In-Service Day: An Award-Winning Formula for the University Library
by Ladd Brown, Ellen Krupar, Nicole Auer, Chris Peters, Brenda Hendricks
Two years ago the Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET) created the Outstanding Library Programs Awards, designed to "recognize the exceptional efforts of libraries and groups of libraries in the Southeast" in the areas of Continuing Education and Staff Development, Preservation and Electronic Information, and Multi-Type Library Cooperation.
Last spring, the University Libraries (UL) Staff Training and Development Program at Virginia Tech was named an Outstanding Library Program in the Continuing Education and Staff Development area. The largest and most ambitious-and arguably most fun!-part of Virginia Tech's training and development program is the In-Service Day (ISD).
The ISD was developed as a biennial opportunity for UL faculty and staff to participate in one daylong event structured around activities and sessions both educational and entertaining. The ISD is a complex happening: it can be a staff development, team-building, continuing education, and personal development "fair" interspersed with a social event or two. It is also a chance for a library staff to relax, take a step back from the frenetic pace of work, and see where their roles and accomplishments fit into the bigger picture.
In 1996, the focus of ISD1 "FUNdamental Skills" was acquiring and sharpening workplace computer skills. In 1998, ISD2 "Making Connections" provided an opportunity for attendees to "get connected" to various library departments and functions, as well as exploring how the library "connected" to the rest of the campus. ISD3 "Branching Out" centered around Virginia Tech's past and future, with sessions ranging from tours of historic Smithfield Plantation to lectures on futuristic vehicles. This year's ISD4 is "It's Your University!" and invites the library staff to explore areas of the university that they may not be familiar with, such as the veterinary hospital and the agricultural farms, and to discover how Virginia Tech is using the latest in educational technologies to serve its remote students and faculty.
The ISD Team
The formation of the ISD team is the first step in the process. One or all of these traits characterizes the potential team member:
- Experience: Knowledge of library operations, of campus or institution, and of contacts throughout both the library and institution
- Creativity: Ability to envision and evaluate ideas and to harness ideas into themes, maybe a little "outside the box" thinking
- Organization: Ability to manage several assignments at one time, communicate with the team on status of assignments, and exercise independent judgment, if needed
- Teamwork: Dedication, positive attitude, dependability, positive attitude, flexibility, positive attitude
- Sense of Humor: Essential
Ideally, the ISD team ends up being a balanced, innovative, and focused group. The team should think about holding standing meetings a year in advance, normally on a weekly basis. Organized weekly meetings with systematic input and feedback are realistically the only way to accomplish the goal. Team members are responsible for all aspects of planning, preparation, and implementation, including establishing a theme and creating relevant session tracks, contacting and handling speakers, food arrangements, transportation, budget, and contingency scheduling. The only thing the ISD team does not control is the weather, but that's not for lack of -trying.
Three years ago, the Dean of the University Libraries, the Training Coordinator, and the Director of Instruction collectively put the ISD3 team together. They decided to keep two carryover members from ISD2 to provide continuity of process, and the other members were selected for certain skills and the ability to work in a team environment. Throughout the process, the team depended on the knowledge and experience of the two veterans. The five new members were introduced to the team concept, and then the entire team began team training. The team leader for both the second and third ISD teams was the Training Coordinator, who was able to provide formal team -training.
For ISD4, the entire ISD3 team remained intact except for one vacancy. It was decided not to fill the vacancy because the team was confident in their abilities to successfully produce another ISD event, even though it meant added duties for each team member. (See "Teamwork" above.)
Team Approach/Meeting Skills
To instill a sense of formality and insure that team activities progress toward the final goal, it is recommended that the team adopt the principles and practices of the team approach and be familiar with basic meeting skills. Developing meeting skills is currently a very popular training topic; many resources are readily available. For the team approach, the ISD team adopted these roles:
- Timekeeper: Keeps team to the time allotted for starting and ending the meeting and monitors the time allotted to discussion of each topic
- Gatekeeper: Insures that the team discussion stays on agenda topics and maintains the Parking Lot
- Scribe: Takes minutes (using team- minutes form), which include actions taken and decisions made
- Judge: Enforces team rules
- Recorder: Uses flip chart or some other graphic display
- Team Leader: Acts as chairperson
Some roles can be combined, depending on the size of the team and the agenda. Roles are rotated, except for the Team Leader, and assigned in the meeting agenda. ISD teams at Virginia Tech have eliminated the role of Gatekeeper and given his duties to the Judge, whose role is often the most difficult since it involves enforcing the ground rules in a friendly manner and reminding members when they have violated the agreed-upon rules. The Judge is also responsible for identifying issues that surface during meeting discussions but are not on the agenda. These items are "parked" on the minutes to be revisited as agenda items in future meetings.
In the spirit of fun and in order to remind the group of the rules it has set, the Judge reads the recorded rules out loud (in a judge-like voice) at the beginning of each meeting. Some common rules are:
- Be on time
- Be prepared
- Participate: say what you think
- Constructive criticism only
- Stick to the topic
- Respect confidentiality
Adhering to the team model and using meeting skills has made group decision-making, task assignment, and communication easier during the lengthy planning and realization of the event. An added bonus is the bonding and team synergy-being able to share in small successes throughout the project while the big picture slowly emerges. This synergy carried over from the ISD3 team when we decided not to add another member to the ISD4 team.
One major advantage for the ISD4 team is the creation of a shared computer-file folder where all team members can see meeting minutes, timetables, graphics, updates and announcements, and other important documents.
Creativity: Brainstorming the Theme
Once team skills are in place and practiced, brainstorming for topics, speakers, and sessions that might be of interest to staff comes next. In the case of ISD3, both the Dean of the University Libraries and one of the ISD team members had mentioned that exploring our campus and moving outside of the library environment might be an interesting way to distinguish ISD3 from previous ones. This suggestion helped to shape that particular brainstorming session.
Past ISD program evaluations are another source for future ISD topics and can help jump-start the brainstorming session. Brainstorming "rules" say that all ideas, no matter how wild or improbable, are valid. The team member with the fastest and the neatest printing should be the Recorder, using a flipchart or other projected or graphic display.
Once the ideas are gathered, dominant themes should begin to appear. If there is exciting research going on nearby, and it has been in the news or publicized, then it should suggest field trips or the possibility of extending invitations to researchers to give a presentation to the library. If a cluster of ideas begins to center around acquiring basic, advanced, or even complex computer skills, then there is the possibility for a training or continuing education track. For ISD3's "Branching Out" theme, there were "futuristic" sessions about the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute's multimillion-dollar test bed called the Smart Road and the "Future Truck Zeburban," a 4-wheel drive all-electric vehicle. These cutting--edge sessions were balanced out or softened by historical walks through the original town squares, a genealogy lecture, and a visit to the horticultural gardens.
To "visually" organize the event, it is advisable to create several team tools. One is a table of the speakers, sessions, and breaks. At right is a sample table with morning group activities (registration and keynote speaker) and slightly longer sessions in the morning. Breaks should be built in between sessions to allow for boarding transportation, travel to session locations within the building, or comfort stops. Note that Session 15 in the example is used to represent a tour or field trip that would take travel time.
Once the creative phase of planning is completed and the theme, sessions, and tracks are taking shape, the team must shift its focus and begin to piece together the pieces of the logistics puzzle. Several key areas that need detailed planning and contingencies are:
- Speaker-related (arrangements, token/honorarium)
- Food-related (breaks, lunch)
- Transportation-related (rental, scheduling)
- Participant-related (marketing, registration, "door prizes")
Without financial support, the ISD would still be possible, but not on any wide scale. The director of the institution or someone with fiscal authority should be involved early on in budget discussions to allow the maximum time for monetary decision-making and reaching consensus on large expenditures. The person who controls the purse strings is known as the Sponsor.
Food costs are nearly unavoidable and lunch is by far the biggest expense. Both the noon meal and the breakfast breaks usually involve commitment to a catering contract. Food may or may not be the main attraction for events such as this, but its importance should not be underestimated. Another common cost is transportation. Even if there are no field trips or tours schedule, bringing in an outside speaker may result in parking or mileage costs. Besides the obvious costs, there may be hidden costs. What is the cost of closing a library for a day? More on these "closing costs" -below...
Ideally, you want the entire staff to participate in the ISD and that means that the library will have to be closed to users for that period of time. Choosing a date for the event can sometimes be controversial. For Virginia Tech, it means selecting a day in between "warm weather" semesters and not at a time when other major events are taking place (inside the library or on campus) that would affect transportation, session space, or speaker availability. These dates are relatively few and far between, but closing a major academic library even for one day every two years is a serious matter, and reaching a harmonious agreement between all those involved can be a sensitive process.
Another selling point for the ISD is the quality of the sessions. In the process of developing the program, ideas will form around a "session in search of speaker" or "speaker in search of a session." Keynote lunch speakers have the added pressure of being riveting while the audience is distracted by food. Speakers should have a reputation for engaging an audience and generating interest in their particular topics. Tours and field trips must also be attractive enough to stimulate participation. Offering tours and field trips as ISD sessions means site visits to calculate travel time, meeting the personnel involved, and assessing the viability of the remote or "external" session. The ISD team must take pains to secure commitments from these presenters, speakers, and tour guides and devote time to establishing working relationships with them. One of the primary reasons for starting the planning process so far in advance is to get the ISD date onto the crowded calendar of a popular speaker.
Speakers should always be invited to lunch and, if possible, given a token of appreciation. The same courtesy should be extended to those at the remote or external location who facilitated the tour or visit. Honoraria should be discussed by the team and the Sponsor so that there is a clear understanding of what the team can do to express gratitude for speaker time and effort. Thank-you letters to the speakers and tour guides must be promptly composed and sent. In writing these letters, do not forget to thank the Sponsor and others who contributed to the day.
It has been said that "often the part of training that people remember the most, either good or bad, is the food." With that in mind, the team should realize that food could make or break the success of the ISD. With a full-day's schedule, a light morning meal should be in place, and the keynote speaker should be made aware that members of his audience may be in mid-bite or leaving their seats to get that second or third cup of coffee. At the end of the day, there should be an assortment of beverages for the wrap-up session.
Lunch is a key occasion. The lunch during ISD2 received such rave reviews in the evaluations that the ISD3 team very much wanted to repeat the triumph. Now there is a reputation to be lived up to for subsequent ISD luncheons. Decisions have to be made regarding:
- Location: Can it be held on the library premises? If not, where? Are there catering facilities, or is there a kitchen nearby? Is there a setup and teardown "labor pool" (student workers) available?
- Expense: How much can the budget handle? What is the most reasonably priced menu? Do you have to use an institutionally approved caterer?
- Speaker: Is the scheduled speaker dynamic? Is the topic appropriate?
- Time allotment: Is 90 minutes enough time? Is it buffet-style or served?
- Menu: Is it balanced? Any vegetarian options? What about food allergies?
- Numbers: Does your registration process include a lunch RSVP? If you are using student workers, are they invited to lunch or provided for in some way?
As well as pondering all of the above points, the team needs to be mindful of contingencies. What can go wrong, will. Considering failures and "unexpected surprises" beforehand is prudent not only for the lunch, but for all of the other actions, whether important or not, in the course of the ISD.
Transportation logistics demand the same sort of long-range planning as do contacting and securing speakers and tour guides. Transportation plans must also be flexible enough for last-minute changes. "Anticipate your transportation needs as soon as possible, and reserve your transportation early!" has become the mantra for the transportation wrangler on our ISD team. The availability of motor pool or rental vehicles, as well as their capacity, may shape the day's schedule. Travel time and travel routes must be analyzed to minimize the amount of time en route. Drivers must be recruited and briefed about what is expected of them. For tours and field trips, it is recommended that a member of the ISD team accompany them to act as liaison, on-the-scene decision--maker, and to make sure everything stays on schedule.
Participant-related planning begins by marketing the event. Once session times and places are under wraps and all the speakers and presenters have committed, it is time to create a flyer or brochure to publicize the day and to serve as a handy reference for questions related to the sessions and to the day's schedule.
For ISD3 and ISD4, a web site devoted to publicity, information, registration, and "the baby picture contest" was created. For ISD3, the team submitted baby pictures, and registrants were asked to match them with the current team. The winners received autographed copies of the lunchtime speaker's books. ISD4's "baby picture contest" reflects the theme, "It's Your University!," and is based upon archival pictures of university landmarks when they were "babies" on the campus. The new-and---improved registration for ISD4 has become sophisticated enough to be interactive and let people know that sessions are filling up. For example, 40 people can take the Smart Road tour, but only 10 can visit the veterinary hospital at one time.
No marketing plan is complete without a logo: ISD3 "Branching Out" featured a tree logo, and ISD4's logo is a stylized drawing of the Gothic entrance of the main library. The logo is part of the brochure, the web site, and other literature. For publicity purposes and to generate a little goodwill, the team designs and procures a number of tote bags with the logo prominently displayed. These tote bags are given to all speakers, presenters, and other significant contributors, such as the Sponsor (!), and a few are reserved for prizes during the wrap-up. In the wrap-up, participants drop their name badges or other ID off at the beginning of the wrap-up because "you must be present to win!" Prizes are awarded with a touch of humor, and everyone leaves feeling good about the event. The goal here is to have each participant leave with a prize-tote bag, flashlight, or free coffee coupon. To have enough prizes for the wrap-up session means having team members solicit local merchants and food establishments for free merchandise, gift or discount certificates, and other donated items. This solicitation takes shoe leather and a lot of persuasiveness, but the wrap-up is an important part of the day's activities and well worth the effort.
Traditionally, the Sponsor or other appropriate speaker says a few words at the wrap up session before the prize drawing. This is an excellent opportunity to speak to a captive audience and adds closure to the day's activities.
Just before the event, it is recommended that there be an almost full-dress rehearsal. For our ISD3 several mini-rehearsals were staged in selected areas to ensure that all necessary arrangements had been completed. One of the first things to be double-checked was transportation to external sites. We checked with the motor pool, the volunteer drivers, and campus-parking services to make sure the coast was clear and things were ready. Several days before the actual event, team members worked with the driver volunteers to make sure everyone was familiar with the van routes and destinations. Routes were driven and estimated travel times were recorded.
Several other items were checked prior to the actual event. The lunch area was pre-assembled and knockdown plans were formulated. Classrooms were double checked to make sure they provided adequate seating. For sessions that required computers, machines were checked to make sure they had proper hardware/software and connectivity-if required or specified by the speaker or presenter. Final checklists were generated, and there were also lists of registrants for each session created in advance so that ISD team members could quickly take attendance and get vehicles filled and moving for the tours and field trips.
The In-Service Day
As mentioned earlier, the only thing the ISD team could not control was the weather. Naturally, it rained the morning of ISD3. Anxious team members watched the windows during the morning refreshments and keynote speaker's address, but the rain tapered off and the 9 AM walking tour was not greatly affected.
In "Building Staff Morale," Dan Connole gives some sage advice on planning events, such as the ISD:
- Plan thoroughly: The more things are planned, the greater the chance for success.
- Have fun planning: Your attitude will carry over into the event.
- Don't be self-conscious: Poke fun at yourself.
- Run things by the boss: Get the proper approval on spending, logistics, and which actions/activities are acceptable and which are not.
The ISD team, and all who attended or presented or assisted, clearly benefited from carefully-laid plans that were devised, incubated, and then solidified over a long period of time. Meeting months in advance did not make a lot of sense until the team encountered major obstacles or needed to wait several days or even weeks in order to make a certain decision. Despite all the well-laid plans of mice and ISD teams, there were a few unexpected mishaps that occurred just before and during the day:
- A 35-mm film broke during the preview; we found another copy.
- One van driver did not show up; a participant volunteered to be the driver.
- Some sessions ran long; if ISD team representatives attended the session, they tried to remedy the situation using their "timekeeper" skills.
- Some attendees did not show up at their assigned session or "crashed" another session; the ISD team representative tried to correct the situation.
- Some staff wanted to bring their children or other family members; this was a work-related event, and it was explained that our insurance did not cover them.
- Food allergies were not communicated to the caterer; the participant's lunch options had to be limited.
- One of the speakers pulled out at the last minute; the team had a couple of session ideas in reserve that could be readily substituted.
Evaluations and the Next Planning Cycle
Getting feedback, constructive criticism, and suggestions or recommendations for future ISDs is very valuable. The team set an evaluation mechanism in place and allowed plenty of time for all participants to comment. The evaluations were studied at the final ISD team meeting and then were taken up again at the next planning cycle as a stepping-stone or bridge between ISDs.
We are now in the midst of planning for ISD4 and are juggling all the various team roles, tools, and assignments that involves. Although it isn't required of them, the ISD4 team enthusiastically embraces this mission of creating a successful day, in addition to the full range of all our daily duties. The old Taoist saying "the journey is the reward" certainly rings true when applied to a successful staff development and training event like the In-Service Day. Some final tidbits of insight, passed on from experience-and not necessarily wisdom-are:
- Establish a good in-service team. Use team tools and meeting skills.
- Be ambitious, flexible, and persistent while staying cool, calm, and collected.
- Recognize and honor the purpose and importance of the event.
- Believe in your own capabilities. Trust your own decisions.
- Have fun!
Dan Connole. "Building Staff Morale," Virginia Libraries 46 (October-December 2000): 13-15.
Mary Hansbrough. "FUNdamental Skills: The Library Training Program at Virginia Tech," Virginia Libraries 42 (April-June 1996): 9-10.