In December 2012, I was asked to create my personal performance goals for my library board. I do this every year and then evaluate myself the following year with documentation so that the board can see what I've been doing. One of my performance goals was to implement the Edge Benchmarks. This was before hardly anyone had ever heard of it. When the opportunity arose to be a pilot site for the state, I jumped on it, thinking that we'd already done so much on this that we could work even harder and have a valid excuse to spend time on it.
Pilot libraries did the initial assessment. Now we are attending webinars to expand our knowledge and planning as we move forward with the initiative. I was very excited before my first webinar. Edge is a well-organized program with common sense goals. However, to my disappointment, I am again faced with the fact that my library has already accomplished the things that they are teaching. It is becoming harder and harder to find training for my employees and myself that challenges us. This fact sent me on a virtual treasure hunt to find training anywhere in the country that would be both challenging and relevant. Sadly, after hours of searching, I haven't found a thing.
I do not think that my employees are genius librarians. I do, however, think they are held to a much higher standard. The things I am hearing in these webinars makes me very happy that it's not a live class. You see, I can mutter degrading things to a screen and, as long as my microphone is muted, nobody gets hurt. In one webinar, someone made the suggestion - and was supported by most of the class - that libraries team up with local organizations that are experts in technology to offer better service to patrons.
Hold on a minute. Aren't libraries supposed to be that local organization that is an expert in technology??
Where have we gone wrong? How did we let it get this far?
I'll tell you that front line staff is not to blame for this. The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the board of directors and the library director. Technology expertise should not be a bonus - it should be a requirement. It should be at the top of the job description and should be confirmed before any library director is offered the job.
But, you might argue, libraries don't have enough money to hire a technologically-superior person to serve as director. While I'm sure there are more graceful ways to say it, I'm just calling BULLSHIT on that whole argument.
In another webinar, one person was surprised that we require technical skills and test our employees on it. Where, they asked, did we find a resource to develop and train the employees? The answer is easy - we did it ourselves. And, even more amazing (to them) was that we are offering them to any library in the country to use and edit as they see fit. Is this asking too much from employees? No, absolutely not. In fact, today I met with a group of employees for another library to explain the journey on which they were about to embark. I showed them how to competencies work and explained the reasons behind them. They were excited to start. They didn't shrink back in horror. The only reason that this library opted to offer competencies is because they have a director that understands the value. Small libraries should be doing competencies to save their director's sanity. When a patron comes in the door and asks a question, front desk staff will often find the director to answer the question. This is the absolutely wrong thing to do - but we've all become so used to it that it seems like the correct thing to do.
Why do we need competencies?
The answer is very simple. Libraries need to remain relevant. They also need to make themselves valuable to their communities. If you think for one minute that having bestsellers on your shelf is going to keep you valuable, you're living in the 1950s. Library directors should be inundated with requests from organizations and businesses to assist them with their in-house technology. Is your library getting these calls? If not, you have nobody to blame but yourself.
Holding directors accountable
You cannot expect your library employees to go out and teach themselves. You also shouldn't expect your employees to know something you don't - particularly when it comes to technology. If you are scared of it, or don't like it, or can't keep up, I'd recommend you either retire or become a librarian to the Amish.
I have never taken a computer class. When I was in high school we still had typing classes with those old manual typewriters. I do not have a particularly fast learning curve when it comes to technology. However, if I want to do my job well, I have to keep current. For me, it involves blogs and magazines and play and experimentation. I never sit there and say, "Well, I never learned that" and then just not do it.
As I've said before, I think state standards should be raised. I think the CEU requirements should be increased significantly. Internally, we have already increased CEUs and it is having a very positive effect. I think waivers should only be given on a rare occasion. And for only 1 year. Everyone stumbles, but if you can't get it together after a year, you should lose a portion of your state funding until you can meet the standards.
I can hear my peers groaning already. "But we don't have enough money!" "We don't have the resources to train everybody." "Without state money, we'd have to close because we don't get much local funding." All I can say to you is "WAAAHHHHH." If libraries had a better reputation for technological expertise, maybe the money would follow. When you are needed, there is a much better chance that you'll be funded.
At the end of last evening's webinar, I had to push myself to stay awake. I don't blame the trainers, I blame the people who attended. These people were excited to learn about Tech Petting Zoos. (Really?)
If you have any influence at all in your library, please please please, march into work tomorrow and fight for competencies. Even better, we've already done the work for you. I'll even consult with you to make these competencies fit into your library's plans. But do something. Make your library a technology goldmine!