Thursday, July 07, 2011

Training Program

I created a training manual for our staff, which has been updated and added to over the almost-two-years I've worked in my current library. It's on paper, in a ridiculously huge three-ring binder. It's unwieldy and intimidating, although organized nicely (if I do say so myself!). My plan is to put it on the staff intranet at some point. I have used it in training the few staff I've trained, and I find it helpful. A few of you have asked me for specifics on the training program I use with new employees, so here goes.

First of all, each new employee gets a training program customized to their position, experience, and familiarity with both libraries and specifically our library. I've trained new interns who had limited library work experience - but who had more library science knowledge than, say, a parapro in the Reference Assistant position. Reference Assistants are often library employees like Pages or Clerks who have been re-assigned to a new position in the institution. They have more library work experience, and more understanding of how various departments co-exist, but very little knowledge of reference tools or reader advisory techniques. So, the first step in my training program is to consider what knowledge they bring with them.

We have a basic training checklist. When I was hired, it was a page or two long. Now it's 14 pages. I know, I know, you're thinking that is overkill. Really, though, if you're going to "check off" that someone has learned something on their "checklist," it should list everything they need to know. Right? Right. So, 14 pages is the basic model. Some people need to know more than others. The Reference Assistants who used to be Pages do not need to be told where to park. They do not need to be told where the staff lounge is. New interns who have never worked here before do. My checklist is organized by floor, since this is a three-story building. Every collection, every staff area, every desk, every storage area...everything you could possibly need to know about that floor is listed. It's not just listed, though. Most things have a few bullet points that describe what it is, where it is, and why it is important. For example, under "Public Phone" are two bullet points:
-Pay phone between double doors at public entrance to the building. Requires exact change.
-Patrons may use service desk phones if necessary. Dial “8” for an outside line.

It is more useful to the new employee to refer back to their checklist later if it doesn't just say "Public Phone."

After I go through and decide which pieces of the checklist are necessary to go over, I pull pages out of the training manual to pair up with them. There is not a training manual page for every checklist item (since, really, those two bullet points are all you need to know about the public phone. don't need a whole page on it.) I parcel the pages and checklist items by days. For example, on Day 1 of training, the employee might get a tour of one specific floor. They also get the training manual pages for that floor. We go over the checklist while they get their tour and they are given time to read the training manual pages later that day that correspond with what we talked about. The training manual pages are more of a refresher, since they will have already seen and heard about the items during the tour. I try to limit training manual pages to five or ten for any given shift. No more than what could be read easily in a half hour or so. The employee gets copies of the training manual pages to keep for themselves and refer back to later, too.

New employees will spend their first week on that same floor. Depending on the person and the specifics of their job, the checklist and training manual pages might extend that first week. I meet with them each day to go over whatever that day's items are. The rest of their time that first week is spent reading the staff intranet, their new email account, the staff blogs and wikis, and exploring. I build time into each shift for them to just wander that one floor of the library, noticing displays, signage, collections, series, authors, finding chairs, tables, and electrical outlets...just taking note of things they may not have noticed before. They also spend time each shift just observing at the staff desk on that floor.

Week two, we add another floor of the library and repeat the process of checklist, training manual, exploring, and observing. Week three, the third floor, rinse, repeat. Meanwhile, the employee is adding more and more responsibility on the previous floors. They are scheduled time with specific staff members to learn things like databases, phone system, and computer print/time management system. Observing turns into helping patrons and answering the phone over time. By the end of the third week, they are pretty proficient at the first floor desk, halfway there on the second floor desk, and familiar with the third floor desk. All the while, they are given suggested reading from the professional collection and library and book blogs.

The most important parts of the whole process are:

Talking with the new employee regularly. I have sit-downs with them at least weekly, and quick chats in passing daily, to see how they're feeling about things. What have they enjoyed most so far? What are they feeling least confident about so far?

Pairing them with long-time employees. When I was new here, I learned the most from the people who had been here the longest. They knew the history of why things were done they way they were done. It's also important to pair new employees with a variety of people so that they get to know the staff.

Teaching them in a way that ensures good habits. The written training manual pages are part of that. When I was new, sometimes different people would give me different answers to the same question. It was very confusing to know which was the correct way, or the best or most efficient way. Having things written down helps create consistency. It also gives the new employee confidence. They have paperwork (which always feels official) to back up why they are doing something a certain way and to remind themselves later.

That is the basics of my training program. It is a time investment, but so worth doing it right. It creates staff members who are confident, who can make informed decisions, and who can help patrons find what they came for. That's a valuable thing!

1 comment:

  1. Back when I supervised employees at a job, I, too, was way into training. These days, I'd put the whole thing online in Google Docs.