I am often asked how I learned about technology. I have to say that I’ve had little formal training as I started out unless you count the 3 day training session North Dakota held for librarians in 1982. I was a director of a mid-sized public library at the time and (if I must admit) quite a bit younger.
The North Dakota State Library had decided it wanted to replace the teletype machines that were in city/county libraries that we used for interlibrary loan requests. The goal of the training was to give us everything we needed to know to purchase a computer, modem and communications software, get it set up and running, and teach our staff to send interlibrary loan requests as they came in.
The computer we purchased had 640k RAM and one 5 ¼ floppy disk. The modem had a baud rate of 312. In other words, the computers we first used did not have much power or speed.
But, I digress. The training was a great base for what I would learn later. We learned how the computer worked from the ground up. Up until then I had only used an OCLC terminal as a work-study student and some type of computer that required a coupler to send messages while at my first job. The training I received during those 3 days in North Dakota not only allowed me to go back to my library and set things up, it also helped me understand better how the hardware and software worked going forward.
Next came building databases and managing the library system at my first law firm position, along with trying to make DOS CD-ROMs work on Macs. I also took a great class where I learned how to take a computer apart and put it back together. A process that took the mystery out of how the computer worked.
In the next position I taught myself HTML and learned more about databases. While consulting for a short stint between positions, I learned more about library systems, web development and how a networked was set up. I also took a class on how to evaluate electronic resources with addtional classes in project management and systems development as part of an MBA degree I have yet to complete. Throughout my career I’ve consistently worked to learn more about the various enterprise applications from a user perspective but keeping the big picture in mind – thinking about integration with knowledge management initiatives and more.
At my last firm, I learned more about web development including gathering user requirements and delivering them in the form of an intranet. Most importantly, I learned that technology needed to be tied to the firm’s goals and objectives and that technology for the sake of technology meant nothing. I also learned how to help people transition through the changes that technologies bring to their lives. I would not say all the change initiatives went smoothly, but understanding the people side of change and acting on it made a difference.
So, what would I recommend for those of you who are just starting out, want to learn more and don’t have formal training?
Attend training that gives you the basics. You can read to pick this up as well but nothing takes the place of a hands-on class where you can ask questions.
Attend training that takes you beyond the basics. Even if the training doesn’t appear to apply to you, you will pick up something you can use later.
Volunteer for projects that give you exposure to technology – requiring you to learn. I have always found that it was easier to learn something if it made a difference.
Ask questions. I have always been treated very well when I asked IT to explain something I didn’t understand. Just like us, they like to be able to demonstrate what they know.
- Read whatever you have time to read on the topic of the use of technology and, most importantly, specific topics that interest you. As of late, my interests have been in using technology for knowledge management which to me encompasses many topics.
The bottom line here is to be inquisitive and willing to explore. Also, don’t focus on becoming an expert in technology. Instead, learn enough to be able to see the big picture and how the library fits into that picture, converse with technical staff and plan for the future.
This article was originally published in the MALL Newsletter, Sept/Oct Issue.