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Libraries: Learning to Do, Doing to Learn

I just read Learning to Do, Doing to Learn: why training isn’t enough by Tyler Koch, a) because I am always looking for ways to enhance my leadership tools and b) because I am fascinated with why library staff appear to have such difficulty with change. Library Managers and Library staff tend to think training (or lack of training depending on which of those you are) is the key to why change is so difficult. ‘I cannot do it until I have been trained to do it’ is a mantra I have often heard. But I have always had the view that the reason learning something new is difficult is all about the person’s confidence to learn and the confidence to admit that you do not know — it is emotional as much as it is intellectual. And it is also about being given the time to learn — managers knowing that learning takes time and that they have confidence in their staff through the learning phase. It is so not about sending staff to one training session and then expecting exponential change in behaviour.

Koch’s article also argues that learning is about behaviour and true learning engages a level of critical thinking — it is not by rote training. Learning is also driven by creative application. There needs to be ‘doing’ involved. So how can we use this thinking in library land to build an innovative, creative, digital first culture? We need to involve staff in the problem solving, the solutions and equip them with the pilot projects to practice on to learn and to build confidence.

I saw this in action at Dokk1 in Aarhus with the Library team always in beta, using design thinking and putting humans at the center of their solutions. The Library staff would work with groups of people to test new ways of doing library business and test these in pilot situations in the branch libraries. Then take the time to reflect on the outcomes and then go on to redesign based on what they learnt. And the key to building this culture in the staff was to give the time to do it. It is not an overnight change. It takes time. But like all journeys it starts with the first step. Allowing staff in to the critical thinking aspect of designing new solutions and acting as a guide to the solutions — not starting with a manager led idea or solution.

So using Koch’s article I have adapted his 4 steps for encouraging a learning culture for libraries.

Results: Start with the why: It is very important for library staff to know why there is a driver for change. Understanding the bigger picture, the digital landscape and exposing them to higher end future thinking is important for them to understand the place that libraries now play in the economy, the community and the education space. This can be done in a myriad of low cost ways: Ted Talks at staff sessions, inviting in local University lecturers to staff strategic planning days, team meetings to discuss pre-reading future focused reports and what it means for their library. It does mean that the library leadership needs to be intentional about the learning plan and that regular time is put aside to focus on learning together.

Action: Challenge the conventional approach: What are the pain points at your library, for your staff and for your clients? Do you know? The best approach I have seen for understanding this was from Edmonton Public Library where they asked the library staff what library policies did they mostly waive, or want to and when did they most want to say yes, when the library policy stated they must say no. Give your library teams a problem they must solve. Allow them to develop a solution — with some guidance, even if it is a limited budget impact, and then test the solution in a controlled environment and monitor the outcome. The key word here is ‘allow’ because to really learn library staff must be able to ‘do’.

Change: Adapt internal processes to focus on emotionally intelligent behaviour: What you focus on and discuss in personal plans is what change you want from your team. So really focus on self development and self awareness in your team discussions. Difficult when operational matters take over and many of us are more comfortable being task focused but essential if library leaders truly want change in their teams. Invest your time in the team and not just on tasks. Build confidence in the teams learning journey — which means noticing when learning is taking place. Build human systems throughout your library teams to focus on this and raise it to your attention so that you can highlight it through all staff communication channels.

Reflect: Take the time to reflect on the systems and your own learning journey: and share this with your staff. Building in this reflection component for all the pilot projects (and yes you also need to build in an end date for the pilot projects as we all need to let go to develop the new) ensures that learning is at the center of the pilot project as well as building engagement with our clients.

Focusing on the emotional component of learning and building confidence in our library staff, I believe, will equip them to be adaptable to change and to approach any problem with confidence in solving it rather than waiting to be trained to do it.

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Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics

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