Transforming Technical Services through Training and Development. Eds. Marlee Givens and Sofia Slutskaya. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2022, 168 p. $69.99 softcover (ISBN: 978-0-8389-4877-4).

The new ALA Editions title, Transforming Technical Services through Training and Development, collects chapters by practitioners in technical services departments (academic, public, and consortia) discussing their approaches to training. Three themes recur through many of the thirteen chapters of this volume and help to tie them together: documentation; cross-training and engagement; and COVID-19. Documentation plays a crucial role in developing a learning culture, with the editors noting in the introduction that “successful training is impossible without a strong emphasis on current, up-to-date, and complete documentation” (xi). Cross-training staff and ensuring that they are engaged in all aspects of the training and development processes is crucial for a successful program. The final (and perhaps inevitable) theme that recurs through many of the chapters is the COVID-19 pandemic and its role in changing the way that library technical services departments have operated since 2020.

The editors, Marlee Givens and Sofia Slutskaya, state their goal in the book’s introduction: “to collect different training methodologies and case studies in order to offer technical services managers and trainers useful examples of creating a learning culture in their departments” (x). The editors further state that these chapters are an indication that “training needs are universal across different types of libraries and departments” (x). These themes weave the chapters together and help to ensure that the thirteen chapters build a strong and cohesive narrative; in editing this volume, Givens and Slutskaya have curated a collection that truly does build a picture of transforming and improving technical services departments through training and development. In fact, the picture they build is one of proactive and vibrant departments with engaged staff and leaders. This is possible through both hard work and planning; readers can achieve such a department by learning the lessons that these chapters teach.

While all of the chapters have noteworthy elements, some in particular merit further discussion. These chapters are not only well written and structured, but many—or most—of them have easily transferrable real-world application.

Chapter 1, written by Beth Ashmore, Maria Collins, Xiaoyan Song, and Lynn Whittenberger, details the strategies used in North Carolina State University Libraries to build what the authors term a “technical services learning culture.” Following the creation of a single Acquisitions & Discovery department in 2011, the department began to implement cross-training for all staff. Among the techniques the department’s managers used were “exposure learning” (learning about library topics that do not currently impact daily work, but which may in the future), targeted training or learning (such as when there is a change in working practices), and informal training (what the authors call the apprenticeship approach). The authors also describe some core competencies training which was undertaken due to gaps in knowledge—interestingly, these gaps came about because a “reliance on informal or ad hoc training mostly for new staff had resulted in inconsistent knowledge and practice” (5)—and a team of managers identified core competencies on which the department would need to be trained. They also describe a pilot team that they’ve created called the Library Impact Analysis cross-unit team, which collects, cleans, and reports library statistics.

Laura Sill, in chapter 6, describes a case study from the Hesburgh Libraries of the University of Notre Dame in which a metadata community of practice was created in order to facilitate cross-organizational learning. This chapter describes the community of practice that was developed following several library reorganizations, most recently in 2020. One aspect of this chapter which really hit home for this reviewer was the emphasis that Sill placed on planning and governance. Even a “community of practice” group, which on the face of it might not need much governance, required a great deal of planning. Sill details that each meeting had the following details defined: learning outcomes or deliverables; learning methods; and learning assessment. This level of governance allowed the Notre Dame metadata community of practice to become a successful framework for connections and learning within the Hesburgh Library. This chapter is replete with useful examples as well as charts and figures which help to illustrate how the Metadata Community of Practice operates, is assessed, and the types of learning plans used.

The chapter entitled “Reactive and Proactive Approaches in the Training Program for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Acquisitions Unit” by Jennifer R. Culley is another standout. Culley describes the benefits of on-the-job training and noted that as a lead acquisitions librarian new to UNLV, she asked her direct reports to train her on what they do and reviewed training manuals and procedures. She noted that one of the major benefits of taking this approach was that she was able to identify goals for future training and retraining as well as opportunities to streamline workflows. Usefully, as with many of the chapters in this book, Culley included real world examples and figures of specific job responsibilities, tasks and documentation from her experience. These examples provide ample illustration that helped this reviewer in identifying procedures and workflows that could be either built upon or borrowed wholesale from the descriptions in the book to the reader’s workplace. In this way, this volume provides direct, real world examples of either best practices or suggestions for improvements that many readers will find are useful in their workplaces.

The thirteen chapters in this book are almost all based on either case-studies or the authors’ real-world examples. Only one chapter (chapter 3, “A Deming Approach to Training in Technical Services”) is purely theoretical and may have benefited by some real-world examples. The rest of the chapters are based on case studies or contexts of specific libraries, mostly university libraries with one public library consortium. All are based in North American libraries.

While the scope of this volume may sound fairly narrow—specific to technical services departments—and the contexts are also somewhat narrow (primarily North American university libraries) there is a refreshingly broad scope for the included chapters. For instance, while some chapters focus on training technical services workers (such as chapter 4, “Just-in-Time Training for Continuous Improvement Within a Consortium” by Rachel K. Fischer) others detail bringing training outside of the technical services department, training surrounding system migrations, and training for student workers.

In all, this is an excellent volume with useful contributions on a wide range of topics. It will be useful for technical services managers and supervisors who are interested in improving and revamping their training programs, but it will also be of interest more broadly to anyone interested in library training and professional development. The overall picture is one of a profession that is responding to significant changes in their area of work, and of a workforce that is adapting to new working practices—from new acquisitions and cataloging procedures to remote working and reduced workforces. While there are many challenges, there are also innumerable opportunities introduced by these developments, and this book will help many technical services departments successfully adapt, improve, and transform. Ideally this title will also be made available as an e-book in order to facilitate access to these valuable chapters which contribute to the advancement of the profession.—Joshua Hutchinson (joshuah8@usc.edu), University of Southern California, Los Angeles


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