Dean’s Update: Staff Learning Environments

Dean’s Update: Staff Learning Environments
Jenny James Lee
August 6, 2015

[The Dean's Update is a column introducing each issue of the Libraries' monthly e-newsletter In Circulation.]

At the Libraries we have declared this to be the “year of library learning environments.” This focus goes beyond renovating spaces, adding chairs, and counting students studying. The library as an environment that inspires learning, is —as one of our faculty advisors simply hinted—a frame of mind.

Be forewarned, in coming months you’ll read about new quiet spots to read, places to explore data, and innovative venues to provide assistance online or in person.

Behind the public environments shared by our guests is the workplace environment where a highly committed group of over 60 library staff members work often more than 40 hours a week, twelve months a year, to improve the academic and research experiences of colleagues within the Drexel community. They bring a diverse range of background, expertise, and motivations, but also share a passion for learning. That passion is why many love to work in a library, especially one that serves higher education and enables the growth of young minds.

The growth of the mind continues long after graduation and our staff are living examples of lifelong learners, many self-directed in finding information to help make life-decisions about day care, elections, finances, or simply what book to read next. As a learning environment, the Libraries has not only an obligation to support this habit among university staff, but also an opportunity to leverage it to build the learning organization.

This summer we introduced a program to intersect personal and organizational development. Faced with six staff vacancies and no discretionary funds to continue special projects from salary savings, the Libraries leadership crafted six short-term, part-time assignments up to 4-months in duration, to allocate among existing staff. Each was described with expectations of deliverables and expertise. These opportunities ranged from having a librarian to help develop the start of a new service in support of data management to anyone interested in providing oversight in a restricted reading room and transporting archival records.

The initiative is a match making service to help staff expand their skills, explore areas of interest, or simply try something different, while also helping the Libraries meet needs for work to be done and strengthen human capacity for staff to understand operations and possibly backfill in a pinch. We marketed the program as a “mini-co-op” experience for employees. Interested staff were asked to submit a brief statement of interest and how their appointment would both benefit them and the Libraries.

The nine responses were impressive. The Libraries’ senior leadership group reviewed each, consulted with supervisors and program managers about impact of the temporary changes, and determined the appointments. Initial indicators of potential success include eager offers from staff to prepare themselves for their new assignments, thoughtful conversations among professionals to suggest strategies on program development challenges, and identification of interests and applicable skills to fix computer problems which were previously unknown to managers needing help. Program managers are also seeing the process as a helpful staffing alternative while recruitments are underway.

I wanted to share this experiment with you in part because we are excited about its possibilities--but also to invite you to think about environments supporting different types of learning. This may prove to be a wonderful example of the Libraries as truly a learning enterprise, extending its mission to staff as a way to further strengthen our organization. The work environment also helps shape a frame of mind that’s not bad to have linked to libraries.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries