At the RAC, training and professional development have long been priorities and supported by substantial institutional resources. As technology has become an ever-critical part of our work at the RAC, the Digital Programs Team has been increasingly involved in training colleagues on using archival technology, usually as part of other projects, including running a cross-team reading group on digital preservation, ArchivesSpace training, and FTK training. However, despite all of these training efforts, the D-Team hasn’t had a unified strategy or articulated values for technology-related training. After reflecting on past training and thinking about what we wanted to do in the future, we realized we needed to approach this area more strategically and holistically in order to ensure that our colleagues have access to training opportunities that match their learning styles, and that training and education opportunities spearheaded by the D-Team align with our values as well as the RAC’s mission. A good first step towards that end seemed to be articulating principles for education and training.
To ground these principles in theory, over the past year I sought out pedagogy-related sessions and workshops at conferences, and took a pedagogy-related Library Juice Academy course. After completing these, I realized that I would need to look elsewhere for a theoretical base. Much pedagogical theory concerns itself with the classroom—such as K-12 or college classes—and not with the workplace. For example, an instructor of an introductory sociology course has different pedagogical goals and concerns than those who are concerned with employee development. In general, writings and trainings related to pedagogy geared towards librarians relate to students, and not the professional development of other librarians.
I then reviewed Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning) courses relating to workplace training and instructional design. We’ve had staff subscriptions to Lynda.com since 2016, which we got in order to provide resources for staff who would like training in skills like project management, communication, or coding. These Lynda.com courses were more useful than the pedagogical resources I started with, even though they were typically targeted at audiences outside the world of libraries, archives, and museums. While they did not provide a lot of theoretical background, they did provide many tools and templates that are useful for planning workshops, thinking about appropriate methods of training, and running trainings.
In addition to outside research, I interviewed about half of the archivists at the RAC, including managers, over the course of the last year. The goal of these interviews was to understand training needs and identify gaps, as well as determine past (internal and external) training successes and failures.
After this research, I came away with three main takeaways. They are detailed below.
Training is a skill
Staff frequently train other staff members either one-on-one or in group settings. For example, our reference archivists train researchers on reading room procedures and onboard new reading room monitors. While some types of trainings can be done by an outside instructor, having staff cross-train others has benefits for both teachers and learners, including an increased comfort level for attendees, and increased opportunity for collaboration and staff interaction with other colleagues whom they might otherwise seldom talk to. Additionally, archivists mentioned that training which might seem to be individually guided–such as a Lynda.com or Codecademy course, or following written documentation–was more successful when either done with colleagues, or when a colleague with experience in that area was available to answer questions.
Nevertheless, there are benefits for attending external trainings. Staff who attended external trainings noted that one of the positives is the ability to interact with those outside the RAC and learn from their perspectives. If there are staff who are unable to travel, it’s important to keep in mind what opportunities they may be missing and try to offer these onsite through webinars, remote training or other means.
The archivists I interviewed discussed factors that made past trainings successful or unsuccessful, including an inappropriate amount of time to cover a topic, a lack of prep and/or organization, inadequate handouts, and the use of alienating language or an unapproachable attitude. These insights emphasize that designing and teaching trainings are learned skills which require time and care. Common issues in designing and running trainings can be mitigated with adequate planning and reflection on the goals of the training and needs of the participants. This investment of time and resources is well worth it, since unsuccessful training for staff to do key parts of their job has a negative effect on the organization and its ability to carry out its mission.
“Business” skills are key for archivists
Business and soft skills, such as communication, public speaking, professionalism, project management, strategic planning, and management, are as important for ongoing professional development as archival and technical skills. Archivists often apply these skills when designing and implementing new policies; project managing processing projects; and writing for the web. Further, enhanced communication skills allow for enhanced collaboration.
Several managers mentioned the importance of these skills for their staff, and several archivists spoke positively of the impact of training in these areas on their work. Specific trainings, including “Owning the Work” offered by the Management Center and Lynda.com courses, were often praised. Managers mentioned that they found developing these types of skills to be very valuable for the younger staff on their team, as well as staff that frequently communicate intensively with donors and researchers. Additionally, managers felt that attending conferences or events largely attended by folks in other professional fields helped hone staff’s communication skills, as they are an opportunity to communicate with those in adjacent domains.
General business technology skills as well as communication skills are also important for archivists. In addition to technology specific to archives, archivists use a variety of software used in organizations across a variety of fields, such Outlook, Excel, and Word, as well as project management tools like Asana. Understanding the full functionality of these tools, and their role in workflows and communication, is key to successfully perform work. Further, it’s essential to have documented and understand organization and team-specific norms for using these tools.
Organizational support for training
At the RAC, professional development has traditionally been self-directed. This approach may work well for experienced staff who have a good sense of the profession and the particular expertise they’d like to develop within it. For junior staff, however, it can be challenging. In my interviews, some archivists mentioned that they did not know where to look to find training opportunities, and expressed the desire to compare notes on training resources or specific trainings with archivists in similar roles at other institutions.
These insights speak to the need for continued, explicit organizational support for training and professional development, particularly when it comes to networking, discussions, and other types of informal trainings which are key to archival professional development. This is particularly true for junior staff and others who have relocated from another region, as they can potentially benefit greatly from local networking opportunities, but may also find them particularly difficult to engage in due to a lack of an existing network and less experience evaluating opportunities. Managers can help staff by collaboratively developing goals for professional development, identifying specific training needs and opportunities, and allocating time and resources for staff to connect with archivists and other professionals outside our organization.
One of the overarching goals for my interviews with staff was identifying gaps in professional development. I was struck by how many archivists mentioned their lack of training in non-archives-specific skills. While this may be partially attributable to the higher visibility of archives-specific training opportunities and the RAC’s ability to devote significant resources to the professional development of its archivists, I think this is a gap that needs to be addressed both locally here as well as in the profession as a whole. The scope of archival training must be expanded to all aspects of archivists’ jobs—from communicating with researchers to writing scripts to automate certain tasks. Pursuing professional development for these skills cannot be solely the responsibility of individual archivists, but must be shared by their managers and their organizations as a whole. This includes empowering archivists—who all hold specific knowledge acquired in library school programs, previous jobs, or trainings—to successfully share this knowledge with their colleagues, to increase their colleagues’ skills as well as the strength of the institution.