Library directors and managers, colleagues have been assuring me recently, play a critical role in the success or failure of workplace learning and performance programs in the organizations they oversee. It goes beyond supporting and approving budgets: if they show an advocate’s interest in what is happening through training programs, check with their colleagues and their staff to see what effect those programs are having, and actually participate in learning opportunities offered within their organizations, they are setting a standard which encourages effective learning and the development of communities of learners.

 

It was no surprise to me, then, that these comments came to mind repeatedly when I was lucky enough to attend the awards ceremony for the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize recipients here in San Francisco last night. The awards honor people who, by the act of living and acting on their beliefs in spite of significant challenges, time constraints, and, occasionally, threats of incarceration and death, train the rest of us to believe that we, too, can make a difference.

 

The usual high profile environmental activists were there: Al Gore and Robert Redford provided opening comments which (globally) warmed up the crowd and reminded all of us that we have a role to play. Singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman provided entertainment by singing one of her own songs (“Talkin’ Bout A Revolution”) and doing a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”—“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

 

But the real stars and trainers were those being honored, including Maria Gunnoe. From her home in the heart of Appalachia, in West Virginia, she stood up against the removal of mountaintops to expedite coal mining because the byproducts of that process are creating toxic wastes which are destroying the area where her family has lived for more than a century. Although neighbors were afraid to testify, she did, and a court ruling halted one particularly damaging mountaintop removal project which was affecting her property. The joy all of us in the audience felt as she accepted her award was tempered by the image of the tall cyclone fence which was constructed around her house and the news that she needed  around-the-clock security protection to counter the threats she was receiving while she carried on her fight.

 

Then there were Wanze Eduards and Hugo Jabini, who successfully organized entire communities in the Saramaka lands in Suriname (within the Amazonian forests) to halt destructive logging. And Yuyun Ismawati, who helped implement community-based safe and sustainable waste management programs in Indonesian communities through her organization, Bali Fokus. And Olga Speranskaya, a Russian scientist whose community-based efforts have become a model worldwide for efforts to encourage the clean-up of toxic waste sites. And Syeda Rizwana Hasan, an environmental attorney in Bangladesh whose efforts successfully stopped toxin-laden ships from being allowed to be brought up on beaches in her country so the wrecks could be broken into scrap—a process called “ship breaking”—to be resold while the waste polluted the beaches. And, finally, Marc Ona Essangui, a wheelchair-using activist whose successful efforts to stop a massive government-approved mining project in Gabon’s Ivindo National Park (in west central Africa) led to his arrest and detention for several days earlier this year.

 

Each one of them received standing ovations from those of us who were there to hear their acceptance speeches. Hundreds of us joined them at a post-event reception in their honor to shake their hands and thank them for reminding us that significant effects begin with the efforts of individuals. And at least a few of us, in thinking about what we can do in our own lives to make a difference within the communities we serve, were reminded that some of the most effective training comes from those who live the lessons the rest of us still need to learn and follow.

It’s not as if trainer-teacher-learners—a group which includes nearly anyone currently affiliated with or using libraries—have any extra time on our hands. There are mornings when the act of opening our eyes and glancing at our to-do lists is enough to make us want to dive back under our blankets, close our eyes, and hope that visions of things to be done will somehow miraculously vanish before we move out of the comfort of our beds.

 

That, however, didn’t stop several of us from immediately rising to the challenge posed by our fellow CE Buzz blogger Peter Bromberg this morning when he noted–in much kinder and gentler words than I’m using here–that we’ve become somewhat slothful about keeping up our commitment to contribute to CE Buzz and the community of learners it represents. In asking us whether we wanted to continue as contributors and, more importantly, whether we were willing to commit to a fairly easy schedule of posting articles so that fresh content appears regularly, Peter inadvertently reminded us why we were so attracted to the site initially.

 

My immediate reaction was to call Peter; discuss what we’re doing and what we might be doing better; and promise that I would return sooner than later. Excited and encouraged by what we know will come of this, we both noted that there seems to be a rising wave of energy and excitement around the work CLENE is currently doing and the level of commitment CLENE members bring to the organization and to our parent organization, the American Library Association.

 

The blog, for many of us, is both an extension and an integral part of what CLENE provides and inspires—a 21st-century physical and online variation of the Third Place which Ray Oldenburg, in The Great Good Place, suggested we need in addition to home and workplace. It should and deserves to be nurtured. And it’s only going to grow if those of us who are committed to contributing to it meet our commitments, and those of you who are drawn into this community of trainer-teacher-learners become active participants through your responses and engagement with all that CLENE and CE Buzz can offer.

 

“It feels as if we’re right at a tipping point,” Peter commented, and I began to laugh, for even though I recognized the term “tipping point” as coming from Malcolm Gladwell’s book which uses the term as its title, my mind—in equal states of exhaustion and hyper-caffeination—began to latch onto the word “tipping,” picture things being tipped, and—for no reason I can offer other than my penchant for always enjoying word and visual playfulness—started thinking about things being tipped over. Like a glass of wine. Or a glass of milk. Or, in the oft-cited image which must hearken back to our rural roots and people with too much time on their hands, cows—as in “cow-tipping.”

 

Now please understand that neither Peter nor I are suggesting that we’re going to pursue cow-tipping as a learning technique or a fundraising effort on behalf of CLENE or any of its activities under the auspices of the American Library Association. (I frankly doubt that ALA and its incoming president, Camila Alire, would be very supportive of this kind of endeavor.) On the other hand, the trainer-teacher-learner in me did spend a little time this afternoon with Wikipedia and other sources to learn more about the alleged practice of cow-tipping and read the wikipedians’ report that “According to popular belief, cows can easily be pushed over without much force because they are slow-moving, slow-witted and weak-legged, have a high center of gravity and sleep standing up. Numerous publications have debunked cow-tipping as a myth. Cows do not sleep standing up, nor do their knees lock, making the act of cow-tipping impossible.” (See, you actually learned something by staying with me this far into the blog.)

 

Please, furthermore, don’t expect us to suggest that current efforts to find a new look and logo for CLENE’s materials might somehow involve the image of a cow being tipped over while engaged in learning—at least not unless other CLENE members and ALA’s wonderful membership director, John Chrastka, want to make a connection I’m not willing to make right now. (No, John, I won’t hold my breath waiting for you to take the lead on this one.)

 

But do understand that if we could take the time it took to have that conversation this morning and giggle over improbable images and apparently non-existent pastimes, we and our fellow CE Buzzers certainly can carve out the time to continue thinking out loud here on the blog in the hope that some of the more serious ideas and practices which we document and propose will somehow contribute, overall, to the improvement of the training-teaching-learning arena which we all so clearly cherish. And we hope you’ll join us here on the blog, as well as in CLENE, as we continue promoting creativity and innovation in workplace learning and performance to the benefit of libraries and all we serve.

 

For more information about CLENE and how to join the group, please follow this link.

 

 

An interesting thing is happening in the San Francisco East Bay area: a local chapter of the American Society for Training & Development is becoming the trainer-teacher-learner’s version of a literary salon, and its community of members has increased by nearly 33 percent (from 62 to 82 members) in less than six months.

 

Here’s how it’s evolving: Three of us who work on programming for the ASTD Mt. Diablo Chapter’s monthly two-hour dinner meetings at the Crow Canyon Country Club in Danville decided to build off of the Chapter’s tradition of bringing in the best available speakers on the interrelated topics of training, leadership, and human resources; we encouraged presenters to use engaging, cutting-edge presentation styles while playing off of the camaraderie which existed within the small group of 10 or 15 repeat attendees.

 

Chapter member Steven Cerri, presenting on the topic “Why Most Training Isn’t Sticky and What to Do About It” at the Chapter’s April meeting, didn’t just cover the topic effectively; he frequently called attention to the techniques he was using and, as a result, kept the event lively, personal, and sticky for the audience he was addressing. And that’s when the magic began: the regulars had never been shy about engaging speakers and each other throughout the monthly formal presentations, but they upped the ante—and made the experience memorable—by being part of the discussion rather than sitting back, listening passively, and politely asking questions while Steven stood before them. And when the hour-long formal program was over, people didn’t quickly empty the room. The discussion continued informally for at least another half hour.

 

Daren Blonski, VP of Leadership Development for Sonoma Learning Systems, inspired an equally engaging exchange the following month on the theme of what trainers need to know to function effectively in multigenerational workplaces. We worked together, as he prepared his PowerPoint slides, to incorporate a Cliff Atkinson Beyond Bullet Points style to his presentation—creating a visual narrative flow from slide to slide without using much text. The level of engagement between Daren and the other participants—it would be inaccurate and unfair to refer to them as an “audience” in this context—was electric. Daren didn’t even use all the slides he had prepared; he took advantage of the lively interactions to cover the material, and the discussion continued informally for almost 45 minutes after the monthly meeting was formally adjourned.

 

Provokare Presentations Founder Roberto Giannicola, at the Chapter’s June meeting, took the process over the top. With visually stimulating slides, a puckishly engaging sense of humor, and a presentation virtually free of bullet points (except when he was using them to show how ineffective they can be), he set an enormously high bar for all presenters who will follow him at Mt. Diablo Chapter dinner meetings. He facilitated a very lively discussion on how the combination of  imagery and storytelling creates effective learning experiences, and it was again with reticence that everyone parted ways nearly an hour after the meeting ended.

 

It hasn’t taken long for the word to spread. That small community of regulars in March has quickly expanded so that the Chapter’s meeting last night, featuring ASTD Senior Chapter Coach Scott Wilson (based in Washington, D.C., but traveling under the auspices of ASTD to serve as keynote speaker for the event), drew 32 participants—nearly half of them first-time attendees, and two of them returning after at least a few years away from the Chapter. One after another, they confirmed that they were drawn to Scott’s presentation on “Current Reports and Best Training Practices from ASTD’s National Office” because colleagues have been telling them about the “incredible energy” that is coming out of the Mt. Diablo Chapter presentations and discussions. And, of course, it was no surprise to find two people standing outside in that warm summer evening weather 90 minutes after Scott’s formal presentation ended last night. Which suggests that we may not be far from seeing after-meeting discussions which exceed the two-hour time frame for the formal dinners and presentations themselves.

 

For more information about the Chapter’s activities, please visit its website.

I’m not part of WebGen: I didn’t grow up wired, online, and connected to the world 24/7, and I do appreciate moments as well as hours of solitude. But, like most people who are honest about what is most important to them, I also value, crave, and am nurtured by community. So being in Anaheim for the annual American Library Association (ALA) conference earlier this month and spending every moment I could with colleagues in the library training-teaching-learning community provided lots of food for thought on the theme of what makes communities thrive when the Web 2.0 world and the face-to-face world of conferences with thousands of onsite participants converge.

 

The loosely knit community of trainer-teacher-learners who work in libraries throughout the United States—and who often feel incredibly isolated from each other, as evidenced by exchanges in the LibraryLearning Google Group started by Lori Reed less than a month ago—suddenly seems incredibly intimate and welcoming when you attend an American Library Association conference.

 

The central point of this convergence, for me, is my membership and increasing participation in CLENE—the Continuing Library Education and Networking Exchange (CLENE) training group. Right behind it are the overlapping connections resulting from the joint memberships and associations many of us seem to share through our affiliations with groups like Infopeople and the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), and the online community of bloggers who so frequently and effectively build a sense of community where none might otherwise be found.

 

Although there were more than 20,000 library staff members in Anaheim for the annual conference, those of us interested in training-teaching-learning kept running into each other everywhere we went, and a large part of it was due to the community we’ve created through CLENE and its series of workshops; meetings; discussions; and its training showcase.

 

The group, like Infopeople, is fluid rather than rigidly structured. It’s welcoming. And it’s like being part of a large family where somebody is always bringing someone else home for dinner without bothering to phone ahead, knowing that there somehow will be enough food for everyone so no one will go to bed hungry that night. It’s the kind of group where everyone around the table jumps into the conversation, and everybody goes away enriched. It’s the kind of group where you’ll find the same sort of arguments and hurt feelings that come up whenever people let their guards down and say what they’re thinking, but we know that we’re not going to let the arguments and hard feelings go unacknowledged or unresolved. The result is that we’re always ready to get together again as soon as we possibly can to eat and talk some more.

 

And when we part ways, there’s already that numbing twinge of implied loss as we realize we probably won’t see each other again for at least six months—until we reconvene for the next conference which brings us all together. But what remains is the strength of collegial exchanges and the warmth we manage to create through a community of learning which benefits all of us and all we touch.

 

For more information about CLENE and how to join the group, please follow this link.

 

Looks as if we have a little revolution on our hands, and it’s centered on the issue of access—or the lack thereof—to training opportunities for potential library leaders.

 

It started late last week when Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County Training Specialist Lori Reed posted an article on her personal Library Trainer blog to explain why she would not renew her ALA membership next year: to protest the exclusion of library Support Staff from the American Library Association’s Emerging Leaders program.

 

Lori writes of the excitement she felt when she first read that the program is “designed to enable more than 100 new librarians to get on the fast track to ALA and professional leadership,” then felt the wind being taken out of her sails when she realized that she, as someone without an MLS degree, could not apply to participate in this wonderful opportunity being offered by an organization which she supports through membership fees.

 

“So ALA will happily take the money from library support staff…for membership but does not allow those same members to apply for leadership opportunities within ALA as this one…No thank you.”

 

A few responses—including mine, meant to encourage her to work within ALA to change the situation rather than leave and give up hope for opening the doors to more opportunity for non-librarians within ALA—trickled in over the weekend. And then the number of responses doubled and included thoughtful pieces in support of Lori’s dissatisfaction from two treasured associates whom I have known since we first met through Infopeople: Pat Wagner and Sarah Houghton-Jan.

 

Pat suggests that “a goodly number of libraries in small communities are run by people without masters’ degrees” and says she has been involved in “a number of library leadership programs that were open to everyone, and the quality of participants remained very high.”

 

Sarah takes this a step further with a posting on her Librarian In Black site today in addition to what she wrote in her “Library Trainer” posting, assures her readers that “I agree with Lori wholeheartedly,” and calls for ALA to “pay them (members of library Support Staff) the respect they deserve.”

 

Lori, encouraged by the responses, produced a follow-up post this evening as I was editing this article. Perhaps the rest of us who so passionately support training opportunities for the widest possible audience can support her and our colleagues by trying to gain the attention of those who are already involved in the program and might be willing to expand the definition of—and playing field for—prospective library leaders today.

 

 

If we are to believe David Maister, the sky is once again falling, everything you know is wrong, and we’ve all been wasting our time by doing what we do as trainers.

 

Having modified an earlier series of blog postings into Why (Most) Training Is Useless in the May 2008 issue of T+D, ASTD’s monthly review of what is new, exciting, and challenging in the world  of training, Maister offers a thought-provoking confession and a suggested remedy.

 

Among his assertions are the proposition that “the majority of business training—by me and by everyone else—is a waste of time because only a microscopic fraction of training is ever put into practice with the hope for benefits obtained” (p. 53).  He also, in a section subtitled “The Right Approach,” suggests that a “full-change program” should be created; people should be trained with their coworkers so the lessons are carried back to and implemented in their workplace; and that staff rather than outsiders should be used to provide effective training experiences: “Outsiders should be used only to help train-the-trainers programs” (p. 58).

 

There’s much to admire in Maister’s article, and he is not alone in questioning whether current training procedures are effective. More pre- and post-workshop activities undoubtedly lead to better learning opportunities. Training employees in their “regular operating groups” does help create the possibility that the learners will have their lessons reinforced.  There is, however, also much to question.

 

Those of us who have managed training programs featuring a combination of in-house trainers and those hired from outside our organizations hear from our colleagues that they appreciate the training opportunities they would not have received if we had to rely solely on in-house resources. We also hear and see that what we offer is far from useless when our colleagues consistently tell us how helpful it is for them to have the variety of options we provide: one-hour, half-day, and full-day offerings on a variety of topics; occasional series which extend over two- or three-day periods; series which may continue once a month for several months; and other combinations such as asynchronous online learning opportunities or lesson plans which can be printed out and used on a schedule established by employees rather than supervisors or trainers.

 

Useless? I think not. Common? Not as common as it should be, but we all have to start somewhere.

 

The current “learning revolution,” which concentrates on learners as much as on instructors and which encourages abundant pre- and post-workshop activities to assure greater results from training sessions, is something to be admired and supported. It does not, however, mean that one-time workshops need to be eliminated.

 

A one-time harassment prevention session led by attorneys and involving an actor and an actress who did short, improvised vignettes on the topic led to unplanned workplace and lunch-time conversations among employees for several weeks after the sessions ended. Those informal discussions drew in employees who were not even present for the original presentations and helped create more awareness of the topic throughout the organization.

 

Workshops including discussions and tips about how to more effectively work with transgender colleagues and library users led to similar viral learning and the unsolicited assertion from at least one participant that the effectiveness of the instructor’s presentation had caused a major shift in the way that the participant worked after attending the session.

 

In the same way, we don’t need expensive surveys to know that employees who choose to attend one-hour, half-day, or full-day workshops on how to use the latest versions of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint are returning to their workplace and using what they learned to their benefit and to the advantage of those who use the services of the organizations for which they work.

 

I have no argument with Maister and others who suggest that more training time and more cohesive planning of long-term training goals can produce fantastic results. I’m also a strong supporter of having comprehensive in-house peer-based training programs along the lines of what the Contra Costa County Library offers. Where I do part ways with them is when they act as if they’ve suddenly seen the light, discovered that everything they’ve done was useless, and try to lead us to the one, true way to reach our goals—until they discover that this new way is also far from perfect and needs to be replaced by yet another “right” way to do things. As if everything we know were wrong.

 

Trainer-teacher-learners are, in many ways, the hunter-gatherers of our times. We love to find nourishing new pieces of information, transform them into knowledge, and share them with the other members of our global learning tribe. Which, if we are to believe David Weinberger in Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, makes us among the richest people in the world.

“It’s not what you know, and it’s not even who you know. It’s how much knowledge you give away. Hoarding knowledge diminishes your power because it diminishes your presence,” he writes near the end of the book (p. 230). And who among us would argue with that sentiment?

Weinberger’s charm lies in his ability to make us think, initially, about how information is organized or dis-organized, and then to nudge us along a path which makes it more likely that we’ll find more of what we’re seeking and then be willing to share it. He proposes, in the first chapter of his book, that there are three orders of order: physical objects which themselves can be organized (books, for example); physical catalogs and other forms of inventory which help to organize our access to the first-level objects being ordered; and the third order comprised of those things which appear to be in more than one place at a time (digital items which can be accessed online through messy yet effective ordering systems such as user-created tagging).

By the time we reach the final sections of Everything Is Miscellaneous, we’re happily flying high in messiness and miscellany with Weinberger. He reports that network analysts “have found that innovation happens at the intersections” —as we interact with colleagues from other fields of study or with backgrounds much different than our own, we are most likely to have the breakthrough moments in learning and creativity. It is, he suggests, similar to standing at a busy intersection in a city: “at those messy crossroads you’re more likely to get splashed” (pp. 181-182), and this leads to the enviable and disorderly position in which we now find ourselves: “We can make connections and relationships at a pace never before imagined” (p. 221).

We can almost feel the trainer-teacher-learner community growing as we read Weinberger’s words and think of other similar treatises. In Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures, for example, we find a similar world of crossroads and intersections—the Intersection which develops through meetings of dissimilar yet inquisitive minds. And there is even more encouragement to be found in Kevin Kelly’s WIRED magazine article “We Are the Web” (published in August 2005), which suggests that our collective efforts at creating and sharing networks makes us more than a “part” of the Web; it actually makes us the Web as we all contribute to what could be the first real example of artificial intelligence through the digital community we help build every time we create and/or post something on the Internet and make it accessible through tagging/folksonomy.

The truism that knowledge is power, and the selfish corollary that we must hoard rather than share that knowledge, seems to be quickly evolving into the Everything is Miscellaneous and “We Are the Web” world where giving knowledge away is the greatest indicator of wealth. And we couldn’t be more lucky than to be part of it through the CLENE/CE Buzz community.

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