October 12, 2017

Training at your library: we asked, you answered

Written by:
Jennifer Lohmann

Tags: ,

First off, thank you to all the library staff who answered our survey about training in your libraries and to ALA’s Learning Round Table for partnering with us. And thank you to all the people and organizations who shared the survey, to help us get the 642 responses that we’re sharing with you now.

We surveyed public libraries (mostly, although the responses came from other types of libraries too) to get a better sense of training needs and priorities. We asked questions about who gets trained, who does training, how often, and which topics. 

From what we hear from the libraries we work with and what we see in this survey, training is important to your library. However, this survey also bears out the concerns we hear from libraries. Staffing concerns mean it can be hard to find the time to make sure everyone who needs training is able to get it.

Let’s get down to the results

Who answered the survey?

Mostly public libraries responded to the survey (88.6%) and responses varied for library size, from the 13% of you who work in libraries that serve fewer than five thousand people to the 20% of you who serve populations between 100 thousand and 500 thousand people.


Figure 1: Population Served

It was also mostly supervisors/managers (24.9%) and directors (21.9%) that answered the survey, which gives us confidence that it reflects institutional feelings about training at a library, rather than individual feelings. That should make it easier for you to draw conclusions about the results. 


Figure 2: Primary role of respondents

How often is training required?

The most common response to “How often are staff at your library expected to attend training?” was “Every 2-3 months” (25%). The next most common answer (18%) was “Once a year.” If we compare smaller libraries (serving populations under twenty-five thousand) to very large libraries (populations of half a million or more), we can see that larger libraries have more guidelines in place regarding training. Other was also offered as a choice for “How often,” with interesting results, including that some libraries left the training requirements up to the library staff member and their supervisor, and other libraries had training requirements that varied by position. Struggles with staffing and budgets were reflected in these “other” answers, with libraries expressing a desire for more training but either a lack of funds to pay for training or a lack of staff to allow time off.


Figure 3: How often are staff at your library expected to attend training?

Not surprisingly, the most common choice to the question, “Which staff currently attend training at your library” was “All of the above” (55%). For those respondents who didn’t select “all of the above,” training seemed to be concentrated in managers/supervisors and directors (each around 45%) and public service staff, ranging from 38% to 41%. Note: respondents could select more than one option, so percentages will add to greater than 100%. 


Figure 4: Which staff currently attend training at your library?

How much do libraries pay for training?

The amount libraries pay per person for training seemed to be consistent across library size, with 40% saying they spend less than $250 per person, with percentages going down steadily from there. 27% of respondents were not sure how much their library paid for training per staff member, so these numbers are likely less accurate than others from the survey.

Who are the trainers?

Most of the respondents said their library did not have a dedicated trainer or staff development coordinator at their library. The 18% of libraries with one or more full-time trainers were from libraries that serve larger population. For example, 38% of libraries serving 100 thousand to 500 thousand people and 32% of libraries serving over 500 thousand people have full-time trainers.

A couple interesting notes to come out of the question about in-house training: at least one library focuses training on new staff with current staff only receiving training when policies and procedures change. Another library pointed out that they have staff members train on their expertise, from example youth services coordinators train on youth topics and human resources coordinates safety training, onboarding, and other system-wide concerns.

Libraries do bring in outside trainers, though again this varies by library size. Larger libraries are more likely to already bring in outside trainers or to plan to in the next year while smaller libraries do not. Outside trainers were often brought in for staff development days or for statewide or district/consortia level training. Few libraries seem to coordinate training with other local public libraries.


Figure 5: Does your library pay to bring in outside trainers to train library staff?

How does the training happen?

Webinars were the most popular form of training, with 42% of respondents saying it was the number one most popular form of training. 33% chose in-person workshops as the number one choice. These results were consistent across library size.


Figure 6: Which training formats are used in your library?

What training topics are popular?

The top five most popular topics for training were: customer service, technology, programming, product training, and readers’ advisory. The least popular options were cataloging; maker training, and collection development. 


Figure 7: What are the most attended training topics your library has offered in the past 12 months?

These topics roughly correspond to priorities for training for next year, with the top five priorities being: customer service, technology, marketing/outreach, programming, and product training. The bottom three priorities were cataloging, maker training, and collection development. 


Figure 8: What are your top areas of priority for staff training in the next 12 months?

Does this reflect your experience?

These survey results provide a snapshot of training, but we’d still like to know more! Do these survey results reflect your library’s experience? What do you see is the difference between customer service training and readers’ advisory, maker, or product training? Do you think your library’s training priorities reflect your patron needs or library strategic plan? Would you like more training and how would you like it?

Need tips on training your staff on NoveList? Sign up for Train with NoveList and get training tips, access to training materials, and more.


Jennifer Lohmann is a NoveList Consultant. 





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