Library software training, from the trainees’ perspective

I posted this to FriendFeed over the weekend, but I wanted to expand a little on it here, because it relates to information literacy instruction:

My good friend Vardibidian, who works in a library but is not, generally speaking, a library blogger, has an hysterical post up about attending a “training” “webinar” for his library’s new ILS. Go and read it (you’ll thank me, especially when you get to the paragraph about fraughtness) and then come back here.

So in addition to being a cautionary tale for any of us who’ve ever thought about going into software training1 I think it’s pretty obvious that his story is also a cautionary tale for those of us who do library instruction, whether it’s online or in person.

So for example, whatever database, catalog, search engine, or software tool you’re teaching your students about today, make sure you know it inside, outside, upside down.2  I know I’m guilty of not following this advice on occasion.  The 80/20 rule governs most of my library work:  80% of my (students’) needs are met by 20% of the software’s functionality, so I don’t often take the time to educate myself on its more intricate nuances.  Being caught by the shorthairs by an interface change, even a small subtle one, in the middle of an instruction session can likewise damage your credibility.

The flip side of being caught by the shorthairs, though, is that it’s an opportunity to model “what to do when you don’t know what to do” behaviors.  I had this happen with me at the reference desk last semester, when all of a sudden EBSCO changed its default settings so that a search that turned up no hits was automatically re-run as a “Smart Text” search, with oo-gobs3 of wildly irrelevant results.  That was, to put it mildly, no fun at all, and we changed that default as fast as humanly possible – but it allowed me to talk through, with the student, my thinking about what had happened, what had caused it, and what we could do to fix it.  It’s probably the kind of thing that works better one-on-one than in front of a classroom (and certainly not in an online session!) but if you frame it that way, you’re less likely to lose credibility with your students.

Vardibidian’s example of the canned search is also relevant:  I think it’s becoming more and more popular to take search topics from the class in a library instruction session, rather than demonstrate a canned search, because it’s more immediately relevant to the students and captures their attention better.  And that’s all fine.  But if you need to demonstrate a particular feature of the tool you’re teaching, you’d better have a canned search that will demonstrate it hidden up your sleeve in case their searches don’t happen to uncover it.  And, you’d better confirm that the search really does demonstrate that feature before you go into class:  I’ve been tripped up by changes to our e-journal subscription content such that links that I thought would take me to full text, didn’t (or vice versa).

So anyway, all this is to say, don’t be unnecessarily cavalier about your tech when you’re doing library instruction.  Which you’re all smart enough to know anyway.  But it’s also to say, “hey, go read my friend’s post!  It’s really funny!”


  1. And, like Dorothea, I admit that I’m now thinking idly about it, because, holy technical competence, Batman! I can certainly do better than that.
  2. That was a toddler joke, just to keep you on your toes.
  3. That’s a technical term.