Skills for the
new normal

As libraries start opening up again in a different world, we have adapted key courses to rekindle engagement in the new circumstances.

Supporting staff as libraries open up again

A message from Opening the Book Director
Rachel Van Riel

What kind of learner are you?
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? What is it about the program that makes you zone out, and what makes you sit up and take notice? Think back to the last training program 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 local coronavirus 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 Entry Level, this is through discussion boards where we respond directly; on Intermediate and Advanced Levels you also have a direct connection with one of our team and personal 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.

Through discussions, you can also connect with colleagues taking the course in very different situations and different countries. It is very heartening to hear how staff working in libraries all over the world have the same dedication and enthusiasm for what they do, however different their experiences. If you are taking an Advanced course, we have set it up so you can do the whole course with a Peer partner, keeping in touch in real time and virtual time as suits.

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.

Keep in touch with who you are
If you are feeling cut off from colleagues and patrons, this is a way of keeping in touch with the work you believe in. 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. 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 lockdown or changed working practice as libraries re-open. Our courses won’t add to those pressures – there are no timelimits 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 help to give a sense that libraries can still play a vital role in the world.

School and college librarians
Many school librarians are used to working on their own and planning activities in the school vacations 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. You will then be well ahead as schools re-open.

Here’s what the first 4 people to finish a course while their library was closed said:

“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 thought Merchandising the bookshelves was brilliant and very practical. It made me think about my own library and what we could do to improve our merchandising. I've passed my ideas on to my manager and received good feedback from her, including agreeing to change some aspects when we return to work.
I'm looking forward to the next course and I will join the coffee break forum now that has been added. I might not be as quick the next time as I'm working part time on a community helpline in respect of Covid-19 but I love books and the library so much that I won't be able to stay away for long!”

Tina Callaghan, 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 the reader to reader slips and 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

“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

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 Library 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

Keeping staff connected
Many library staff will still be working from home and feeling isolated from their workplace, while those coming in to work have anxieties too.  Shared training can help to keep staff motivated, connected and involved. This period of enforced isolation, followed by opening with restricted services, offers a window of time to introduce staff to new skills and fresh thinking. The courses are social as well as individual with lots of opportunities to share experience through discussion boards and dialogue with Opening the Book mentors.

Accreditation and recognition
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 partnership with the UK Society of Chief Librarians (now Libraries Connected) with public funding from the Arts Councils of England, Wales and Scotland in order to meet identified training gaps. They are widely recognised in the public library world in the UK, Ireland and Australia. Opening the Book is an officially recognized training provider by CILIP – the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. Staff completing courses successfully can evidence this on their CVs and this has been helpful in job applications. Library services also use the courses as internal qualifications as part of staff induction or as part of annual appraisals.

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.

The advantages of a home-based training rollout
Staff who are shielding or who are on shorter rota times in the building have more time to fit training into their day-to-day schedules. The digital exercises where learners explore the library catalog to make suggestions have been a great success in the past weeks with many learners commenting they explored both the catalog and other book and fan websites in ways they hadn't had time to before. Everyone has also been completing courses more quickly, which helps both with learning and with motivation.

Support from managers
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.  Managers may have more time to give this support and keep up with how staff are doing during this period.  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 Skype, Zoom, Google hangout or other remote discussion about training gives staff a reason to talk to each other about something other than the current crisis.  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 when libraries re-open.

One of the first Irish librarians to complete a course shortly after closure sent us a message about how much she had enjoyed the course and added, “ I also feel that the course will appeal to a wide audience and if everyone working in the same library / organization participates in the course this would have a bigger impact on how we all can contribute to best effect.”

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 the Entry Level courses, although the tasks are self-assessed, there is a requirement to contribute to a discussion board where they will find active participation from an Opening the Book tutor.  In the Intermediate courses they also are invited to participate in discussion and their submitted work is assessed by an Opening the Book tutor, who will comment on their achievement and ask for more information if needed.  In the Advanced courses, learners work throughout with a personal Opening the Book mentor who can discuss with them how they plan to apply the course work when they return to work and can follow up their experience at that later date.

Deadlines
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.

Planning a whole service approach
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 public library buys a pyramid of places, say 50 at entry level, 25 Intermediate and 5 Advanced.  In another model, libraries in North Wales combined together to run a shared program 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. In normal times, it is wise to limit the amount of staff trying out the same practical course in the same library, but if learners are home-working, it might be more useful to group people from the same working team together so they can actively discuss the course together and plan how to use the learning when they do return to work.  Reader-centered practice often requires new staff routines, so if a group of staff are also in contact with their library manager, those changes can be embedded before libraries re-open.   

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 also take more than one. Entry and Intermediate Level courses are appropriate for all staff while Advanced courses are for librarians and managers with more strategic responsibility.

One service is looking at HQ staff taking Understanding book appeal during closure as this is a group who often miss out on training. Another is concentrating numbers on Developing empathy with children as readers as their reader-centred work has previously focused on adults.

  • Playing your part in the library welcome is a great course to get all staff taking responsibility for that vital first impression.
  • Developing empathy with children as readers will help front-facing staff who deal with children and young teens, including those who lack confidence with these age groups.
  • Putting readers first will help staff to enrich the way the library offers books and reading when we re-open. 
  • Merchandising the bookshelves concentrates on how to make books on shelving look good in different parts of the library as an everyday task.  This is a great course for anyone working on the frontline but has been enjoyed by librarians too.
  • Creating powerful promotions is more about one-off displays and lifting these beyond the regular seasonal themes.  Anyone can take this too but those who have responsibility for planning promotions might be especially interested.
  • Understanding book appeal is more stock focused but always thinks of stock in relation to possible readers. It will widen stock knowledge for anyone.
  • Audience development is for managers to consider models and approaches to growing the library audience. This is now a planning course where you work with your mentor to plan activities you can put in place when we re-open. It is complemented by the Practical outreach course which looks at developing audiences outside the building – but that requires talking to lots of people so will have to wait until we are allowed to meet again.

Opportunities
There’s so much to be done with our coursework to plan for the future! You could plot a brilliant new reading program, plan to re-arrange the 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 and colleagues in other countries 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 when you are back at work.

Getting specific
We are working with one library service on how to use Creating powerful promotions to create a core group to plan an annual program of touring promotions round branches. Another group of staff will take Understanding book appeal and use what they learn to develop the book collections to accompany the programs.

We are working with an International School on a mix of courses to involve all the staff in new thinking to support a planned refurbishment which may be delayed but will still go ahead.  This involves 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 is going to be useful when they are back at work.  It feeds directly into project planning for future activities.

Outstanding record
“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. 

Entry level courses set a demanding set of questions in order for a learner to pass the course. In Intermediate and Advanced 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.

Professional recognition
Opening the Book courses are widely recognised in the public library world in the UK, Ireland and Australia.  Opening the Book is an officially recognized training provider by CILIP – the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.  Staff completing courses successfully can evidence this on their CVs and this has been helpful in job applications. Library services also use the courses as internal qualifications as part of staff induction or as part of annual appraisals.

How do I access courses from home?
It’s simple – all you need is an email address and access to the internet.

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.

Browser
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.

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:

  • Pay with Paypal, credit or debit card and start within 2 working days of your payment.
  • 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 you password access to the courses.

Inspire individual staff and whole library services

Library work across school, college and public libraries is changing and staff need new skills. It's no longer enough to provide a service passively; it's all about engaging students and patrons and offering a richer experience.

Opening the Book courses will inspire individual staff and whole services to meet these challenges. 20,000 staff have taken our training courses in many different countries; courses gain 99% satisfaction ratings from users.

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 program at Liverpool Libraries, UK. Their evaluation of staff experience found:

96%
felt more confident talking to readers
99%
understood how to target an audience for a book promotion
98%
were confident to create and run a promotion in their library

Expert support

Online training can be lonely. Our staff are here to help. On Entry level courses, you will be part of a curated discussion board. On Intermediate courses, you will receive personal feedback on the work you submit. On Advanced courses you will have regular contact with a personal mentor.

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 enroll 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.

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