ALA Annual Conference 2011: Technology, Training, and Buster Keaton

With any learning experience, the best part often occurs after the formal lesson ends. And the same can, in some ways, be said of the American Library Association (ALA) 2011 Annual Conference which had its final association meetings in New Orleans today.

Since I’m still in New Orleans as I write this, I can refer to what I did earlier this evening as my not-yet-home-work: reading an ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) report that was released this month and very much complements a 90-minute session organized by ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy to highlight four innovative projects a few days ago.

Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library, written by OITP Fellow Roger Levien and the subject of a separate conference session I was unable to attend, is stimulating and highly recommended reading not only for those working for or interested in libraries but also for anyone involved in training-teaching-learning. The five-page summary, taking up nearly 20 percent of the entire report, provides the sort of concise overview we might expect from an information technology group: factual and focused on technology. Where the report really comes to life is in the remainder of the document, which includes eight cases describing possible versions of the sort of libraries we might see over the next 30 to 50 years; descriptions of how libraries might continue incorporating new technologies into the services they provide for their face-to-face and online users; and the learning opportunities that libraries will continue to develop and refine as they work to further claim their place in the world of social learning centers.

It’s in the later sections of Confronting the Future that the people using libraries receive far more attention and the technology becomes the means of serving those people rather than being the sole focus of the writer’s efforts.

But what still is largely missing for those of us involved in teaching-training-learning is something that only receives a passing glance in the final pages of the report: the immense learning needs that library staff and others involved in helping others understand the tech tools that surround them are going to continue struggling to overcome.

For workplace learning and performance professionals, highlighting technology that is rapidly-evolving without highlighting and exploring the need for continual, rapidly-evolving educational opportunities for staff is similar to the situation created by Buster Keaton in his short film One Week, where a house being towed across a set of railroad tracks narrowly misses destruction as a train passes on a parallel track—only to be demolished seconds later by a train which unexpectedly blasts into the picture frame from the opposite direction.

If we are not addressing the training-learning needs of our colleagues on the staff of libraries and other customer-service professionals, we are virtually guaranteeing that they will be on that second set of tracks.

“Future librarians will become digital media mentors, fluent in the languages and structures of digital documents and data and the availability of information resources on the Internet and elsewhere” (a situation that some of us are already seeing among our colleagues), Levien writes (p. 28). He returns to the subject, with one additional line in that 30-page report, to note that something will have to be done to help staff “acquire these competencies or assets through hiring, training, or cooperation with another organization.”

Or all three, I would strongly suggest.

Next: What the Report Suggests About Community and Collaboration

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