Continuing Education: What We Want v. What We Need

In my day job, one of my core responsibilities is to provide continuing education opportunities to the staff of all 630 libraries (of all types) in South Jersey. My goal is to provide a slate of classes and workshops that will help library staff develop the skills they need to provide excellent library service to their customers. But what skills do they need? There’s the rub.

One of trickiest parts of my job is doing needs assessment. I use the basic tools: evaluation forms, online surveys, etc., but I’ve found that what people tell me they want/need is not always what they sign up for. And more interestingly, I’ve found that classes/workshops that NO ONE asked for are often the ones that fill up immediately and demand repeated encores for the next year or two.

That’s where the fun comes in! The Dylan lyric, “Your debutante just knows what you need, but I know what you want” comes to mind, but in my case it’s the reverse: Library staff tell me what they want (and I schedule it), but sometimes I also give them what they need (even though no one asked for it.)

A perfect example of this is a recent class I scheduled on Web 2.0. I hadn’t heard Web 2.0 mentioned in any of many interactions with library staff, nor on any of the hundreds of workshop evaluation forms I’ve collected where I ask students for future class suggestions. But I had seen Web 2.0 (and Library 2.0) being discussed in many blogs, and the principles seemed highly relevant to the current and future health of library services. So I found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor (oops, Dylan on the brain) a super competent instructor (Sophie Brookover, PopMeister and recent LJ Mover and Shaker) and scheduled a class. It immediately filled up, and we’ve just about filled the encore class scheduled for June from the waiting list alone. Score!

I’ve seen this phenomena before, generally with semi cutting-edge topics. No one asked for blogging classes, but they filled immediately. No one asked for RSS classes. Again, filled. The same with classes on wireless a year or two back. What’s next? (um, that’s not a rhetorical question… someone please tell me what’s next.)

Blog reading, and the ability to track headlines through RSS has given me a keener eye for what’s coming down the pike, and helped me to broaden the scope of classes that I offer. Ever since I started following a few blogs through RSS (Firefox toolbar did it for me) I’ve been better informed and my knowledge and awareness of trends, tools, and timely tips is broader and deeper than ever before. I love the way RSS has made it simple, simple, simple to stay on top of an immense amount of information, not to mention the exponential serendipity of finding one great blog and being led (through blogroll or post) to other great blogs.

Getting back to the question, “What’s next?” I’d like to put that out there to you. What classes or workshops do you want? What do you need? What cutting-edge trend or tool do we need to know about today to give great service to our customers the day after tomorrow? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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