If you have attended one of my train-the-trainer workshops in the recent past, then you have probably heard me mention The Reading Public Library
’s “Geek Out, Don’t Freak Out” classes
for patrons. I first read about these classes on trainer-librarian Andrea Mercado’s blog, LibraryTechtonics
Andrea’s “Geek Out, Don’t Freak Out” classes have covered digital cameras and she will soon be offering a class on MP3 players, too. People are encouraged to bring their own equipment and as the class description states, “we’ll all figure it out together.” She encourages both newbies and more savvy users to attend. This way the group members can help one another, too. Andrea creates a handout of resources for each class. The handout includes an integrated list of library items (she also brings the library items to the class for reference), articles, and web sites. The handout really shows off what the library and librarians can offer them (and provides participants with something to take notes on). She also lists her email address on each handout, just in case participants have future questions. While it might sound like she's asking for trouble, Andrea reports that most often people don't badger her or treat her like tech support.
There are several things that I love about this approach to technology training. First of all, I think it demonstrates a learner-centered, rather than a trainer-centered approach. Encouraging people to bring their own equipment is brave! It is impossible to know exactly how each camera works or how each MP3 player works ahead of time. Too frequently a trainer has a predetermined agenda and predetermined examples and a predetermined flow for the class and focuses on getting through the predetermined material. In the “Geek Out, Don’t Freak Out” classes, the focus really is on helping people learn the things they want and need to know. Seeing a trainer demonstrate a camera is very different from having a trainer help you learn to use your own camera.
A second thing that I appreciate about these classes is that they cover topics that are not necessarily traditional library technology training topics. I think it is important to offer classes on database searching and web searching, etc…, but I think the “Geek Out, Don’t Freak Out” classes really represent a “shifted” approach. I am guessing that the people who attend these classes really develop an appreciation and a broadened perspective regarding libraries and what libraries are about.