Professional development for makers - onboarding staff

After running maker workshops in libraries and other community spaces over the last 12 months, we’ve found our approach to how we provide staff training inevitably influenced by constructionist approaches. This has helped us make staff training and other professional development opportunities more approachable and engaging (and, dare we say, fun) for staff, even the more reluctant ones.

Oxfordshire staff training photo
Staff training at Oxfordshire Libraries

Introducing new services to libraries and museums puts a lot of additional pressure on staff, particularly in times of reduced funding. But emerging technologies also present exciting opportunities for how we deliver library services in an increasingly digital and interactive world.

Understandably, a lot of staff are hesitant about providing and supporting new services that rely on technical knowledge or experience that they don’t feel they have.

One of the things we’ve been working with libraries (including Oxfordshire, Surrey, Kent and Redbridge libraries) on is how we can support staff during these turbulent times to gain the skills (and confidence) to support the provision of new services such as makerspaces. All staff, not just the already enthusiastic.

It’s important to emphasise to staff that this is not about being able to demonstrate cutting edge technical chops. Makerspaces are first and foremost a creative learning service and, as such, facilitation and learner support skills are key.

We focus on collaborative activities to help make the learning more accessible to those who may a bit tentative when learning about emerging technologies.

Another useful technique is ensuring learning activities are user-driven. Instead of providing step by step instructions to participants (which is both boring and less pedagogically sound), we provide them with a goal and the tools and resources they need to design their own project.

Oxfordshire paper circuits collage
Some of the awesome paper circuits made by Oxfordshire Libraries staff

Active learning techniques such as buzz groups and brainstorming are very effective ways to involve all staff in professional development events. At a recent staff training day at Oxfordshire Libraries, for example, learners worked on maker activities together before brainstorming their own ideas for workshops that they could run in their own libraries.

Similarly, when training new Library Liaison Assistants for the Digital Services Team at Surrey Libraries, we made sure they got a chance to explore and discuss a range of new technologies that the library offers. (You can read more about the amazing stuff happening at Guildford Library makerspace here).

Some examples of things you might want to try to on-board staff include:

  • Team building events using maker activities
  • Designing maker activities that are directly relevant to different staff roles (e.g. story-based making, infolit making)
  • Providing tinkering time and support (e.g. staff room access to equipment, demo sessions).
  • Focus on facilitation skills, not tech virtuosity.

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