Learning at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

Learning at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library has changed a great deal since I began working there 11 years ago when most training consisted of courses such as how to use Microsoft Office and how to search online resources and databases. In 2005 I moved from a busy regional branch library to the Human Resources department and created the Library’s Core Competencies program and then in 2006 I worked with Helene Blowers on our Learning 2.0/23 Things Program. Once those programs were complete we received less requests for computer training and more requests for soft skills training such as customer service and communication skills.

Why the change? I think our staff are more tech-savvy and willing to try new things and at the same time technology has evolved to become more intuitive for the end-users.

In 2009 we created a Learning Council comprised of about 10 staff members from all facets of the library. We have a person from technical services, IT, children’s services, adult services, and outreach on the team. There are also staff members from large branches as well as small. We’ve tried to have representation from all parts of the library. Once a year the Learning Council meets to discuss training for the next year. We discuss what’s working well, what’s not working well, what skills are staff lacking, what new products might staff need training in. I also meet with a random sampling of managers to ask the same questions.

Last year I took the time to go through the Library’s strategic plan and define competencies that support that plan. Then I focused training on supporting each of those competencies. You can take a look at the complete curriculum here. The courses for that program were conducted by subject matter experts within the library. We have a separate training curriculum for managers and supervisors that is administered by another member of our HR staff.

This year we face new challenges of reduced staff (from more than 600 to about 300) and reduced hours at all of our locations. The workload for our front line staff has not decreased though. If anything our libraries are busier than ever since the unemployment rate in the area hovers around 10%. This makes it difficult for staff to find time to leave their libraries to attend training.

We’ve been making plans to introduce online learning to our staff for the past two years. It took some time to get the infrastructure in place to do this (you need lots of bandwidth!). I knew what kind of solution we needed or at least what I dreamed of!

We use PeopleSoft for all of our HR functions such as payroll and training registration and record-keeping. I wanted a system where I could create content, then publish the content as courses for our staff to take at their convenience, then have the training records automatically updated in PeopleSoft when the training is complete. I knew this solution would be expensive so I posted this on my local ASTD email list to see what recommendations others might have. Dick Handshaw, president of Handshaw, Inc. contacted me to discuss my needs further, then donated hosting of the learning content management system Lumenix to the Library. You can read more about the LCMS in the April 2010 issue of Computers in Libraries. Look for the article When the Going Gets Tough, the Staff Needs More Training. Below you can see a preview of the course software and a demo course.

The hope is with self-paced learning modules, our staff can complete courses at their own pace and convenience. They will not have to sign up for a course months away and travel to a training site. Instead we can provide solutions for learning on demand. When you need the training it’s there and available to you.

Realizing that self-paced training takes a lot of up front time to develop we are also implementing WebEx for live, online or synchronous learning. WebEx will allow staff to attend training, remotely from any location with Internet access. There are a number of similar Web conferencing platforms available.

Because synchronous learning courses can be developed more quickly then self-paced courses, we’ll be able to get more courses out quickly to our staff. However keep in mind that synchronous learning is not the same thing as a webinar. Synchronous learning courses are limited to a small number of individuals and are highly interactive. If you want to become an expert online trainer look no further than InSync Training and their Synchronous Learning Expert certification.

Our plan is over time to have most of our training available online with supplemental face-to-face sessions offered with more hand-on activities. None of this would be possible without the great team of staff we have who provide content for me to put into the online courses. Training, learning, whatever you want to call it, is definitely a team effort. I work with an amazing staff who always find ways to share the information they’ve learned with other staff.

About Lori Reed

Lori Reed, coauthor of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Non-Profit Trainers, is a learning and communication strategist with more than twenty years experience in learning and development. A 2009 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a 2010 "One to Watch" for paralibrarians, Lori graduated cum laude from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Lori is a certified Synchronous Learning Expert and a North Carolina Master Trainer and has traveled across North America speaking about libraries and training.

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