News for Pennsyslvania Libraries

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Brett Stiffler

Bret Stiffler

by Bret Stiffler,
Citizens Library

What is the library’s role in the 21st century? What would a public library look like 10, 25, or 50 years from now, and how do we get there? What needs of the public are not being met in today’s world, and beyond? These are the questions and problems public librarians, including myself, are faced with today. Being a librarian who is concerned with these and other issues, I was drawn to PA Forward. According to the PA Forward website:

With the right support, libraries are ideally positioned to become the community centers of information, technology, and learning that will fuel educational and economic opportunity for all of our citizens.

Learning more about PA Forward and its initiatives, I knew I had to see first-hand what they were all about. So with the help of PALA and the PA state Department of Education, I attended the PA Forward Information Literacy Summit on July 21st, 2016 in order to talk with other professionals, hear the speakers, and hopefully take away some ideas to help with my work.

At first I wasn’t sure what to expect. Information literacy can be such an academic topic, and being a public librarian I wasn’t sure if the breakout sessions and speakers would have much that applied to my work, but I was more than pleasantly surprised. The first session was Dr. Brenda Boyer with Sowing the Seeds. Here I learned about reusable learning objects (tools, updated periodically, which can be reused to train and educate), products of learning, and personalized learning – concepts which could help me teach patrons crucial technological skills, as well as help train staff through technology training initiatives. I especially liked her idea of micro-credentialing and the use of “badges” in online learning software – badges that show skills developed and concepts mastered in order to give reward and create a virtual “trophy case.” We see these used often in smartphone apps like FitBit and mobile games in order to give users something to work towards and look back on to say “I did this; I accomplished this.” It seems small and insignificant, like a proverbial “gold star,” but it can also be a powerful motivator.

Wes Roberts was especially interesting to me, being from a public library in western Pennsylvania (Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh), with his session Supporting Job Seekers in Public Libraries. Here Mr. Roberts talked about how the public library serves a crucial role in society in that it is a free, public building, where anybody can walk in and say “I don’t know where to start” on practically any topic, something no other institution can claim in the same way public libraries do. In the context of helping job seekers, Mr. Roberts stressed the importance of “one offs.” Job seekers may not be interested in, or may be too embarrassed to attend, job seeking programs. It is a higher likelihood of success to offer one-on-one help for job seekers with programs like resume review, mock interviews, and teaching 21st century basic computer skills. Public librarians have to prepare for that by analyzing local labor market data and knowing what types of jobs are available and how to find them, as well as creating partnerships and understanding with institutions like PA Career Link, public programs like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and creating opportunities with programs like Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s WorkLaunch , which was a three day job fair and training event.

Another highlight of the day was Liz Johns, whose two workshops I attended, From Database Dumps to Top Notch Teaching Tools, and From Flat to Flavorful, where she took a hands-on approach to teach us how to grab more eyes and communicate complex topics more effectively with the use of graphics, organization, and visualization.  Particularly of interest to me was her discussion on infographics, which are fantastic tools for communicating a lot of information in a small amount of space and a short amount of time, which is particularly useful in standing out to the public who are bombarded with information on a daily basis. Ms. Johns went over some of the most common infographic styles – compare & contrast, how to, facts & stats, timelines, processes (theoretical guides, not a practical guide like a how to), lists, labeled images, data visualization (making a picture out of data so it’s less boring), and geographical maps. Some useful resources are Piktochart , which is Ms. Johns preferred infographic resource, Infogram,  Easelly and Visually. These resources include images that can be used without copyright infringement.

For not knowing what to expect as a public librarian attending an information literacy conference, I came out rejuvenated with tons of ideas on programming, marketing, outreach, and communicating in our public libraries to meet the demands of the 21st century. As public librarians we are all too familiar with the concept of change, mostly felt as change in the model of the public library itself. However, we also have to become acquainted with the change in the world and our communities, and be forward-thinking enough to meet those changes as they happen and not lag behind. PA Forward takes this challenge head on, and I am more than thankful for having the opportunity to attend their Information Literacy Summit and become more equipped to meet these challenges.