Friday, November 30, 2007

23 Things at the Baltimore County Public Library

The program was a huge success for us at BCPL.

We talked up the program at every opportunity to every staff member or group of staff members that we could corral long enough for them to hear our pitch. That worked very well. The liaisons provided as much assistance and support as possible. Staff members were also encouraged to contact our Staff Help Desk for assistance with any of the Things. This was a big plus for us, although it did increase the workload for the folks on the Help Desk. We did have two hands-on sessions where staff members could come to get one-on-one help. They were very well received. We sent encouraging messages and continued to promote the program through the summer. We also submitted reports to individual branch and department managers to let them know how many people in their areas were participating. We found that supervisor support was a big factor in an individual staff member’s success with the program. One branch held an after-hours cram session that offered people time to work on the program with some dedicated time in a calmer environment.

Incentives and rewards:
We weren’t able to give a prize to everyone who participated but we did have a prize raffle for anyone who had finished by our annual Staff Day in October. We also reminded people that their strong commitment to their personal development and to the future of libraries should be enough motivation in itself. This was annoying, no doubt, but it helped. The CEUs encouraged some to participate but we also had quite a few non-librarian staff members in the program and CEUs did not provide a motivation for them.

On Staff Day we highlighted the overall total number of ‘Things’ that had been completed by all staff up to that date - those who had finished and those who hadn't. We wanted to be sure to acknowledge the work of all who participated.

Learning Styles, Collaboration, and Teamwork:
One of the greatest benefits of the program was its entirely self-directed, online structure. It is easier for presenters who don’t need to create step-by-step instructions or elaborate presentations featuring soon-to-be-out-of-date screen captures. Participants learned through experience which is a much more effective approach. It was difficult for staff members, however. In many cases, people needed to learn how to learn in such an environment before they could really begin to progress.

We encouraged people who were moving ahead quickly to offer help to their co-workers. This lifted some of the workload off the liaisons! It also gave people the one-on-one assistance that we often couldn’t provide. Finally, it helped to develop a camaraderie and spirit of teamwork in several branches and departments. Often (but not always) the fast movers were younger, part-time staff members. It was a great experience for everyone to have them helping long term full-time staff.

Workload, in all its forms, was a problem for us. We acknowledged that there would never be an ideal time so we might as well plunge in now. As one person said, “The train is leaving the station. If we don’t get on it now it will only make it harder for us to catch up later.”

The amount of time needed for all 23 things was substantial. Many participants worked through the things at home on their own time. We were careful to inform managers that, by law, part-time non-exempt staff members had to be paid for all the time that they spent on the program. This was a disincentive to some.

The program structure with ALL THOSE BLOGS was a bit of a challenge. To provide reasonable encouragement, we read a lot of blog posts and made many, many comments.

As others have stated, people complained of having to create so many accounts and track passwords.

Continuation / Moving Ahead:
We are looking for a way to continue in this direction at BCPL, providing online learning exercises periodically and tracking staff progress. We will certainly use the lesson style that the 23 Things program presented. We may, however, step away from having participants report via a blog and go to some online submission form instead. That would make things easier for those assigned to oversee the program.

A note of thanks:
This has been a very, very positive experience for us and has moved us forward a great deal. Thank you to Nini Beegan and DLDS for promoting this statewide. We might have moved forward at some point but we’re very grateful for the leadership that caused us to take this on now rather than later.

Ellen Ward and Jim DeArmey, BCPL

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