Sarah Houghton-Jan: Tech Training That Works for Anyone

Sarah Houghton-Jan, whose work as Digital Futures Manager for the San José Public Library and as author of the Librarian in Black blog has earned her justifiably large amounts of attention and praise, has produced a dream book that is well suited for audiences far beyond its stated target.

Technology Training in Libraries sparkles with Houghton-Jan’s well deserved reputation for jargon-free, plain-talking, and humorously honest help for readers: “…having staff members who are not adequately trained in technology trying to support library users is like having a cardboard egg carton holding up an SUV,” she suggests (p. 5) in a statement that could easily be applied to workers in many other organizations. She also provides at least a partial answer to a question I heard a few years ago: what can corporate knowledge management and training professionals learn from library and information science professionals, and vice versa? Plenty, if we read Technology Training in Libraries and don’t limit ourselves by applying the information solely to those who work in libraries.

Early on, for example, Houghton-Jan provides a list of “essential technology training topics in libraries” and other potential training topics—nearly all of which could just as easily be adapted within a nonprofit or commercial organization looking to develop a cutting-edge workforce (pp. 6-7). Employees in libraries are clearly not the only ones who need to master technology terminology; understand how to effectively use email, web browsers, and online search skills to the benefit of the customers they serve; and be able to avoid ergonomic problems caused by improper set-up of employees’ (and customers’) work stations. And the writer’s list of areas of future growth—cloud computing, surface computing, open source software development among them—are equally applicable and important to workplace learning and performance programs and knowledge managers in nearly any professional setting today.

She also focuses on and acknowledges common-sense elements that are often overlooked, including the importance of providing learner-centric training: “Ask yourself—how would attendees have a better learning experience?” (p. 9).

The remainder of the book is equally useful and well organized as she devotes pithy chapters to planning, implementing, marketing, establishing best practices for, and evaluating the delivery of effective technology training. She doesn’t skimp on the basics: she includes plenty of tips for how to develop a list of skills to be addressed through training (pp. 13-20); a suggested list of “five key elements to keep in mind” when deciding what to include in training (customer demand, organizational goals, immediate return on investment, training effectiveness, and consequences of not providing training—pp. 34-35); and suggestions on how to establish peer training and train the trainer programs (pp. 65-70).

Online training resources receive generous attention throughout the book, particularly on pages 80–86, and there’s even a brief description (p. 83) of an innovation in online delivery that I still remember fondly—the use of Skype as a delivery tool for a segment of the 2007 offering of the annual Future of Libraries conference sponsored by a local San Francisco Bay Area training consortium now known as the Pacific Library Partnership Staff Development Committee. That Skype session was described online at the time both by Houghton-Jan and her Skype co-presenter, Char Booth.

The extensive recommended resources listings and bibliography at the end of the book, furthermore, are icing on a well baked cake, leaving readers with plenty of useful resources—including several used as links in this summary of her work. Those in search of dessert as well as a substantial main course will find both in Technology Training in Libraries, and we all owe Houghton-Jan and her publisher a round of applause for making the information available in such a concise fashion (103 pages of text, followed by the additional resources already mentioned).

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