? Well, to that end, I’m putting together a catalog of class dates and times, for the whole district. Now all the classes offered will be in one thing that we can hand to people, so they can make plans. I think a lot of folks at the branches didn’t know that we offered a lot of classes at the main branch, until we started doing a class at their branch. This might be a way to give people a variety of classes that they can plan for.
And, I just did my first evening class at a branch. 6-8 pm, after the library had closed. I ran into a little trouble right at the start – the system that controls internet access blocked me from signing people on for the class because the library was closed, and it was set to lock down at 5:55 pm, and not unlock until the next morning. I couple of quick phone calls later and i had the right person, so i was able to restart the computers and have them work. But 6pm is stretching it to find a person with administrative access to that particular computer system. I count myself super lucky today.
The class itself was great. Instead of taking one of our librarians along, the librarian of that branch stayed to help out. The attendees for the class were all adults in their 40′s (as far as i could tell). This is a major shift from our daytime class crowd, which is typically seniors. This is only one of 2 evening classes that we offer system wide, but if we want to reach people who work regular jobs, we’ll need to offer our classes at more diverse times, not just more diverse places. It was a great class, too – they had a variety of experiences and knowledge. They were more familiar with the lingo and with some of the big sites online, like ebay, craigslist, and myspace, but were uncomfortable trying things on their own.
When I’m doing classes on branch Internet terminals, which have the SAM interface (as opposed to our catalog computers, which we can just switch to full internet for the day) I have to log each user on using a dummy card. The dummy cards are great, because they have two hour time limits on them instead of one hour like regular users. They can also be logged on for more than one two hour session per day. However, most classes start with a bit of a spiel about “what is email” or “what is the internet” with a little bit of Q&A on both sides to figure out where we are and where we’re going with the class. Most students at this point are afraid to touch the computer in front of them for fear of breaking it, so most people just sit with their hands in their laps and don’t even look at the screen. After ten minutes of being idle, our SAM computers give a warning pop-up, then log off a minute later. So inevitably by the time I’ve gotten to the part of the class where we go ‘hands on’ all the computers are logged off, and we have to scramble around logging them all on again. Well, that’s easily solved. We’ll just wait to log them on until we’re ready to go. We even make it a part of the class – “this is how you log on. Next time you’ll use your own card, etc.”
We’ve started doing a combination staff/patron class series that deals with searching for information on a specific topic, or using specific tools. The class approaches the topic with a little bit of talk about the quirks of that topic and why people come to the library to look for that topic, then goes on to show how to search for information on that topic in the catalog, in our databases, and on the internet. I do my best to define databases quickly, and focus more on which ones will be most helpful and how to get to them from home and from the library. We’ve done two of these classes so far, with two scheduled for each month. Our first topics were “Health” and “Travel.” Coming up we have “Investing,” “Readers Advisory,” “ILL/WorldCat,” and “Genealogy.” Our target audience for these classes is our branch staff, where staff at all levels are more likely to get reference-type questions from patrons. The classes are designed to introduce some of the main resources in a given subject area so that staff can at least suggest some places for patrons to look for the information. So far it’s been mostly staff in the classes, and the one patron we had for the Travel class seemed overwhelmed. I tried to be as helpful as i could and still move the class along, but since i was the only one teaching (sometimes we have a second librarian involved in these classes, just in case someone is needing a little extra help to keep up), i don’t think i was able to get them the attention they needed. About 40 minutes in, the patron left. I felt awful. I’ll be looking at ways to remedy those situations in the future, though my colleagues assure me that sometimes people just realize they’re not ready for the material, and leave. Still…
Well, only a couple more classes at the branches this month. We had our biggest class ever yesterday, 8 people in the first class and 9 people in the second. We were lucky to have help from the branch staff, otherwise it could have gone quite badly. The first class was “Free email” which involves explaining what email is, and then helping people set up their own free email address that they can get to from any internet linked computer. For people who are Internet savvy, signing up for an email address is pretty easy stuff, and takes all of five minutes. For someone who has never been on the Internet before and doesn’t understand what email is or why they need it, it’s quite a different matter. With four of us helping 8 students, we were able to explain what email is, get the students to myway.com – the free email that we use for classes – get them through the sign-up process, get them to write down their new email address, send an email to another class member, and open an email from another class member. We got them to sign out and sign back in from scratch. That took two hours, with all four of us running around like crazy.
Some people like to click on things, and look at what they see. In a class like Free Email, this can be nice, or it can work against you – it all depends on where they go, and if they can get back to where you need them to be so that what you’re telling the class makes sense. Other people won’t click on anything unless you’re standing next to them saying “Yes, click on that.”
Some of these folks will practice their new email skills over the coming month, some of them won’t. Next month when we come back to that branch, we’ll do email again with most of the same students. If they remember their username and password, things’ll be good all around – we can make in an ‘intermediate’ class on email and get some more practice in. If they don’t, well at least there will be one or two people around to help them get back up to speed while most of the class is working on new things.
Internet was the other class we taught yesterday, with nine people. Some of the people had taken the class before, and were able to follow along well enough. Others were still working on getting good mouse skills. It’s important when signing people up for a computer class that requires good mouse skills to do a little reference interview to determine where they’re at. People might be embarrassed to admit that they don’t know how to use a mouse, but if you’re supportive and encouraging, and you provide them with the means to do a mouse tutorial, and let them know that it will help them get a lot more out of the class, then you might be able to talk them into it.
All in all, it was a successful day yesterday, but i was exhausted afterwards – having a eighty minute drive at the beginning and end of the day didn’t help either – (did i mention that the branch we were teaching classes at was 80 minutes away?)
But it’s worth it. We’ve been doing these branch classes for about four months now, and it’s taken a bit of time for them to really take off in some of the branches. Now that most of the branches are up and running with a regular schedule, we’re seeing classes filling up with people, we’re seeing support from the local staff, and we’re starting to wonder if we can add more class times. I think we’ll hold off on adding any more times at the branches we’ve already started, and focus on getting the ones we have yet to add onto the schedule. I’m hoping that by the end of the year we’ll have every branch in the district on a regular schedule for classes.
Wow – if it takes until then to get all the branches up and running, the whole process will have taken about a year.
So here’s my situation: One of the branches that i go to, the classes are very popular. They have four Internet stations together, and we conduct the class from 9-11 in the morning before the library opens. We go twice per month, every couple of weeks. The classes are signed up through the end of August – six to eight weeks out. That’s great, except that when you learn something new, it can be helpful to repeat the process several times. Maybe that’s why the classes are full, but it also doesn’t leave room for any new people to get into the classes. We can’t use those computers for a longer time, because they’re very popular with the public during open hours. We could go more often, but I’m hesitant to add another day or two per month when I’ve still got other libraries that don’t have any days of the month.
Here’s what I thought – there are four computers together, and these work good for little classes. There’s a regular, non-Internet computer in another area that doesn’t get heavy use. It’s one of the catalog and database computers. We can “switch on” the Internet on these computers if we need to. So maybe if we do the regular classes first, then move to the single computer, we could sign people up for one-on-one time in 30 minute increments. Presto, we’re helping more people during our visit (once you’re there, you might as well do as much as you can, right? Gas prices aren’t getting much lower…)
Plus, some people feel more comfortable learning in a class setting, and others really need that one-on-one interaction to get up and running. I’m going to kick this idea around for a day or two, and then see if it will work.
My initial phase of getting classes out to all the branches is more or less complete – I’ve set up a regular rotating schedule with seven of the twelve potential locations, and have materials prepared and organized. I have help conducting classes for most of the times/dates.
Next six months: I’d like to get the rest of the libraries on board with some regular classes. Also, one of the things i’ll be keeping an eye on is local staff involvement. At the outset, I think there was some worries on the part of the branch staff that the classes would take up a lot of time in their already busy schedule. At some locations now, the librarians and other staff are starting to spend some time with us while we do the classes, and have expressed an interest in working on some of the classes with us, if we need extra help. So it seems possible that after an initial period of time, we might be able to reduce the number of instructors traveling to the locations to just one instructor, if the local librarian or other staff person is interested and has enough time allowed in their schedule to do so.
I’m undecided as to whether it’s better or worse to have classes at two different locations on the same day – on the one hand, I’m already out there teaching, so why not just do that? On the other hand, I have other things that need doing at my desk, and other projects that I’m working on, so it’s nice to not be gone all day all the time. We’ll just have to see how the schedule pans out, I suppose – potentially adding five more classes per month to my schedule is going to take some creative scheduling, and it may be a moot point which schedule is ideal.
So, even though i brought the folders for the three most popular classes to the last May class, we still could have used some of the materials from other classes.
Solution: Portable file box. File folders with twenty or so copies of every one of our handouts. Props (like a piece of internal hardware from a dead computer), laser pointer, dummy library cards with longer internet times. All-In-One. Multiply times two – one box for taking the classes to the branches, the other box for doing classes at the main branch. Teachers have everything for the classes on hand.
Possible extras: disks, small USB drive, business cards (for the library Info line), pamphlets (not all of them, just a couple that are really relevant to continuing education, like the “how to use our databases” one, or the “search our catalog” one.
Idea: our computer lab has six computers. Sign up six employees for training on “Find Info: Topics” classes (for specific searching techniques and electronic resources in a given topic, like Health or Travel.) Open up registration for the same class for patrons, up to 3 patrons. If all three patrons arrive, then the employees double up on three computers, patrons get individual computers. Conduct class with max. nine students. Employees trade off getting hands-on, but have more follow-up resources (because we work in proximity to each other) than patrons. Volunteers help, or second librarian at class to work with patrons and staff as the teacher goes through the program.