On May 12, 2003, a celebration at the U.S. Library of Congress marked the launch of WebJunction.org, a new online community dedicated to "sharing the knowledge and resources necessary for libraries to successfully provide public access to information." Today, 10 years later, WebJunction has grown and sustained a virtual gathering place where library staff keep their skills up to date and find support in responding to the changing learning needs of the profession. More than 80,000 library workers from across the U.S. and beyond have connected with WebJunction resources — including online courses, webinar presentations, downloadable curricula and best practices from libraries — to share the knowledge, tools and support that librarians and library staff need to power vibrant libraries. Its programs and content have been used by nearly 70 percent of U.S. public libraries.
Built with grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WebJunction has continually evolved its programs, content and systems over the years to help libraries thrive in the changing and challenging technological environments of yesterday, today and the future.
WebJunction's founding executive director, Marilyn Mason, says, "The original purpose of WebJunction was to provide training and technical support needed by library staff to support public access computing. As the scope and importance of electronic information has grown, access to appropriate training has become even more important — and WebJunction services continue to evolve to support libraries in this exciting and dynamic environment."
From the start, WebJunction has been on the leading edge of online learning. It published the Trends in E-Learning report in 2006, and a Blended Learning Guide in 2007. As early as 2005, WebJunction began experimenting with web-based live programs, or "webinars." Program attendance began with a couple dozen attendees; WebJunction webinars now average well over 600 registrants per live session, and have also grown to include multi-day online conferences that are free and open to all. In 2009, WebJunction published the comprehensive Competency Index for the Library Field, a compilation of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are necessary for various library staff roles. WebJunction also made early and innovative use of Web 2.0 tools such as blogging, wikis, RSS, "friending" and online groups.
WebJunction has managed a number of national training programs in partnership with funders such as the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Gates Foundation. These programs focused on critical issues in U.S. communities, including training libraries on outreach to Spanish-language speakers, sustaining rural and small libraries, and supporting the needs of job seekers and the unemployed in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. These three projects delivered training to a total of 13,000 library staff across the entire nation. Current WebJunction programs are addressing how communities can support individuals who do not have access or skills to use computers or the internet.
John D. "Danny" Hales, Jr., retired Director of Suwannee River Regional Library, says "At the Suwannee River Regional Library, Webjunction.org has been the central resource for our staff's training, research and development. It provides the foundation for core competency development for both entry-level and senior staff."
"To me, there has been nothing as impactful to libraries and their service to the public as the emergence of WebJunction for staff training and support to small and rural libraries during this time of rapid technological change. Without it and the Gates Foundation's Computers in Library Initiative, I shudder to think of the fate of the vast majority of community libraries. In my opinion, the Gates Initiative and ten years of WebJunction has had an impact equal to the Carnegie initiative."
The WebJunction Partner Program emerged in 2004 to enable state libraries to host localized training and resources on WebJunction.org. Partners for this first phase of the program included Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, New Mexico, and Washington. Since then, 22 additional states have participated in the Partner Program. State libraries have been instrumental in their collaboration with WebJunction to deliver relevant and affordable continuing education to library staff in every role from volunteer to director.
In 2012, OCLC received an additional $4.1 million grant from Gates Foundation to support ongoing operations of WebJunction. Deborah Jacobs, director of the Global Libraries program, stated, "Since 2002, we have worked with OCLC to ensure that public libraries — especially small and rural public libraries — have had the resources they need to be portals to vital information. Together, our goal has been to equip these libraries with the technologies and skills needed to change lives and strengthen communities through access to information. Over these 10 years we have seen how offering technical assistance and training to library staff through the WebJunction.org online community can help us accomplish this goal and make a powerful difference in the effectiveness of a library."