Using Learning Portal Organizations to Inform and Train Library Staff

by Susan Bond−Circulation Supervisor, John W. Graham Library, Trinity College

At John W. Graham Library we started a Blackboard organization  in U of T’s Learning Portal to help manage student staff at our campus library two years ago. Here’s a look at how and why we found the organization tool to be an effective means to communicate with and train our library staff.

The Problem
As a campus Library with two full-time staff and twenty-three student assistants, we have major communication needs. Most of our staff only work with a maximum of three other people, so in order for there to be any kind of consistent user experience, we need to have a good way of keeping each other informed about changes to policies and procedures, and the day-to-day state of the library.

Potential Solutions
We had previously used a variety of cumbersome paper-based solutions to organize our staff. When I initially made the transition to an electronic system, I was just looking for a discussion forum and a way to provide access to our employee manual. We tried a number of other electronic solutions before settling on the Portal. Google sites had all the functionality I was interested in, but we ultimately weren’t comfortable storing our proprietary information on servers outside of the university. Our administrative unit at the university has an intranet that we used in the library for two years, but it ultimately didn’t offer the flexibility we required. It was in frustration with this system that I lighted upon a better option: the Learning Portal (Blackboard). In addition to meeting all of my basic requirements, it was a system my student employees were already using as part of their studies, so I knew it would be relatively easy to incorporate it in one more place!

Why Blackboard? The Forum
What first drew me to the platform was the Discussion Board. It provided a great way for the staff to communicate with each other: both for me to send messages to the students, and for them to communicate about situations in the library with me and with each other. Also, it meant I could contribute to the conversation even when I wasn’t at the library or even in town!

Why Else? The Flexible Content Areas!
The other thing Blackboard allowed me to do was to build an html connected job manual. By separating different topics into different content areas, I was able to build a manual that was easier to use, and allowed my staff to easily find instructions and policies related to specific tasks.

Bonus: A Place for Us to Be Together
After we had been using Blackboard for a while, I started finding other features that could benefit our staff. Because we have so many part time staff who don’t interact with each other, I used the Contact Information area to post not only staff contact information, but also photos, so that staff would recognize each other even if they didn’t ever work together. Between this and the forum letting us communicate more effectively, Blackboard has actually become a site of community for our spread out staff!

Our Organization is (Slightly) Famous!
This past May, I gave a presentation at the Toronto Ryerson York Library conference about how we were using Blackboard, specifically as a tool for asynchronous communication. The audience was interested in my results, and several of them are now considering Blackboard organizations for their own libraries.

Plans for the Future
At the moment, I’m starting to develop Blackboard learning modules to help training my new staff, and we’re considering using the test tool both during training and for in service quizzes.

Blackboard Singing in the Dead of Night: Tools for Asynchronous Communication (Prezi presentation)