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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

Strategies to Educate Librarians to Introduce New Technologies to Users, Especially Disadvantaged Ones

Anne M. Galler, For the Section of Libraries Serving Disadvantaged Persons, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada


It is not an easy task to propose ideas to introduce new technologies, especially in an era when technologies are changing practically day by day and in front of ours eyes. It is also disappointing that after an initial literature search very little material was found which would refer to learning strategies for new technologies, especially for disadvantaged users.

In an article on Renegade Library Instruction La Guardia (92) complains that most of the material she found in her searches was theoretical rather than practical and aimed far above the average user.

In any case, while I will suggest some strategies to introduce users to specific technologies such as on line searching or teaching the use of the INTERNET, I prefer to make some recommendations and suggestions from my perspective, to be applicable to new technologies in general, since new ones are emerging almost every day, some of which we have not even dreamt of. Therefore, the emphasis of th is paper is not on what type of searches the users should be trained (CD ROM, ONLINE, INTERNET), but rather suggestions for types of strategies to use for such training.


The first point that comes to mind is how well versed in the new technologies is the librarian who has to encourage and teach people to use them? And how aware is the public, whether general or disad vantaged, of the new technologies they could or should use and to which they should be introduced for their own benefit?

Therefore the first part of my paper will be devoted to ~ow to introduce the new technologies to the librarian, who in turn can pass his or her knowledge on to the clientele, whether it be the public at large or the disadvantaged group.

The practicing librarian.

The practicing librarian that we wish to reach may be:

In most instances the librarian is called upon to introduce users to intricacies of the library, to its use, and last but not least to new technologies.

I believe that the first level and the most intense instruction has to take place at the school level then it has to continue at the college and university level, some at the public library level a nd less in the special library or government library setting, where the clients wants to be given information quickly and efficiently, rather than master the technology to access the technology. Lear ning of course should never stop: it is lifelong, today more than ever.

It has to be assumed also that the average librarian has been practicing for at least ten years, and unless she or he made special efforts to keep on top of the new technologies an effort that ofte n is not encouraged sometimes not even allowed in the workplace, we can also assume that more of the librarians in the field have not kept up to date than have.

Therefore, as mentioned before, the task before us is to teach the librarian who in turn will be able to pass his or her mastery of the new technologies on the the clientele to be served.

How to proceed:
Here are some suggestions:



Organizing workshops to keep up to date with the technology.

It is relatively easy to put on a one day or half day workshop on a particular new technology and you can be sure that it will be well attended. When CD ROM first appeared on the scene you only had t o mention the term and people flocked to your workshop. Today it is INTERNET that attracts the crowds and of course who knows what it will be tomorrow.

However, it is not enough to organize the workshops and rely on the librarian to either convince his or her boss to pay for it, to release the person, to give time off to attend, or even assume that the librarian will be motivated to attend. Work has to be done outside the profession to allow the recognition to occur, which will lead to an easier access for practicing librarians to the world of workshops and new technologies.

I think that to a certain extent it is our fault, as librarians, that we work in isolation. We were always aware of our worth, but did not believe in publicizing our activities. Today we cannot conti nue this practice. It becomes essential, in my opinion, to work with everybody, especially outside the library profession, who may have a stake or interest in the new technologies, sensitize them to the new areas in which librarians are working and make sure that they are not only aware of all what the librarians are doing, but also support it generously, both with time and money!

Who are these people outside the library profession whose endorsement we seek, whose help we want, with whom we seek alliances?

How can we approach these people and how do we sensitize them to the needs of the library profession ?

Not only for moral support, but for funding also.

Those of us who are considered the leaders (and I assume that all those present at this international conference belong in this category) must assume a much more pro active role outside library circl es than we have in the past:

Herewith my positive suggestions.

I urge you to Speak at conferences and conventions outside the library profession. (you will be suprized to see how easy it is to get a paper accepted at for example a workshop for educators, or dist ance learners, just to cite examples from my own personal experience. Write and endeavour to publish articles in journals outside the library profession (business, education, even computer science jo urnals will accept these readily)

Join associations outside of the library fields: such as education, management, technology, distance education these are a few that come to mind. Make sure that you assume leadership roles once you j oin.

Influence your local library association to prepare and present a brief to the local or national government outlining your concerns, problems and needs while also describing the valuable services you offer and how much the new technologies will benefit whoever the clientele you are addressing is.

If you wish, you can single out the disadvantaged, as a particular target group, but you also have to mention other populations, such as children and young adults, in addition what is considered the "normal" population.

Develop workshops that will interest not only librarians, but to which you can invite other interested parties, such as employers, politicians, trustees, government employees, union representatives a nd others.


Make sure that as a leader in your community you listen to the concerns of your colleagues and get involved in the local library school.

Too often library school personnel, deans and directors have isolated themselves from the profession, and have not responded to its needs. Too often we, the practicing librarians are at fault, as we accepted the curriculum as a given, and went on hiring the graduates of these programmes with insufficient skills for our needs. Don forget that if pressure is put on a library school from the public , it has to respond.

Most library schools have not really addressed the problem of diversity in education.

As some of you may know, I have done a survey of library school curricula in Canada and I am now in the midst of doing an international survey with the same purpose, to find out what, if anything is being done in the library and information studies programmes around the world to sensitize students and faculty to the needs of all the groups that we refer to as the disadvantaged, and which in my s urvey I cite as:

Individuals from a multicultural background (such as immigrants and aboriginals) Individuals with a whole range of handicaps or disabilities, such as the blind, the deaf, the mentally and physically challenged The homeless, the prison inmate, the hospital patient, the elderly, the housebound (or shut in)

The purpose of your intervention should be:


Mentoring can be developed as follows:

Again, when the guidelines for the mentoring programme were set, it was decided that the dual relationship should benefit both the recent graduate, to help the person adjust to the working world, whi le the more experienced senior librarian could learn from the mentoree about the new technologies which have emerged since he or she graduated from library school.

The programme has been very successful both in Montreal and Ottawa, where the Eastern Canada Chapter has members, and the feed back was positive from both mentors and mentorees, each having profited from the relationship.

This mentoring experiment has started in Montreal with a pilot group of five and has expanded no into pairs of twenty five.


This is by no means a new concept, but it is often forgotten. It is also referred to as peer learning. It is most often practiced in a school, college or university setting. In a beginning computer c lass, for example, students are paired one on one, with the one with more skills taking on less experiences. When we talk about developing search strategies, the pairs can work on equal footing, it i s only in the technological area that the more advanced, computer literate person helps the one who is afraid of the new technology.

This method of learning is particularly recommended with disadvantaged students: it also makes the other students aware of the handicap and helps them deal with it. Lourie Markowitz (1994) in an arti cle on Cooperative learning explains how fourth graders are introduced to online search technology in a cooperative setting. They follow three steps, two of which take place in the classroom, (the pr e computer preparation and the follow up_ and the laboratory work where students work in pairs under the guidance of a teacher. The pairing is done very carefully, making sure that the timid students are not overpowered by strong ones, and that as much as possible, learning takes place in a subtle fashion.


Courses in human relations skills, sensitivity to users needs, especially the handicapped or disadvantaged users needs are also missing from most library school curricula. This is why librarians ofte n don't know how to deal with the regular clientele, let alone clientele with specific handicaps or disabilities. Here again, strategies can be acquired on how to teach the special groups that one wi ll come across in one's career. Teaching the technology, once you learns it is not as difficult as how to teach users with different handicaps, both mental and physical.


State your objectives at the outset (make sure you state what you want to teach clearly and then remember to do it. So often I have attended workshops where the outline of the course was not matched by the contents.

Make sure you have enough time to cover the objectives in the time allocated to the course (so often at the end of a workshop the leader either hastily covers some points in the last five minutes or drops important topics altogether.

Have less material rather than more.
This may sound strange to you, because as teachers we always have the rear of running out of material. But in introducing new technologies, it is important to go over material slowly, repeat if n ecessary several times, and not overwhelm the learner with too much new material.

Make sure that you know the level of the audience.
This is easier in a school setting, where you know what your fourth graders have learns in the past, and much harder at a workshop, where people come from different levels of knowledge. Sometimes by a simple show of hand you may find out that the level you prepared for is not the one you are facing be always prepared for last minute adjustments.

If it is not possible to offer hands on experience to the audience, make sure you have lots of visuals overheads, transparencies, even a video for a change of pace.

Dont overload your visuals with text have a few pictures and then speak to them. Reading word for word from a transparency (sounds obvious, but is done often) is deadly for the audience.

Don't be afraid of repeating and reiterating. It is better to pause and go over a point several times than leave your audience in the dark.

Always leave time for a question period at the end. It is better to leave out some material, and give the audience to responde. It is also helpful to plant some one to ask the first question, to warm up the audience. People are often shy to ask the first question.

If you do not have the answer to a question, admit it. Don't try to fake it. If the students or audience realize this you lose their trust.

It is also helpful to have an evaluation form the simpler the better, to hand out at the end of your session. You will be surprised how many helpful suggestions you may get from your audience for t he next workshop or lecture.

In closing I would like to mention the fact that so often in documents, guidelines and papers mention of the disadvantaged is omitted. Therefore I would like to plead with you all, that if you implem ent any of the suggested strategies, make sure you include all the handicapped and disadvantaged groups mentioned in this paper and some others which I may have omitted.


Allen, Gillian "CD TOM Training What do the Patrons Want?" Wilson Library Bulletin April 1990

Des Forges, Bernadette "Communication and Access to Information for People with Special Needs (CAPS) Social and Legal Aspects

Harris, Roma. "Information Technology and the De Skilling of Librarians" Computers in Libraries January 1992

LaGuardia, Cheryl. "Renegade Library Instruction." Library Journal 17 (16) 51 53

Lenn, Katy "Climing the Mountain in Americans with Disabilities Act and Libraries." Wilson Library Bulletin. December 1993

Makulowich, John S. "Tips on How to Teach the Internet." ONLINE 27 November/December 1994

Lourie Markowitz, Nancy. "Cooperative Learning & Computers: Made for Each Other; Online Searching and Cooperative Learning. Cooperative Learning. (12) 3 34 35