Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blogging about Not Blogging: Rethinking Staff Priorities

As some of you know, I work for a library system that has gone through a lot of changes lately. We've had staffing reductions, and an overall lowering of service offerings. What this has meant for both my blog and for my daily work environment is that I have become a "back-to-basics" librarian.

During the last two weeks, I've spent much of my time shelving books, ordering materials, working the reference desk, as well as coordinating with my manager and other staff members to rethink scheduling. This has meant that although I'm still teaching some one-on-one sessions, I have been doing it more infrequently. Additionally, due to changing staff needs, the sessions will more than likely be ending.

I will have to think a bit about what that means for this blog, as well as how this will affect our library patrons.

If anyone is out there reading this, I hope to keep blogging. I'm just going to have to ride out this wave unknowns for a little bit longer.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What Makes a Good Teacher: Does Losing my Cool Make Me Cooler?

I hope this can be a brief post, but I'm not so sure.

I've written before about my mixed feelings when working with both Illinois workNet Resume Builder tool, and when using Google Doc's inconsistent formatting. Well, the other day, when working with a "super-motivated-early-arriving-totally-prepared guy" BOTH tools momentarily failed on us.

(Let's just call him Mr. Doe) arrived thirty minutes early so we could decide the best way to get his paper resume into an online format. Since we don't have Microsoft Word, our two best options were, if you have been reading this blog at all, Illinois workNet Resume builder, and Google docs. Since Mr. Doe already had a job lined up in contracting, all he needed to do was email his resume to the potential employer. He had a paper resume, but there were items he needed to correct. I showed him the Illinois workNet resume builder and he was really excited.

We got to work straight away. Mr. Doe clicked on drop-downs like a madman, and got in the groove of it quickly. That was, until the resume builder received a pageful of error messages of doom. After logging on and off a few times, it didn't seem like the problem was going away anytime soon. I didn't know what to do, so we both quickly tried to make the most of his remaining 45 minutes with me.

We changed tactics brilliantly and created a Google account for him. But as poor Mr. Doe began to type, Google Docs fought him at every turn! As soon as we changed the font size, the spacing changed, and as soon as we changed from bold-faced type, we had met our match. For some reason, G-docs began to skip around, and change spacing and font size at random, and I nor Mr. Doe could counteract his possessed document.

At this point, I began to lose my cool. The thing is, I see myself as sort of a shield--I want to be the one to assist people in their first experience with new technology. I want the experience to be a calm, meaningful one, and I want the resources I choose to be easy to use and dependable. So when things don't always go as planned, I feel like I have not quite done my job, or perhaps I have chosen resources that are not as easy to use as I wish they were.

The conclusion of this story is actually much happier than I thought it would be. After a short period of frustration, Mr. Doe and I decided to try to log into Illinois workNet again. Ah-ha! This time it worked, and speedy Mr. Doe again clicked through the resume builder to wind up with a product that he was satisfied with.

We all know that even the most well-intentioned teacher can struggle with technology. However, I know that in a retail situation, I get slightly embarrassed for employees who are struggling with a cash register, or another tool they work with. So was it OK to show my frustration? Probably not. And that's something that I can work on a bit--because we all know that error messages are part of my world.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why I love My Husband: ResumePractice.com and other tools

It seems like one can find anything she needs on the internet--except for a good place for beginning computer users to practice uploading and copying/pasting their online resumes.

I knew what I wanted my users to be able to practice, but I just couldn't find a website that allowed them to do it. To add to that, I wasn't sure I would trust a website that focused on uploading people's personal information onto their disk space.

My husband, Sam, who is a programmer, is also one of those people who just likes to solve problems. He also really enjoys designing websites that make people's lives easier (especially if it caused me to stop venting!) I kept telling him things like, "Man! It would be so great if patrons could just practice that ONE skill of uploading their resume to a website!" And "Argh! CareerBuilder has NO IDEA that people don't know how to DO this!" Sam decided that he had had enough. He basically told me that if I could mock it up, then he could build it for me.

In about two hours, I had the basic uploader idea drawn up. Two days later, I used it during my patron session, and the positive feedback began. When it comes down to it, users are AMAZED that uploading is so simple, and they are grateful for the chance to have learned it in such a safe environment.
When we first designed it, the basic site looked like this:

It turns out, the tool worked so well that when the time came to help people work with copying and pasting a text resume, I needed another way to practice that.

In some ways, that skill is harder to teach than others. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have struggled as I have tried to show a beginning user how to download their resume in so many formats. I feel like the teacher in me knows that I am throwing too much information out there at the same time, but the pragmatist in me wants to make sure they walk away with the understanding that every online application is unfortunately, different.

This especially true with copying a pasting text into an online application. Sometimes the formatting looks great, while other times, only the most basic text is needed. Sam understood this, and we worked together to create a tool that allowed the user to see the results of their copying and pasting and then decide if he/she was happy with them.

Here are another couple of screenshots:

Although it's not perfect, it is a great starting point for people to begin to understand why having a simple resume, plus a nicely formatted resume is sometimes a necessity. This is also why using Google Docs to download the resume in a variety of different formats is extremely helpful.
ResumePractice.com is still new, but already I've heard positive feedback from others who didn't have anywhere else to go to practice these skills. Like most things nowadays, it's still evolving, so please let me know if you have any suggestions.

Oh, it will soon have a page that will house any downloadable resources that I have created.