Liberating Structures and Learning Together

I had the extraordinary pleasure of working with the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL) staff this week. I facilitated their staff meeting and helped them come up with new ideas. It was an excellent session and incredibly fun.

I used Liberating Structures to facilitate the meeting. Since a couple of their staff members are blind, I kept that in mind while designing the meeting. My friend and colleague, Leslie Boyter, Essential Explorations, was my partner in crime on the design.

I was rewarded at the end of the session with the complement, “This was really blind friendly!” As a trainer and facilitator, it is always rewarding to know that something worked well.

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Being the first time that I used Liberating Structures in this manner, I wasn’t sure what would work and what might be a bit challenging. Thanks to a wonderfully supportive group, I received good feedback and have ideas for future trainings and facilitations using these methods.

I always love working with WTBBL staff because they are so passionate and dedicated. My mom used their services for years and I know that it truly increased her quality of life since she was an avid reader. Being able to borrow tapes of books by her favorite authors made her very happy. Working in public libraries, I told patrons about WTBBL and the amazing service that they provide. WTBBL serves many people. Yes, they serve the blind, but they also serve others who have difficulty using traditional print materials.

I’ve enjoyed watching WTBBL add new technologies over the years and continue to offer stellar service. WTBBL has been facing substantial budget cuts over the years and they currently have a very small staff compared to their patron base. Their secret to survival is their volunteers. Volunteers are instrumental in keeping WTBBL up and running. The staff provide great leadership to their volunteers and this partnership really works.

WTBBL also has a very active and vital Patron Advisory Council (PAC) who help them in many ways including advocating for funding. The staff and PAC work closely together. It is so empowering to see the customers taking such an active role in such an important service.

And guess what….WTBBL services are FREE! Yes, they do not charge for their services and there are no overdue fines. The materials are shipped directly to the patron or made available as a download. WTBBL has gone digital and now circulates digital audio books that can be downloaded either onto a special WTBBL device or to a person’s personal device. If you are interested in learning more about WTBBL, check out their website at http://www.wtbbl.org/; they even have a great video on their website with patron testimonials.

To me, WTBBL truly embodies leadership, innovation, technology and life-long learning. That’s probably why I love them so much.

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Learning and Technology

I remember the day my dad brought home some Compaq computers for work. It was a novelty to have the personal computers in our home, usually we would visit dad at the office and watch the huge computer in action. We’d have fun collected the used data cards with hole-punches. And now, many years later, technology is very much part of our daily life. (For those interested, here’s a link to a vintage Compaq: http://www.vintage-computer.com/compaq_portable.shtml)

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Having been around technology as a child probably helped me feel comfortable around it early on. Working in libraries also helped. I remember when our library system moved over from the microfiche catalog to a full ILS (Integrated Library System). Even though I was only a Page and Library Assistant-in-Training, I was allowed to participate in the training classes. I loved learning the new system and creating mock patron records. Later, my library system migrated to a new ILS so I was able to learn another system as well. Learning the ILS from the beginning helped when I worked at a rural library and was asked to be the back-up ILS Administrator. I went to Provo, Utah to learn all about administrating Dynix. It was an intense week, but I learned that running an ILS system wasn’t so difficult after all. Sometimes, I miss being an ILS administrator.

Over the years, I’ve jumped into numerous technologies, being a leader and innovator in libraries, technology is important. I remember building my first website in college, the technology was pretty much straight forward html coding. Now, there are so many website builders out there and I have been creating websites for various projects including a family business website and helping my father-in-law with an author website. Beyond websites, I actively blog, tweet, Facebook and Pin. It took me a long time to love Twitter, but now I can see how discovering relevant and interesting articles happens on Twitter.

Recently, I taught myself Camtasia and am currently learning Articulate Storyline. These software programs allow me to create tutorials, trainings and videos. It is a fun challenge to learn these programs. This is a natural follow up to my work for many years with offering webinar trainings and meetings. I began using webinar software soon after it was introduced to the education world and I have continued conducting web trainings and meetings.

Managing Learning Management Systems (LMS) has also been a technological skill that I’ve learned in my work as a trainer. Whether it is an open source LMS such as Moodle or home-grown one (my agency LMS) or a vendor LMS such as Plateau, I’ve been able to figure them out and use them to track attendees and classes as well as add content. FullSizeRender(1)

In an earlier blog article, I shared about going on the road for nearly a year to teach library staff and patrons about gadgets and downloadable media. I have been fortunate in my career to work with the latest in technology. At one of my former library systems, I served on the reference committee which including previewing and selected databases for our collection. In my current job, I often work with vendors to offer trainings and learn what’s new. While teaching the Gadget Menagerie, I was able to work with Overdrive and Recorded Books on their downloadable e-Books and I learned about Hoopla (streaming video and music) and Zinio (Magazines). Even before teaching the Gadget Menagerie, I was an avid user of my local library’s e-Books and Freegal (downloadable music.) There are amazing resources available from your local library from free songs and videos to e-Books.

As technology continues to evolve, I look forward to learning new skills and continuing to enhance my skills in using available technologies.

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Leadership Is Not Management!

I am working with a colleague on a leadership workshop and we want to make sure that we get the message across that management and leadership are not the same. Sometimes, people think that if you are a manager, you are a leader or that all leaders are managers. The reality is that they are two very distinct things and while some of the skills may overlap, they require vastly different skill sets. And while some people can be both a manager and a leader, many are one or the other.

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Thus, I’ve been thinking about where I am a leader and where I am a manager and where they overlap. My work with various professional associations falls strongly under my role as a leader. This work involves inspiring people to get involved. I lead by example and mentor new people to become active members. There is some management work involved such as managing the mentoring program, but mostly I engage, inspire and participate in the groups. I present at conferences, recruit new members, listen to my colleagues and ask questions. Whether I am president of a group or an active member, I contribute my leadership skills.

In my day job, I am both a leader and project manager. I don’t manage people directly, but I mentor and support my peers and manage multiple projects. I organize and coordinate large scale events which is a great example of using both my leadership and management skills. My network and ability to connect with people help me recruit top quality presenters. My organizational skills help pull the logistics together. Thus, while my position is not classified as management, it is most definitely a leadership position that requires strong management skills.

Running my home based arts business requires lots of management and administrative skills. I haven’t quite moved into a leadership role with the business although I do try to inspire my husband to be creative and actively promote our business. This endeavor truly requires a high dose of creativity blended with detail work. Like leadership and management, they are often at odds with each other yet when working together can really produce amazing results.

One of my work projects is Digital Literacy and it requires the use of both leadership and management skills. I developed the program from scratch and each year have fine-tuned and further expanded it. There is a high level of project management required in tracking multiple people, libraries and projects with the grants that I oversee. There’s also the leadership aspect where I find out what people need to be successful and make things happen to meet those needs. By listening to my colleagues, I am able to create a stronger, more vibrant program. I also lead an advisory team who give me input and help promote the project. I enjoy the balance of leading and managing this project.

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I truly enjoy putting my leadership skills to use and collaborating across departments. By sharing what I know and learning from others, I feel I have a better handle on the big picture. Balancing my daily grind and yet keeping up with what is happening on a larger scale is challenging, but so worthwhile. I love getting to work with our Talking Book and Braille Library and even people from other divisions in our agency such as Elections. It makes for a much richer experience.

So, how exactly do I define leadership? I see leadership as the ability to inspire, innovate, develop relationships, be forward thinking and focused on working with people.

Management, on the other hand, is about the details and being able to administer programs or projects with a focus on the task. Management involves delegating, and checking in with people, but does not require actually inspiring or developing people.

The focus on relationships is what makes leadership so important to me and I believe that the best managers are leaders as well. Someone can manage a project or people, but without inspiration and innovation, it tends to fizzle out. By inspiring others and collaborating, great things happen.

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Reflections on a Tribal Conference

When my supervisor asked me if I wanted to go along on a road trip to Portland (a short 2 hours or so away), I eagerly agreed that I would go. I was brand new to my job and I looked forward to the travel and new adventures that would be coming. I didn’t really know anything other than it was about a Tribal conference and the Oregon people were in charge. We were attending to offer our support, but my job was to keep my boss from accepting assignments.

tribal1What wasn’t mentioned, that while my supervisor didn’t want to be tapped for work on the committee, I was fair game. I participated and mostly observed during the day-long meeting. At the end of the day, I thought we had done a good job of not taking on any tasks. Plus, we were able to have a nice dinner at a nearby waterfront restaurant.

Little did I know that I had just signed up for over a year of working on a national conference for Tribal librarians, museums, archives and historical societies. I was jumping right into a project with no special knowledge. I learned that my leadership skills followed me and soon I was knee deep in working with the Programming committee. While the names bandied about as potential presenters were mostly unknown to me, I learned quickly that I didn’t need to be a subject expert to contribute. I let those who knew our audience recommend presenters and keynotes, while I helped keep the meetings on track and organized the sessions into grids by subject. When the committee leader had a family crisis, I stepped up to keep things moving forward.

I learned many lessons from working on this conference. Beyond extending my knowledge of tribal culture, it gave me insight into planning a national event with a limited budget, communicating with my committee members as well as with the larger conference committee and cultural insight into museums, archives and historical societies. My confidence grew as the year went on and by the time the conference actually happened, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on what we all were doing and why it was important.

tribal2What I loved about this experience was the camaraderie and collaboration that occurred. Everything was a team effort and while some people stepped up to take on official leadership roles, we were all treated equally and respectfully. Everyone gave their time and energy where it was a good match. Whether it was stuffing packets, planning the conference schedule, contacting speakers, reviewing proposals or running meetings, we all had an opportunity to contribute.

My organizational skills came in handy when we had our final in-person meeting and needed to pull everything together. Trying to pull the sessions together in a cohesive manner with no facilitator wasn’t working so I took on that role and created a process for us to work together and create the final schedule with a movable grid. It was fun, interactive and it worked out well. Having the freedom to be spontaneous yet keeping the details in mind was liberating.

At first, I was afraid that I would step on toes or accidently be disrespectful of my peers since I was not versed in Tribal culture. After a few months of quietly observing, I began to feel comfortable putting myself forward and contributing. Plus, I gained tremendous respect for the culture that I was able to observe. Rituals for beginning the day and closing were part of our in-person meetings where an elder would be invited to start us off with a blessing. Whether it was a prayer, a song or something else, it was an important part of setting the tone and bringing us all together.

Yes, there were challenges working on a project of this scope. Communication was not always easy, not so much because of the culture, but because we were scattered over a large geographic area and all had day jobs that often took precedence. I learned how to be patient and also follow-up if I did not get a needed response.

We had a pre-conference excursion planned that fell about just before the conference. With last minute scrambling, we found an alternative and I admit that it turned out really well. I was the host and had never actually been to Fort Vancouver for their historical tour. It was fascinating and I believe that the participants all really enjoyed the day even if it wasn’t what they were originally expecting.

Overall, I am lucky to have been a part of this amazing experience. The warmth, hospitality and generosity of those that I worked with (both tribal and non-tribal) will stay with me forever. The memories created by being part of the team are to be cherished.

And the leadership lessons learned continue to inspire me in my work and life.

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Innovation Requires Shifting Perspective

What is innovation? Often, when I hear people talking about innovation, they are talking about the latest and greatest technology. But, is wearable technology truly the definition of innovation?

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Shifted Perspective

I see innovation as something slightly different. Yes, technology is related and often is innovative, but true innovation stems from seeing from a new perspective and trying something new. The tricky part is that innovation will look different depending on the context.

When I went the Ellensburg Public Library as a newly minted children’s librarian, I brought a million ideas with me. I was so excited about the possibilities that I dived in and did all kinds of things that had never been done in that town. Were the new ideas? Not really, they came from my great mentors and colleagues. Were they innovative? Yes!

I implemented youth services programming for birth through age 18. When I started, the only ongoing programming was a minimal storytime where the librarian read a few books to kids 3 to 5 years old and sang a few nursery rhymes. I immediately enhanced the storytimes and over the years added more. Eventually, I offered baby, toddler, preschool and family storytime programs. And they involved more than reading books and singing nursery rhymes (although we still did that), I added in activities and crafts.

I also enhanced the summer reading program and made it a huge community event for all ages. We had a great time every summer that culminated in a huge wrap-up party. I also added programming to our twice yearly book give-aways and made those events into community-wide special events. I made sure that my last day in Ellensburg coincided with my big day of programming.

School-age kids and teens also needed the library so I developed programs geared for them as well. Indeed, I let the community lead the way in what they wanted. The result was a full-fledged group of school age kids and teens putting on plays for the community and renting the old west town at the fairgrounds for plays, gold-panning and other activities.

Beyond programming, I took a fresh look at the collection and heavily weeded books. I order shiny new books and rather than taping together old Dr. Seuss books, I purchased multiple copies of them so that they would be available and not in tatters.

I consider my 3 years in Ellensburg to have been great fun and full of innovation.

I didn’t lose my desire to innovate and took it with me to my next library job at a large library system and again to my state library job. As I look towards the future of libraries and consider what innovation is possible, I want to take a moment to step back and ask people….what would you like to see from your library?

Then, I ask myself-what do I want from my library?

Yes, I do want lots of e-books and easy access to library resources, but I also want to go to my library and find my people. To engage in conversation and work towards a larger goal. The library should be the first place I think of when seeking information and when I want to connect with people.

I imagine a library where people come in the doors and want to stay awhile, making new connections and discovering what the library and community have to offer.

Recently, I stopped in at one of my former libraries (Mukilteo) and was amazed at how vibrant and alive it felt. People were using computers, reading books and several groups were engaged in conversations. There was even a circle of knitters near the information desk. It was mid-afternoon on a week day and there were people of all ages in the library. And even though the library was full; the building was open and well lit with high ceilings so it did not feel crowded. There were plenty of seating areas and computers. To me, Mukilteo represents the best of libraries and true innovation.

Library people are great innovators, let’s make sure that libraries continue to be the beating heart of the community.

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Learning Styles: Myth or Real?

I’ve been reading about theories on Learning Styles including several articles that debunk Learning Styles as myth and lacking scientific evidence. Reading these articles did kick my brain into gear about what Learning Styles mean and whether or not they truly exist.

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On the surface, I understand Learning Styles intuitively because I self- identify as a visual and kinetic learner. However, reflecting deeper on this, I can see that while those are my preferences, I can still learn in other ways. While I prefer to see images and words and be active while learning, I can learn even in a lecture setting with no visuals if I care about the topic. It’s when the topics are boring that I struggle to learn and no matter how kinetic and visual one makes certain trainings, I still struggle to understand.

When I develop trainings, I do take into consideration learning styles. Most importantly, I think about the best way to deliver the content. Not all content can be translated into various learning styles. By carefully considering the best way to present the content, I hope to engage my learners and help them learn. Learning is a two-way street and I find that being open, flexible and adaptable while facilitating or teaching helps me connect with my participants.

I find Learning Styles to be useful tools when planning trainings. Thinking about different ways to present materials and make a class engaging is helpful. I incorporate visuals, physical activities and lecture into most of my trainings because it makes sense to block things into smaller segments and change up the tempo. Does this truly help my participants learn better? I can’t say for sure, but I do know that the trainings are therefore more engaging, memorable and interesting.

Some people may be able to hear something once and remember it for life, I suspect that this is not true for most people. By offering up information in multiple ways, more people are likely to remember it simply because they have been exposed to it more than once. However, repeating the same information ten times just to drive the point home is not my style. I strive to offer balance in designing workshops and eLearning.

E-Learning and whether learning styles can transfer is another hot topic of recent debate. Having begun working with a virtual classroom back in the dark ages (my first exploration into a virtual classroom was during college….let’s just say it was a little while ago.) When I first began designing webinars, I was concerned that my learners may not actually be following along as I could not see them to verify they were tracking along. Over the years, I have become much more comfortable in offering webinars and eLearnings without the stress of worrying what the participants are doing on the other end. This is in great part because of the way that I learn. When I am attending a webinar, I find I get more out of it if I can move around. When I was able to tele-commute and do webinars from home, I would alternate standing and sitting. This increased my personal participation. Now that I most often attend webinars from my cubicle, sitting at my desktop computer, it is harder to concentrate. I miss the freedom of movement.

Based on comments following webinars that I facilitate, I know that many of the attendees are indeed tracking and taking in the information even without a lot of bells and whistles. As I move into designing more e-Courses (self-paced, online) I am thinking about what will work best. I look forward to learning to use Articulate Storyline and will have fun thinking about the best way to get my message across. Yes, traditional learning styles will be considered, but I see an opportunity for trial and error and learning by taking risks.

This brings us back to our original question: Are Learning Styles a myth or real? My personal answer is that they are a little of both. We have blown them up to mythical proportions but the underlying concept is indeed helpful in designing trainings that help learners to learn. And isn’t that what it is all about?

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Learning in a Virtual World

My introduction to the virtual classroom was about 2 decades ago! One of my undergraduate professors decided that he would have us meet virtually for a class session. In 1995, internet was still a novelty. I had my email through school and felt like one of the elite. I recently stumbled upon an email about that first virtual classroom experience, software has changed, but the premise is the same.

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From my 1995 email:

“You will be ‘in’ a virtual ‘classroom’ on the ‘Penn’ campus. See who else shows up, identify yourself, and talk to each other. There’s help on line, but the key thing you need to know is that if you type “ at the left marine, whatever you type until you hit <CR> will be attributed to you as spoken ‘discourse’ everybody else can hear…(Some strange things may happen to you, but what the heck?) List-lurkers welcome to come along and meet the rest, and I will try to be there myself, but there are time zones and a schedule where I’m lecturing that evening to cope with.”

I attended this session and was frustrated that my slow typing meant that I was always at least a step behind everyone else in the conversation. Then, we discovered what Professor O’Donnell was trying to teach us. Thirty minutes into the session, “O’Donnell” revealed that he was a Teacher Assistant pretending to be Professor O’Donnell. Lesson learned; we never really know who we are talking with online.

Now, I get the opportunity to teach librarians how to use virtual classrooms for meetings and trainings. A few years ago, I went to Valdez, Alaska to teach a conference session on this topic. I must admit that playing the game “Get Out of Valdez” gave me brand-new appreciation for the Pacific Northwest and reinforced my thoughts that the Alaskan librarians are made of awesome. I was welcomed warmly to our northern most state and had the opportunity to meet many Alaskan librarians, from those working in remote villages with a population of 40 to a former Washington librarian who now manages the Anchorage library. Despite concerns that days of snow may prevent us from departing Valdez, we all made it safely out.

My session focused on how to create interactive, fun webinars and I gave the participants several templates. Attendees later told me that I helped them see the simple things that could be done to enhance the webinar experience.

Through my various communities of practice including LEARN RT (Learning Roundtable of the American Library Association), WALT (Washington Library Trainers) and the state-wide CE Coordinators; I have been able to practice and fine-tune my webinar skills over the years. In the beginning when WALT decided to experiment with web meetings, I was resistant. I knew I would miss seeing my colleagues face to face and the social interaction of those meetings often lead to great new ideas and projects. However, I soon became a convert. Now, while I love seeing my colleagues in person at trainings and conferences, I appreciate the times that we meet virtually.

Plus, there are so many more opportunities for collaboration now that I live much of my life in the “virtual world” of librarianship. I can meet regularly with my fellow Continuing Education state-wide coordinators from around the states and keep up with my local colleagues between our quarterly in-person meetings.

Now, 20 years after my first attempt at navigating the virtual classroom, I am passionate at sharing my knowledge and skills with others. Also, I generally “know” who is in my classroom because we now have VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) that allows me to hear the voices of my peers. And if someone isn’t on a microphone and communicating over chat, I trust they are who they claim to be. And don’t worry, if you miss a virtual meeting, we don’t talk about you too much.

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