Best Practices: Training for a Future Already Here

A recently released report on the future of libraries keeps trainers and other library staff on the topic of thinking outside—or ignoring—boxes, provides more impetus for us to spend time reading and responding to what is being written about libraries, and proposes collaborations we might not otherwise pursue.
The American Library Association’s Association of College & Research Libraries 2007 Environmental Scan, released in January 2008, helps us see that a report about the future of academic libraries can be as meaningful to those of us immersed in public libraries as it is to our colleagues in academia. The heart of the 29-page report is a list of ten assumptions; among the “emergent issues” is the prediction that the future will bring “broader collaboration between academic, public, special, and school librarians on topics of common concern, e.g., public engagement, media literacy” (p. 7).
More significantly for libraries and those involved in staff training programs, the report predicts that library print materials “will be moved from prime library space and relocated to off-site locations; space currently housing collections will be repurposed to support collaborative learning, new modes of research support and interactive learning areas” (page 7). One look around large urban libraries with increasing amounts of space dedicated to Internet access work stations should be enough to make all of us realize that library users are bringing a little of that projected future into the present by suggesting that they want print and electronic resources at their fingertips. It doesn’t take much to see that staff training in libraries, therefore, needs to recognize and deal with staff’s increasing need to be trained as trainer-instructors comfortable with these resources.
Among the hidden gems in the report is the list of selected sources at the back of the paper. With more than eight pages of citations available to us, we could spend the rest of the month—perhaps the rest of the year—just reviewing the various reports and articles which served as the backbone to the report. In the process, we would find additional support for the idea that “instruction has become a standard responsibility for academic library’s public services, and that interpersonal, written, and oral communication skills were critical for all librarian positions” (p. 10). Having read that line, those of us with public library experience can ask ourselves why this would only be important to academic libraries.
If library trainers are going to assume more of the leadership role we so clearly need to play, we can begin by making our colleagues more aware of reports like ACRL’s 2007 Environmental Scan and providing training sessions which respond to the needs of staff who are working within the future described by the report’s authors. We might also recognize—and help others see—that the future often has an amazing way of creeping into our present without being immediately noticed.