Using Online Training in Staff Development

30 minute discussion recorded at CILIP Showcase 21 with Rachel Van Riel, Director, and Fiona Edwards, Training and Schools Co-ordinator.

Special Guests:
Kerry Pillai, Project Co-ordinator, Estyn Allan/Operations Manager, Product and People, Swansea Libraries, and Lucy Soale, Operations Manager, and Lindsay McFarlane, Development Officer, Cultural Services, London Borough of Sutton

Proven skills development

Opening the Book courses are proven to increase skills and confidence for staff working in libraries. This is not tickbox training, it is embedded in everyday library work routines.

There's a great mix of online learning techniques combined with practical application of tasks in your own workplace. Interactive exercises, slideshows, quizzes – plus key in your thoughts as you go to make your personal record.

Measurable impact

140 staff took Intermediate level courses in a 3-year programme at Liverpool Libraries, UK. Their evaluation of staff experience found:

felt more confident talking to readers
understood how to target an audience for a book promotion
were confident to create and run a promotion in their library

Expert support

Online training can be lonely but our staff are always here to help. We chat on curated discussion boards, give personal feedback on individual work and offer full mentoring on our courses for library managers.

All our courses are built and tested with real library staff in real library workplaces. Courses are managed in-house and any technical issues can be resolved immediately.

Unlimited access

Study at your own pace and pick up where you left off whenever suits. Complete your course at a time and place that fits in with your other commitments.

Courses are not time limited – get places set up, take a look, then enrol when you are ready to start. Access is not closed when you finish. You can revisit at any time to check out something you've forgotten, pick up on an idea you didn't get time to try – or just to refresh your thinking.

Affordable investment

Online training gives excellent value for money.
Cut out travel time and overheads associated with classroom-based learning.
We can advise on larger rollouts and undertake evaluative reports on the quality of learning.
Nothing else you can buy will give this impact in the workplace.

What's an online course really like?
When you find your name on the list for another training course, do you sigh or are you intrigued? When you get into the room, do you head for the back row? Do you like to sit back and listen, or get hands-on with something practical? Think back to the last training session that you enjoyed. What was it that interested you? What did you take away from it? Were you able to put what you learned into practice easily? Have you developed new ways of doing your job as a result?

Whatever the subject, attending face-to face-training is a very different experience from learning online.

Whether you go online at work or at home your first problem is resolving to make a start at all. At least at work you have the support of colleagues to call upon so you can take time away from public duties. At home there are a multitude of distractions that are more difficult to manage. You need to take the dog for a walk first, the kids need settling with their schoolwork. You notice that you haven’t dusted for a while. There is something good on the radio. You haven’t checked in recently with family members remotely or maybe you should catch up on the news – there are so many reasons not to log in to your course!

There is a more fundamental problem, and that is a belief that taking training online is going to be bland, instructional, possibly patronising and not very original or inspirational. Just reading the text, without a human voice, it might feel as though the experience will be impersonal and cold. A message aimed at everyone - but not you. Somehow it is harder to imagine being challenged or inspired by a computer, than a living human who can be questioned, and challenged in their turn.

So, what are the solutions?
One is to resolve to do the urgent things first – if training is on your list today, make sure it is in the right place, below messaging a relative and getting the kids organised. Clear time for yourself so you can concentrate. One friend we know wears a work hat when working from home (it’s not very flattering) when he wants to signal that he is to be left alone. Try it!

It is important, with our online courses, for you to know in advance that we, as course authors, are definitely speaking to you. Not only through the kind of writing we do in our courses, and the images we use to illustrate what we say, but also through direct conversation, even though it has to be online.

The whole purpose of our training is to encourage change. That’s not always easy to accept or comfortable to experience. We want to throw new ideas and challenges at you and make no apology for that. We aim to be stimulating but also human! You might even find good jokes in some of our courses. We hope that everyone who tackles one of our courses comes away with some really good ideas and new ways to approach their work. You will need to keep an open mind and be prepared to have some long-held ideas overturned.

And what are the advantages?
There are some unbeatable advantages to taking an online course. For a start, you can read right through it if you like, before you start work on it. It’s a good idea if you like to know what’s coming up – and still have the step-by-step experience of working through from start to finish.

In our courses we want to know what you think, how the ideas fit with your role and what your opinion, experience and thoughts are about the ideas we present to you. We provide online tools for you to record those thoughts as they occur, so you can return to them later. We make space for you to think about how our ideas fit with your working situation.

As you work through the courses, whichever one you take, there are opportunities for you to talk directly with the course authors and mentors. On self-assessed courses, this is through discussion boards where we respond directly; on courses with personal feedback and mentoring you have a direct connection with one of our team and individual feedback on your work. There is more opportunity than with face-to-face training to ask questions, to share your own views, to connect the training directly with your own job.

So, if the prospect of taking an online course is filling you with dread and your head is already on the table, take heart. Your role as a learner using an online course is to read, pause and consider. Keep an open mind and be prepared to think about what is possible. Our courses, and our staff, are here to offer you our combined experience and expertise whenever you need support and encouragement.

Why do a course now?
The pandemic made us all feel cut off from colleagues and customers.  Our courses will help you rediscover your library purpose.  If you can't resume the service as it used to run with everyone in on the library floor, you may have more time for thinking about what we offer more deeply, rather than rushing from one thing to the next.  If you are planning safe operation with restrictions, getting creative is essential - we want to offer more than a cut-down version of what the service used to be like.  We need to rebuild our confidence, our connections and our creativity as part of libraries' plan for recovery. Our courses can help you gain skills to do this.

No pressure and an enjoyable distraction from anxiety
It’s not easy dealing with the pressures and anxieties of returning to 'normal' work after the challenging year we have all had. Our courses won’t add to those pressures – there are no time limits and everything is in your control. But an hour concentrating on something you love can be a great distraction. It will remind you of who you are professionally and why you came into libraries in the first place. It can help to renew enthusiasm for trying new ideas.

School and college librarians
Many school librarians are used to working on their own and planning activities in the school holidays to put into practice when school starts again. All our school courses can be used in this way. You can do more than half of the course online – reading, reflecting and interacting with the material. You can download the print to support reading activities in the library and plan how you will use it - our  courses will give you lots of practical ideas to try with your students. 

Here’s a testament to the motivational power of taking an Opening the Book course.  Below are comments from the first 3 people to complete a course during the first lockdown when they were at their most isolated: 

“Thank you so very much for an absolutely fantastic course. I am still within my first year as a part-time branch librarian and 'Playing your part in the library welcome' has been so helpful. Understanding merchandising and how to create interesting book displays will be a valuable asset to me and for the library visitors as I create showcases of the range of our books. I would highly recommend this course to all library staff but in particular, to those who are just starting to work as librarians. Being able to complete the course virtually was very beneficial especially at this time. I have been able to plan a series of showcase and display ideas using the techniques from the course. I cannot wait to get back into the library and to implement them! Thank you again for such a fantastic course.”
Elaine Hoystead, Wexford Public Libraries, Ireland

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to gain new information that related directly to my workplace. 'Merchandising the bookshelves' really got me thinking about the importance of planned displays and the various improvements that could be introduced into our library. I am really looking forward to trying some fresh, new displays when we reopen.
This on-line course is not only convenient but interesting and easy to navigate. If you are looking for some new ideas for effective displays, you will enjoy this course.”

Kay Hanley, Eastern Regional Libraries, Victoria, Australia

“Creating powerful promotions was very good, especially the final digital book display element, as it allowed you to put what you were learning into action. That is a very valuable resource, especially when working from home as you cannot access the books physically. Otherwise the course was consistently interesting throughout and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Shane Gibbons, Wexford Public Libraries, Ireland

Are the courses recognised and accredited?
A Certificate of Completion will be awarded to to each participant on successful completion of a course. Courses with personal feedback or mentoring are individually assessed and Certificates are awarded only to those who successfully demonstrate their skills and understanding.

The courses are on-the-job professional development and so are not credited to a librarianship degree as they are more practical than academic in content. They were originally developed in order to meet training gaps in library practice identified in partnership with the UK Society of Chief Librarians (now Libraries Connected).  Early development was supported with public funding from the Arts Councils of England, Wales and Scotland, and by national and state library organisations in Australia and Ireland.  In recognition of this public funding support, Opening the Book continues to charge rates which cover costs and are not profit-making. 

The value of Opening the Book courses is widely recognised in the countries which have used them most - UK, Ireland and Australia - where listing Opening the Book course achievements in CVs and job applications is seen as a guarantee of specific skills and experience. Library services also use the courses as internal qualifications as part of staff induction or as part of annual appraisals.

Opening the Book is an officially recognised training provider by CILIP – the UK Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.




What is the return on investment?

“Opening the Book were hugely helpful providing evidence of the quality and impact of their training so we could make a case for funding to our Council. With home working the new normal we will be rolling out 60 places for our staff across three online-friendly courses. “
Lindsay McKrell, Team Leader for Libraries and Archives, Stirling Council, Scotland

Service delivery and ROI
The impact of these courses has been attested by many libraries. 140 staff took courses in Liverpool Libraries over a 3-year period. Their evaluation reported 96% of staff felt more confident talking to readers; 99% understood how to target a book promotion; 98% were confident to run a promotion in their library.

Our largest rollout was a programme across the State of Victoria in Australia with 1,000 learners, one in every library service, some in great cities, some in tiny outback stations. The evaluation showed this programme changed practice in the public library service across the whole State with the effects visible today quite a few years later.

Senior managers are using the courses to support modernising the library service.
“We are currently part way through a period of intense transformation of our library service – but what I see as the impact of Opening the Book courses is that staff start to ‘get’ what we are trying to achieve. And they support those goals and can move towards the new services and service delivery models more comfortably.” Isabel Millward, Community Librarian-Services, Selwyn District Council, New Zealand

“Recently we have moved to Shared Services with the Council administration staff which means new staff do not necessarily have library qualifications such as the longer-term employees. A course like this gives employees with no library background an idea of what we are trying to achieve. It creates food for thought, especially for people new to the job.”
Annabelle Mugge, Customer Experience Officer, Walkerville Library, Adelaide, Australia

School librarians
Scroll down the Outcomes section of our website and pick out the personal testimony from school and college librarians round the world – the return on investment is very clear. We have permission from these learners to use what they say so you can cut and paste this to send to principals, boards and funders to get support to take a course.

How can I support staff and keep them engaged with learning?
One of the key components of success in any rollout of our training is the support that learners receive from managers and the interest in the practical outcomes of the training demonstrated by senior management. We can create an extra administrator place for any manager who wants to be more involved.  This gives access to the Dashboard where you can see at a glance who is doing which course and when they logged in. You can also view as the learner to see their progress in detail.

Feeling part of a team
Setting up a regular Teams, Zoom or other remote discussion about training gives staff a reason to talk to each other about their experience of the courses.  You could set up a WhatsApp group so staff on the same course can message each other. Or suggest that managers who all have staff taking courses keep in touch with how it’s going and how they plan to use what’s been learned in their own branches.

Daily contact with the experienced Opening the Book team
The benefit of using our courses for isolated staff is that they have active contact with Opening the Book tutors.  In self-assessed courses,  there is a requirement to contribute to a discussion board where learners will find active participation from an Opening the Book tutor.  In  courses with personal feedback, submitted work is assessed by an Opening the Book tutor, who will comment on individual achievements, give praise and ask for more information if needed.  In the courses for managers, learners work throughout with a personal Opening the Book mentor who can discuss with them how they can apply the course work to their specific work situation.

There are no deadlines set online for anyone to complete a course, but managers might consider setting deadlines for their own staff, depending on the time that they allow for training to take place. The most successful large-scale rollouts we have seen all set deadlines to help progress keep moving.

How can I plan team building across the whole service?
Opening the Book courses have played a key part in many training strategies across whole public library services from London to Kampala, fitting numbers to their specific needs.  Typically, a large service buys a pyramid of places, say 50 at self-assessed level, 25 with personal feedback and 5 for managers.  In another model, libraries in North Wales combined together to run a shared programme supported by regional funding. There is a great opportunity for school networks to look at this too.

How many staff can take a course at once?
You have control over which courses you allocate to which staff, and in what numbers. It's a good idea not to have several staff all wanting to try out the same idea in a small branch library at the same time but apart from that proviso, numbers are limitless. Some services have rotated staff through courses so each cohort takes the same courses but not in the same order so not at the same time. 

Who goes first?
If you are not sure of the best balance of courses for your situation, you can allocate some places for staff to go through quickly as a pilot and then regroup to discuss which are the ones you want more people to do. It is often a good idea to get some keen people in the first tranche as they will send good messages about the experience to others. Once established, you may also want to put staff on who will find it more challenging, ones who need a bit of a push. 

Balancing across different departments and levels
All the courses have a practical reader focus.  There is no overlap of content so staff can take more than one.  Check out the course content to see how it meets different training needs and do get in touch if you'd like to discuss this further.

Can I use courses to plan future activities?

Our courses offer so many opportunities to plan your promotions and activities!  You could plot a brilliant new reading promotion, monitor the use of a re-arranged library space,  work out new ideas to welcome visitors, plan a spectacular event for readers, take time to explore your collection or devise ways to put readers together to share their reading.  The library is your oyster.

Taking the time
We so rarely have the time to think creatively – it’s all rush, rush just to get through the daily tasks. Our courses are full of stimulus to get you thinking differently.  You have the benefit of connection to the Opening the Book team to try out your suggestions, however tentative, and get some feedback. You can use the note boxes in all our courses to record your thinking as you go along and go back to it whenever you wish. Nothing you do now will be wasted – it will be there to come back to whenever you need a creative stimulus.

Getting specific
We worked with one library service on how to use Creating powerful promotions to create a core group to plan an annual programme of touring promotions round branches. Another group of staff took Understanding book appeal to use what they learn to develop the book collections to accompany the promotions.

We worked with an International School on a mix of courses to involve staff with different roles in new thinking to support a planned refurbishment. This involved new approaches to shelving layout, to collection organisation and to merchandising and display.

This kind of thinking helps staff feel the training is worthwhile and relevant to their job. It feeds directly into project planning for future activities.

What’s my guarantee of quality?

“I have seen so much benefit from Opening the Book online training, in the Victoria-wide rollout and in my own library service.  I continue to use it because it’s the only training I’ve come across that focuses on reader-centred library practice.  It is an ideal blend of theory and practical, delivered through a user-friendly online platform.  It has also evolved over time, in response to user feedback and needs, making the training as relevant today as it was when I first encountered it.  A lot of library staff I have worked with say it’s the best training they have ever done.  They describe the course content as inspiring and even nourishing.  It changes their perspective and allows them to look with fresh eyes at their work in engaging readers.  For many, it’s a reminder of why they decided to work in libraries in the first place.”
Shirley Bateman, Melbourne Library Service, Australia

Quality monitoring
All our courses are competence based rather than graded so it is a simple Pass or Fail to gain a certificate. Opening the Book maintains high standards as we are required to establish that the certificate issued has the same value in different countries and we cannot compromise on that. 

Self-assessed courses set a demanding set of questions in order for a learner to pass the course. In assessed courses there is personal feedback from an Opening the Book trainer for every learner.  Any learner not fulfilling the tasks to the satisfaction of the assessor is asked to go back and do further work.  This is a supportive process not a punitive one so many redouble their effort but there are some learners who do not put in the work and they are not awarded the certificate.  

Our course platform enables each learner to record their personal responses, reflections and task outcomes. This is not tick-box learning. If you leave a box empty, you will be asked to go back and complete it. This learning record is visible to the Opening the Book assessor and also, in a larger rollout, to your nominated administrator who can also check in on quality issues at any time.


How do I access courses from home?
It’s simple – all you need is an email address and access to the internet. It’s simple – all you need is an email address and access to the internet. You can move between work and home as you choose; when you log in, you will be taken to the point you last reached.

Email address
You can use a work email or a personal one as you prefer. You will need to always use the same email as this is your identifier. You can then access the course and your notes in response to it at any time – it remains accessible after you finish. If you take another course, all your work will be in the same place.

PCs, Macs and tablets
The courses work on PCs, Macs and iPads. They work on other tablets too but we don’t test them all and we don’t provide tech support for them. We don’t have many tech issues to be fair.

You can view all the course content on a mobile phone but you will not be able to do the interactive exercises. A message will pop up explaining you need a larger screen to do these.

You will need a web browser such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge or Firefox. We test our courses across these platforms.

You will need Javascript enabled and cookies enabled in your browser – turn these on in Settings.

How do I pay for courses?

Click on Buy Place to put course places in your Basket. Click on Secure Checkout and add your details.

You will be offered a choice of ways to pay:

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  • Ask for an invoice – complete your details and we will email you a PDF invoice for the places you wish to purchase. If the invoice needs a Purchase Order number from your organisation, please add that. As soon as we receive payment for the invoice, we will email your password access to the courses.


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