I see training in Koha as one of my most marketable things I do at Prosentient. It also feels weird to be thinking about how things will look on a resume, but whatever, the job market I’m going into is competitive. If I want a job some day thinking about this stuff is probably going to be a good idea. I’ve been terrible at selling myself in the past, and while there’s a kind of bravado in saying “they didn’t hire me because I was honest” it’s probably good to be honest in positive-about-my-abilities ways along with my standard self-deprecation.
So last week I went out to the Gippsland region in Victoria to train a couple of librarians in using Koha. This is another one of those instances where working for a small company is fun. I was given a lot of trust, some accommodations and a breakdown of how long to spend on each section of the software.
The librarians I was training are attached to hospitals, and very much in the special libraries are a one-person show kind of mould. They knew each other and were very good at asking detailed questions, which was great for me, since I’m more of a responsive teacher than a dictator of holy writ. We pushed the edges of what Koha is capable so they knew what was possible and what wasn’t. I hit the limits of my knowledge several times and brought back questions to answer later.
After our two days, which felt pretty intense on my end, they’ll be going live with their new systems this month. They seemed happy with what I could teach them. It was really fun to be a field agent for a few days. I find that hanging around the office doing so much on the computer is a touch painful. I feel nerves pinching from all the sitting, so it was good to get out into the world and crouch next to some folks who don’t like MARC records but have to use them, and show them how we can make their lives easier.
I do like how directly a couple of my SLAIS courses I took impact my work here (those courses would be Cataloguing and my Instructional Role of the Information Professional). The Instructional one is kind of obvious when I’m talking about going out and running a two day workshop, but even though I’m not hardcore cataloguing, knowing that lingo and how the rules work is really goddamn useful when you’re trying to teach someone how to use the software to do it. I do find that my knowledge of the Acquisitions module of Koha is less extensive since I haven’t had the experience with acquisitions (beyond troubleshooting Koha) that I have with Circulation and Cataloguing.
So yes, I join the chorus of people who say library school students both need to get experience and need to take a fucking cataloguing course. Use. Ful.
When I taught English in China, I wasn’t a very good teacher. I did it though. It was a good experience, doing something I knew I was bad at, trying to get better, but not really knowing how. Me blundering along through failure for a couple of years was great for everyone. Except my students. And my self-esteem. Erm.
The thing is that when I got back to Canada and especially when I started working at a library reference desk I realized I’m not too shabby at one-on-one/small group instruction, especially when everyone is speaking the same language. It was teaching people to talk I was terrible at. But I still didn’t have a good handle on how to teach better or how to develop a lesson plan or anything like that.
So for me, my hands-down most useful class in my MLIS has been LIBR535: The Instructional Role of the Information Professional. The past couple of weeks we’ve been doing our short lessons and with actual guidance on how to do this stuff (simple guidance like “plan your lesson backwards from its objectives” and “making people physically do stuff is good because…”) I felt really good about it. And man oh man does it ever help when you’re teaching something you find interesting.
After an 8am class on instruction in which we started to learn about treating lessons as products to be designed, I attended a colloquium by Michael Twidale about Computational Literacy & Metacognition (here are my rough notes).
It was a pretty excellent talk about the way we teach people how to do computery things. What I liked best about it was that Dr. Twidale was coming at this from what he called an Engineering point of view as opposed to a Science point of view. The idea that rapid prototyping in research might be more useful than studying precisely how things work at a point in time is something I’m very sympathetic to. I especially loved how he discussed the unintended effects of different technologies that go beyond what their designers had in mind, such as Twitter revolutions and large touch-screens enhancing learnability and interaction because of their poor usability for one person. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the famous William Gibson line from Burning Chrome “…but the street finds its own uses for things.”