Learning on the job: Librarians keeping up to date with emerging technologies

Helen Reid

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

At a time of continuous technological change, academic library staff are required to be constantly learning to ensure they keep up to date with new and emerging technologies, both hardware and software. This learning is occurring regularly by both formal (workshops, training sessions), and informal (reading, problem-solving, exploring) means. Yet there has been little research into the complex area of workplace learning, in particular learning about emerging technologies, within the library and information studies field, and academic libraries in particular. Thus, this study explores the practice of academic library staff as they engage in learning about emerging technologies and identifies site specific influences shaping learning practices.

Through the use of a constructivist action research methodology, this study investigates the current practice of academic library staff learning about emerging technologies within three university libraries in a major city in Australia. A series of focus groups, participant journals and relevant workplace documents provide a rich source of data about current practices. Using the lens of the theory of practice architectures, the elements of practice (sayings, doings and relatings), and the practice architectures present, are examined. Thus providing a means of identifying ways to enable ongoing and improved practice.

What was revealed was current practice of ongoing learning about emerging technologies was focused on individual, often solitary, skill development. There was little evidence in participants’ libraries of a common language or workplace conversations concerning emerging technologies in general, or the ongoing learning about these technologies. Results demonstrated a lack of agreement or understanding about how staff could or should undertake learning about technologies. There was also little comprehension about how learning should be integrated into individuals’ work roles or indeed included in personal development plans. Lack of time, absence of clear direction about what to learn, and lack of opportunities to share and build knowledge were all found to constrain ongoing practice of learning about technologies.

Identification of these constraints provides an opportunity for the researcher to highlight practice architectures that may enable the practice of ongoing learning. These include ongoing discussions about the role of technologies within the library and how best to incorporate ongoing learning into current roles. The provision of learning spaces that encourage staff to focus on learning and providing opportunities for staff to share their learning experiences with others may also provide supportive practice architectures. Library managers and staff working together to set clear directions, and the inclusion of learning about technologies in staff development plans, can also aid in the shaping of a work environment that contributes to the development of knowledge and skills of all staff.

The use of the theory of practice architectures as an analytical lens in this study demonstrates that this theory can provide significant insight into the sayings, doings, and relatings of library practice as well as the practice architectures supporting that practice. This insight can enable individual and organisational actors to better understand and improve practice.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Information Management
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Kennan, Mary Anne, Principal Supervisor
  • Pymm, Robert, Co-Supervisor
  • Lloyd, Anne, Co-Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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