interview with Meredith Farkas

Well, it occurred to me today that one thing I can do on the blog without cutting into writing time too much is share excerpts. So, here’s another sidebar – an interview with Meredith on her work with Five Weeks. Thank you Meredith for your time on this! 🙂

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Meredith is the Distance Learning Librarian at Norwich University in Northfield Vermont. In the spring of 2007, Meredith was also the Chair of Five Weeks to a Social Library, a free online course designed to teach social software to librarians who would otherwise not have access to this type of continuing education. You can follow Meredith’s Information Wants to be Free blog at http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/.

What do you think are the major challenges library staff face in their jobs in the coming year?
I think most librarians are incredibly busy. One major challenge we all have is making continuing education a priority. We have so many day-to-day responsibilities and wear so many hats; it’s often difficult to justify going to a conference or reading an article when there are so many other things to do. However, continuing education is absolutely vital to our providing the best possible services to our patrons; how else can we learn about the latest trends in libraries or technologies available to us?

Tell us about Five Weeks to a Social Library. Why did you decide to do it?
Five Weeks to a Social Library is an online course designed by six librarians who wanted to teach other librarians who would otherwise not have access to continuing education about social software and how to apply social technologies in their libraries. My goal when I originally conceived of the course was to show others that high-quality online education programs could be designed on the grass-roots level and without spending a lot of money. While there were some required components, a lot of the material and activities were optional, so participants could do as much or as little as they were able to. All of the course materials were available after the course so students could later read or watch things they didn’t have time for during the five weeks.I wanted to develop a sustainable model that others could replicate in the future to make online education more accessible to librarians. We designed the course to be an extremely rich and interactive experience, with participants not just listening to lectures and reading articles but blogging, chatting, and actually using social technologies. These active and reflective learning activities helped students really engage with the tools and consider how they could be used in their libraries. This is a course that could very easily be adapted for different groups, different subjects and different time-frames. With the exception of Web conferencing software, all of the tools used in the course were open source and therefore a cost-effective option for any institution.

How did you measure success for this project?
I think a course is successful if participants are able to take what they learned and apply it in their libraries. To evaluate the effectiveness of this course, we asked our participants to reflect on their learning experience (on their blogs in response to our questions), and their feedback was overwhelmingly positive. By simply reading our student blogs, we could also see that the majority of participants were really engaging with the course materials and tools, and were questioning how these technologies could be used in their libraries. A number of the individuals in the class have already implemented social software tools in their libraries, either during or right after the course. Three months after the course, I plan to send out a survey to participants to find out what they’ve accomplished, in terms of implementing social software tools at their library since the course ended.

What’s next for librarians who want to take an active role in their own professional development? Any predictions?
These days so many educational opportunities — blogs, webcasts, forums, and more — are now freely available online. At the same time, the technologies themselves have become more accessible. It’s so easy now for anyone (without tech-savvy) to start a blog, try a wiki, or play around with social bookmarking. The tools are all there for anyone to develop their own continuing education program; the only major barrier is finding the time. Fortunately, I think more and more libraries are looking at implementing in-house training programs, which will make continuing education more reasonable for library staff who are pressed for time, and this will help to build a real learning culture in the organization.

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I believe that this interview fits best into our sustainability chapter, which also manages to deal with staying connected and relevant as library professionals. Comments?