One way to fix our library workshops

Our workshops often fail.

Librarians spend a lot of time creating and preparing for workshops — the semi-formal classes covering library services or issues like scholarly communication. The problem is these workshops are either sparsely attended or not attended at all. In a year when librarians are being pulled in many different directions, this is a waste of time. 

This is also true for repeat workshops that need very little preparation. I recently spent 15 minutes before the second run of a workshop preparing the classroom. I then waited 10 minutes in the classroom for students to arrive. While the amount of time I spent to prepare was limited, I could have been doing more productive tasks. 

The problem is workshops are an important service the library provides. It is important that librarians work face-to-face with users and explain/identify specific tools or services we can offer. It’s also important that we use workshops to test new service ideas.  

Workshops suffer from many issues. The first is schedule. We attempt to schedule them when we hope either students or faculty are available. But we’re just guessing — and our attendance record shows it. 

We could say that asking people to make time for courses is a mistake. Asynchronous courses may be more efficient and work with peoples’ schedules, but they also take a long time to create. (We also have no instructional designers on staff, so creating the right type of courses would be difficult.) Some subjects that may not be suitable for a video course. And,  meeting people face-to-face is important for librarians.  

Beyond scheduling we also have a problem with interacting with our user base. On one hand, we don’t know very well what users want to learn and how they would like to learn it. We create workshops on important topics and we hope users come. 

One way to help solve this is to create a new method to propose and design workshops that are aimed at specific stakeholders. This would start a conversation with stakeholders on what library services are important for them to learn and how they would learn this material. 

Each semester librarians would create a list of potential workshops and their short descriptions. This list would be sent to a group of wide ranging stakeholders, which could include faculty from colleges and schools but also the research office and new research centers to student groups (like engineering, etc.) to faculty development. 

If a stakeholder group would show interest we could start a conversation regarding what that workshop would cover and when it would be held. Perhaps the workshop would be held in conjunction with another meeting, say the faculty development center. Or, the workshop could be held with support from the research office. 

The idea is that we would no longer be guessing on what people want to learn. By starting these conversations, we could better explain why we think learning a specific topic would be good, which could help give us some converts. 

I don’t think this would preclude us from holding public workshops. These remain important. Although I do think that if no one is attending classes on basic databases or searching, we may want to rethink their delivery.  

But this would jump start the conversations that we need to be having with our stakeholders — about the information they want to know and what they really want out of the library.