Meredith has written a great post advising library school students where to go to learn more about technology. My library school offered some basic computer courses which helped to build a decent foundation of technical knowledge. However, I’ve always been a hands-on kind of person, so I looked for a various ways to apply classroom knowledge to real-world scenarios.
When I first started my library school program circa 2000, I knew very little about computers or the Internet. I had learned a little about computers through high school and college, but most of what I learned could only be used to type a few papers. In 2000, I was pretty intimidated by computers and by the web, but that would change as I got further into my library school course work. Simply typing all the papers and being around classmates who knew about technology helped me learn a little more. For electives I took an html class, a graphic design class, and a computer networking class. These classes taught the skills that later work would build upon.
After my first year of library school, I was awarded a graduate assistantship within the library school. I was assigned to work with the technology coordinator and help out with distance education technical support. I worked 20 hours a week in this position, and my job duties soon expanded far beyond distance education support. Before long, my boss had me networking printers, installing software on laptops, configuring wireless connections, installing classroom projectors, and even building and configuring web servers. Usually my boss would tell me that something needed to be done without giving me a great deal of instruction. He would usually hand me a thick manual and say something like, “See what you can find out about this.” I believe he figured that part of the learning process was figuring out how to do something yourself. This approach to learning was terribly frustrating in the beginning, but once I finally learned how to network a printer or build a server, it was incredibly rewarding.
I think that what I learned from that experience still shapes my desire to learn more about technology today. I have a tendency to not only know that something works, or how to use it, I also want to know how something works. I know it sounds a tad geeky, but I really am interested in things like how the PHP calls the MySQL table in order to display the contents of this blog.
Now it would be a bit extreme for me to say that all librarians need to know how to build servers or know how to backup a mysql database. No one but the geekiest of us needs to know that stuff. However, to best serve your current or future patrons, some tech skills are needed. One of the easiest ways to keep up with technology is to try and do your best when answering patrons’ tech questions. If you don’t know how to answer the question, then find someone who does. However, when that more knowledgeable tech person arrives, don’t just walk away. Listen to the answer that is given, and ask your own follow-up questions. It is surprising how much you can learn by listening.
Another great way to keep up with technology is to take a few classes. Many university IT departments offer classes for university employees covering a variety of technical topics. I’ve taken classes on Access, Excel, and Photoshop and found them to be good ways to brush up on my skills. These classes are also great places to meet people who may serve as resources down the road, should you have a question about something in the future.
While classes are a great way to learn new skills, those skills are quickly forgotten if they are not applied. Try to take the new skill that you learned an apply them to a project of some sort. This project can be work related or not. It really doesn’t matter, as long as it gives you practice with the software or skill. Make a collage of pictures for a friend with Photoshop, doctor up your resume with Word, or put your recipes in Access, make a website for your mom. Anything you do will help you keep your skill fresh and you will continue to learn more.
One of the greatest things about being a librarian is that I never stop learning. This is a job where I have the incredible opportunity to learn something new every day. While technological change can be intimidating and frustrating at times, it also drives me to develop new skills and become familiar in different areas. I have come to realize that I will never know everything there is to know about a particular software, database, or tech gadget, and I am quite fine with that. That just leaves something else for me to discover tomorrow.