UNT computer courses provide cheap training for library staffs during budget cuts

Friday, October 22, 2004

According to the American Library Association, 82 percent of U.S. libraries received severe budget cuts. In the most extreme cases, some libraries' funding was cut by as much as 50.

In Texas, cuts in operating budgets have led to reduced library hours and materials budgets, hiring freezes or elimination of personnel, and fewer library programs.

To offset some of these cuts, the Northeast Texas Library System sought the assistance of the University of North Texas School of Library and Information Sciences to create an affordable and convenient means to train staff through UNT's Library Education @ Desktop (LE@D) program.

NETLS is an organization serving public libraries representing 33 counties in the northeast corner of the state -- an area containing more than 3 million people.

LE@D is federally funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Its objective is to address a growing need of the libraries in Texas and across the United States for quick, high-quality staff training, says Gary Werchan, LE@D project coordinator. LE@D provides online training courses in everything from privacy laws to dealing with difficult patrons.

The project is based in the Texas Center for Digital Knowledge at UNT.

"These courses were designed to meet the needs of all library systems, from large systems like the Dallas public libraries to smaller rural libraries," Werchan says. "We surveyed libraries across the state to find out the areas training was needed."

The first online course addressed the many intricacies of library patron policy, including the controversial USA Patriot Act, which allows law enforcement to obtain library usage records under certain circumstances. The course was called "Library Privacy and Confidentiality: Law and Policy."

Two other courses, "Managing Difficult Patrons with Confidence" and "Providing Excellent Customer Service in a Multicultural Environment" followed.

Today, nearly 4,000 librarians and library staff have taken advantage of these first three courses, Werchan says.

Librarians and library staff can also choose from six other courses that are either available right now or will be available over the next several months, he adds. Topics for these courses include copyright basics for libraries, dealing with teens, the internet, communication skills, databases and improving co-worker relations.

Werchan says each library that offers the tutorials is charged only $7 per student per course.

"Normally, training like this can be as high as $200 per person," he says.

In their beginning stages, the online class modules were tested by about 500 NETLS members. Since then, the courses have expanded to library systems throughout the Texas and to other states including Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

The classes can be taken at anytime by an individual and contain interactive features like animation, video clips, and discussions between students. They also include commentary from recognized subject matter experts.

Some of the libraries partnering with UNT for this project are the Alamo Area Library System, Big Country Library System, Central Texas Library System, Collin County Community College, Institute for Continuous Education, Nebraska Library Commission, North Texas Regional Library System, Northeast Texas Library System, South Dakota State Library, South Texas Library System, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, West Texas Library System.

For more information, visit the program web site at www.leadonline.info.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108