A Happy Hour for Library Staff Learning

Susan Green /

Danil Churzin. Library Assistant. Reading a Wikipedia article about Pinterest.In February 2013, WebJunction hosted a webinar, Self-Directed Achievement: if you give library staff an hour, with Jami Carter and her team from the Tooele City Library in Utah. We have heard from a number of libraries that they have begun to use the Self-Directed Achievement model presented in the webinar to address staff training and development needs and that they are seeing impactful results. This article was written by Susan Green,  branch manager for the Morrison Regional branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in Charlotte, NC. We look forward to hearing from other libraries who are using the model to innovate with staff learning opportunities.

As the manager of a Charlotte Mecklenburg Library regional branch, I was concerned, like Jami, that our training was uneven. Some of our 29-member staff took regular opportunities for in-house and County training, but others never participated. Fortunately, while browsing the WebJunction page one day, I came across the intriguing title, “If you give your staff an hour…”, and immediately registered. I tuned in on the live broadcast and found it lively, informative and motivating.

When the webinar finished, I left my office, walked around the building and talked to every employee who was here at the time. I probably talked to 15 or so staff. I asked them, “If you had one hour per week for self-directed training, meaning you could spend an hour training on anything you wanted that pertained to the job, can you think of something you would work on?” Every single employee, without hesitation, immediately came up with something they would like to do. Some examples:

  • “I would practice on Overdrive. I just don’t know enough about it to be able to help people.”
  • “I would practice my keyboarding.”
  • “I would look at librarian blogs about storytime ideas. I see the links to them now, but I never feel I have enough time to look at them.”
  • “I would like to look at other library’s websites and see what they are doing for senior citizens.”

Larisa Martin. Children’s Specialist. Finishing up listening to a webinar, Library Social Media Use. She found the webinar on WebJunction.Those are a few that I can remember now, but honestly, every person had something to contribute. Next, I met with the three department managers (Adult Services, Children’s Services, and Circulation) to see what they thought of the approach. They loved it.  So we talked about how to implement it, and we came up with the idea of calling it Happy Hour. (I did run that by the Director, and he was cool with it.) The three managers assigned each of their employees, full-time and part-time, one hour a week devoted to self-directed training. They have the same hour every week, so they always know when their Happy Hour will occur. We gave each of them a steno notebook in which to record some notes on what they work on each Happy Hour. When we introduced the program to the staff, they were immediately enthusiastic. After the explaining the details, we asked if they had questions, and the only one we received was, “Can we decorate the cover of our notebooks?” (Answer: Of course!)

We have just completed our mid-year performance reviews, and I asked the managers to have each staff member bring their Happy Hour notebooks to their evaluation and discuss what they’ve been learning. The managers reported back to me that their staff loves Happy Hour. They have been listening to webinars, taking online courses from the State Library, reading professional articles, and yes, one staff member has improved his typing! Several staff expressed their pleasure in “not feeling guilty” when they spend their hour on something they want to know more about.

One of the most impressive things for me is that our staff have time to explore the many online databases and services we offer our patrons. Since we began Happy Hour, three new services have come online: Hoopla, Freegal, and Zinio. We assigned the staff to spend one of their Happy Hours on each one. It’s an incredible way for staff to be introduced to new services that they might not otherwise feel they have time to explore. I saw the direct payoff just last week as I walked by the circulation desk and saw a staff person with a computer screen turned around showing Zinio to a patron. I know that before Happy Hour, it’s likely that a circulation staff person would probably not have even been aware of Zinio.

Rachel Kubie. Librarian. She has been taking online classes at webcast.berkeley.edu on the history of information. Here she is beginning a course on Free Speech and the Press.We have always done cross-training where we assign staff who normally work in one department to spend time on the desk in the other two departments, being trained by that department staff. Since the implementation of Happy Hour, we see staff spending time looking at some of the databases that they have been introduced to and have seen used in the other departments. For example: I’ve see circulation staff studying Reference USA -- one of the most used databases in Adult Services.

Additionally in April, each department held a Happy Hour-specific department meeting where they shared what they have been learning. This was inspired by Jami’s account of the energy that comes from staff sharing -- and that was the result for us too. Staff shared sites they have come across that they are excited about, and the managers reported that every staff member had something to share.

We developed a set of Happy Hour Talking Points to help introduce staff to the approach that we're happy to share with others looking to develop a program. We also want to share a few examples of our festive Happy Hour schedules from our Children's and Circulation teams.

I didn’t feel I could go any longer without thanking Jami for the inspiration she provided for a meaningful, productive program that has benefited my staff, and consequently our patrons, in so many countless ways.

After I reached out to thank Jami, she responded with yet more wisdom about the model they've created:

"Personalized. Invaluable. Empowering. These are some of the words used by staff members to describe their experiences with self-directed achievement. These are also words we want community members to use when describing our libraries. It just makes sense. When we are allowed an hour each week to learn the way library users do, we simply become better at knowing and delivering our product. By redirecting roughly 2% of our total staff hours to training, the return on investment is astounding."

We invite you to review the webinar, Self-Directed Achievement: if you give library staff an hour, and to share with us if you too were inspired by the work of the Tooele City Library staff!