by Lesley Farmer
How do you repair books? How do you import records into the library management system? How can I get statistics about the library online portal? What is a good way to check out magazines? What is a makerspace? These questions might not have been answered in your library training. So where do you turn to get those answers – and keep current in the field?
One group who can help are vendors. While they do have to deal with their bottom line, profit, most vendors who deal with school libraries also want to educate their clientele – it is good business. Vendors know that an informed customer is more likely to use their products more successfully, and will remain a valued customer.
Conferences serve as a convenient central place to talk with several vendors, and get tips. In some cases, the sales reps might not be able to answer a very specific question, but they will generally refer you to the right expert in a follow-up communication. They often provide printed materials that you can pick up; sometimes the vendor will let you have several copies if they know that you will be sharing them with your colleagues.
Vendors will sometimes come to a school district site or professional association workshop if several library staff gather there. Here is one example of association-archived webinars that can be access for free: http://www.ala.org/alcts/confevents/past/webinar. Vendors can demonstrate a product, and answer relevant questions. Sometimes they will provide free or fee training with hands-on activities. Sometimes the training can be recorded for later access. Simultaneously, or separately, vendors may also offer trial periods, especially for accessing services or products such as cataloging tools or subscription databases.
Increasingly, vendors provide online training through downloadable documents, videos, and real-time training. Nowadays, vendors frequently give interactive webinars, showcasing new developments and ways to optimize the use of their products. In most cases, the explanations focus on their own products, naturally, but they often give good generic advice, such as ways to preserve materials or create publications.
In those cases where Internet access is limited or unstable, library staff might consider gathering at a site where the Internet connectivity is good, and then watch the training together, and download documents onto flash drives for later individual use. In some cases, the viewers can dial in to hear the webinar, and that phone call could be connected to a speaker. In the group meeting, staff can discuss issues and share ideas before and after the online session. It should also be noted that vendors often record and archive their webinars, so you can access those trainings at your own convenience, even though you will not have the advantage of asking questions right then.
Another option is for one or two librarians to get vendor training, and then train their staff peers. Using this train-the-trainer model, vendors sometimes will provide handouts for the follow-up training, and may offer to answer just-in-time questions via the telephone.
A good place to start is the Librarians Yellow Pages: http://www.lyponline.com/. The American Library Association’s American Libraries Buyers Guide (http://www.ala.org/tools/libfactsheets/alalibraryfactsheet09) is an online resource designed to help in locating companies and vendors that provide a wide array of library products and services. Another listing of vendors may be found at http://www.libraryspot.com/libshelf/. Professional library associations may also maintain vendor contacts, largely garnered from their conference exhibitor lists. Calendars of free webinars are also found online, such as https://www.webjunction.org/find-training.html
Remember that you do not have to buy from these vendors. They budget for such services, knowing that good training and documentation can lead to sales and loyal customers. However, it is polite to thank them for sharing their expertise. Such considerations may also lead to beneficial professional relationships.