Play and Technology Learning

Library Edge Benchmark 8 states: Libraries have sufficient staff with technology expertise to help patrons achieve their goals. Developing technology expertise is an ongoing process and requires creating learning situations beyond the traditional instructor/student computer lab setting. By creating environments that foster creativity and innovation, libraries can help individual staff members learn and can also help build a team that can adapt to rapid change. In this article, we'll introduce several technology learning formats that emphasize play and collaboration.

1. Petting Zoo

In order to increase staff familiarity with devices and apps, many libraries are creating technology "petting zoos", with ereaders, tablets, and other devices that staff and patrons can use to get a feel for how they work. Want to learn more? We've spotlighted the Williamson County Public Library's Gadget Zoo experiences for you to read and have pulled together resources and advice for gadget instruction, too.

2. Sandbox

Many organizations are also creating technology sandboxes. These are like a virtual petting zoo for trying out software and online resources and applications. It's sometimes used for experimentation with technologies that are in beta or trial mode. Want to learn more? In a 1-hour TechSoup webinar, Colorado library tech guru Kieran Hixon shared his experiences with the sandbox approach at the John C Fremont Library.

3. Speed Dating

You may have heard of speed dating parties. They are popular matchmaking events during which single people have an opportunity to have quick conversations with lots of other single people. If someone meets a person they would like to get to know better during the event, they can arrange another date. Some innovative minds in the New Jersey library world have borrowed from this approach to create Technology Speed Dating, a training format that helped NJ librarians quickly get introduced to lots of new technologies.

Creating a Playful Environment

Many libraries are still experimenting with how to create an environment that supports playful learning. Three things to consider are:

  • Providing time and permission. By now, Google's policy of giving company engineers 20 percent of their time (during work hours) to do whatever they like, is well known. Many of the company's innovations have stemmed from this time. Are staff given time to play with technology?
  • Allowing people to follow their interests. Those Google engineers are using that 20 percent time to explore things that interest them personally. The value of interest based learning is well-known in the education world. People engage and are happier and more productive when they are doing and learning about things that are deeply interesting to them.
  • Collaboration. Whether it's peer based learning or a mentor/mentee situation, having an opportunity to learn with others is a powerful thing, too. Some collaborations develop organically but systematically creating collaborative situations is sometimes useful. Have you heard of skunkworks? According to an article in The Economist, "A skunkworks is a place (or sometimes the people who work in that place) designed to encourage the employees of large organisations to come up with original ideas. It usually consists of a small team taken out of their normal working environment and given exceptional freedom from their organisation's standard management constraints. The name is taken from the moonshine factory in a famous Al Capp cartoon series called 'Li'l Abner'." What is the potential that exists for libraries to use this format for collaborative learning and doing?

Libraries as Spaces for Learning

Libraries are increasingly focused on supporting things like makerspaces and hackathons for library users. These formats are based on a philosophy of learning, doing, collaborating, tinkering, playing.... that can inform the ways in which we think about and provide staff learning opportunities, too.

This post focuses on Edge Benchmark 8, which recommends that library staff are given time and opportunities for technology learning so that they are prepared to provide technology assistance. Encouraging and empowering library staff as they learn technology skills can create a more innovative and vibrant environment for everyone!

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