Run to keep up pace: Further education for staff in public libraries

Libraries, if anywhere, are places where the staff must keep up to date about things. They need to know about everything or at least know where to find needed information. The knowledge they learned when they studied quickly becomes outdated and there is a need for further education.

Further education for library staff in Finland is organized by Regional State Administration Agencies and provincial libraries. These organizations receive funding for the mentioned purposes from the Ministry of Education and Culture. The Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, which are responsible for state regional administration, coordinate further education in the library field in their region.

Six days of education per year

The Quality Recommendation for Public Libraries, published by the Ministry of Education and Culture in 2010, also contains recommendations for further education of library staff. According to the recommendation, a well-functioning library surveys its staff’s needs for knowledge and skills on a regular basis and heeds those needs to rectify any lack of expertise. The staff’s knowledge and expertise should be developed with purposeful further education. Maintaining and improving the staff’s expertise can be safeguarded by reserving a sufficient amount of time and funds (at least 6 days per man-year). Opportunities for further education should be available to everyone.

Further education for staff has been examined in statistics related to public libraries in Finland since 2009. In 2011, library staff participated in further education 18,209 days in total, an average of 3.83 days per man-year.

The Regional State Administration Agencies and provincial libraries organize mainly short-term further education opportunities, and the same is true for library associations, summer universities, partner libraries and individual libraries. Finding time from one’s work to participate in one to two-day training sessions is easier than participating in training that lasts for several days. This is a significant reason for their popularity.

Many of the development projects for libraries include staff training either as part of the project or as the main objective of the project. Long-term or more extensive training programmes are organized less often. Regional instructors for media education were trained around Finland in a media education project organized by the Ministry of Education and Culture. These instructors then organized training in their own regions. Extensive training programmes have been organized earlier which were related to leadership and information technology.

Hard finding time for participation in further education

The meagre resources in libraries pose a problem for participation in training. There are no funds to hire replacements and libraries do not want to shorten their opening hours to allow staff to participate in training. In the long run, staff members that possess the latest expertise will be a greater advantage to libraries than the inconvenience of closing the library temporarily, which is something that should not be feared too much. The libraries’ meagre allocations for training also prevent the staff from participating in training. Participating even in free training is difficult if the library budget has no allowance for traveling expenses.

Participating in remote training through video conferencing or one’s own computer is cheaper. However, participants do not have the opportunity to engage in the unofficial aspects of training: meeting colleagues and networking. Many good practices have been passed on from one library to another, many projects have been initiated and peer support has been shared during the breaks in training sessions.

The magic word for libraries is collaboration – in further education as well. Over the years, collaboration has come to reflect the different regions. As an example, I would like to mention the further education collaboration in Kainuu and North Ostrobothnia.

The Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment in North Ostrobothnia summons a committee a couple of times a year. The committee comprises the centre’s library specialist, instructors in the library field from the Information Research Programme at the University of Oulu and the Library and Information Services Programme at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences, as well as representatives from both provincial libraries. Together we consider training needs and possibilities and we plan future courses.

Collaborations with archives and museums

Representatives from libraries, archives and museums belong to the Oulun Kamut. The Kamut has collaborated to organize further education for their staff members to give them the opportunity to learn about each other’s job duties. Themes have included Sources of Information for Genealogy, Constructed Culture and Collection Policy. In addition, joint training has been organized for copyright issues and personal information and privacy legislation.

The provincial assessment committee of the Oulu City Library-Provincial Library surveyed communication and marketing in libraries last year and part of the survey included a training seminar where a marketing expert assessed the marketing portfolios created by the libraries. Additionally, surveys pertaining to library staff’s skills in information services and social media have been made and training has been organized based on them.

Training in literature has been much desired and extremely popular. The provincial government of Oulu organized training pertaining to new literature for children and adolescents once a year for 10 years. The Oulu City Library-Provincial Library has con-tinued that tradition and the training session about the previous year’s yield of books for children and adolescents, presented by library professionals, was extremely popular. The activities have been extended to include the presentation of literature for adults also. The training is open to teachers and, and this year it is also open to the public. Making library professionals’ silent knowledge about newly published literature known is wonderful.

Current issues are made public in pro-vincial library meetings and during the annual library event in Kainuu and North Ostrobothnia. In addition, cur-rent theme-based training is organized; for example this year The Library and Senior Citizens was offered. Each year at least one training session is organized, which pertains to library services for children and adolescents; last year the session was about youth library work and this year it was library services for children and youth with spe-cial needs. Yhdessä ja erikseen: koulun ja kirjaston yhteistyöpäivä (Together and alone: collaboration day for the school and library) has also become a tradition.

The needs for training is varying throughout time

The Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment in Lapland and North Ostrobothnia have organized training together for Bookmobile staff. Meetings with people in the profession and discussions during breaks have proved to be an important part of the training. The centres have also organized training related to legislation and quality recommendations in the everyday activities of libraries, and training in assessment will be held in the near future. Collaboration has also been carried out with the Finnish National Library.

Last year, the training sessions (9 in total) held by the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment in North Ostrobothnia gathered 454 participants. There were participants from nearly all of the region’s libraries who took part in at least one training session.

The needs for training vary throughout time. The introduction of computers into libraries brought about a long-term need for training in information technology. As a counterbalance to that, training in literature became more acute and information technology was seen as less important for a while. More recently, central topics have been media education and social media especially.

Short-term further education is fragmented and sundry, but there is a low threshold to participate in the free further education organized by the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment and the provincial libraries. The desires and needs of the library staff in the region are taken into consideration. Furthermore, long-term further education programmes related to varied themes, which people can study remotely and as hybrid courses are needed.

Library Specialist (MSc in Social Sciences), Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment in North Ostrobothnia