According to the Pew Internet Project, a majority of Americans now access the internet via mobile devices: 56% of Americans use smartphones, while 31% own a tablet computer and 31% use e-readers (Brenner, 2013). Access to mobile technology is especially widespread among young adults. In a 2010 survey of Americans aged 18 to 24, 65% of community college students reported using cell phones to access the internet, compared with 41% of the general adult population (Smith, Rainie, & Zickuhr, 2011). Resources available for mobile device users have also been expanding at a rapid pace. As of April 2013, nearly 1.5 million apps could be found in the Apple and Android stores (McCracken, 2013).
While new technology tools and resources are becoming increasingly available to students, a 2012 report from the EDUCAUSE Center of Applied Research that found that the majority of undergraduate students valued the “effective” use of technology and technology training over “cutting-edge” technology (Dahlstrom, 2012), emphasizing the need for technology education and support throughout the college environment.
In early September 2011, Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) Technology Access Fees (TAF) funded the purchase of three iPads for librarians at Cleveland State Community College Library in Cleveland, Tennessee. These tablet computers offered the opportunity for the Cleveland State librarians to become more familiar with mobile technology in their professional and personal lives, allowing them to better support library patrons in using and troubleshooting mobile devices and technology.
The full library staff recognized the need to learn more about mobile technology after the college received a U.S. Department of Education Title III grant in late September 2011. The grant included funds to develop a collaborative student learning studio within the library. Aimed to increase student engagement by providing “an active and collaborative learning environment for students” (Cleveland State Community College, 2008), this learning space was named Studio Connect after library staff gathered feedback from a campus focus group. In addition to providing a collaborative space for students, the grant funded the purchase of a variety of new technology, including 30 circulating iPads for student use.
In May 2012, to ensure that the entire library staff would be able to support an increasingly mobile student user group, the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) Emerging Technologies and Mobilization Program funded the purchase four additional iPads for individual library staff usage. While the initial three library staff members who gained iPads through TAF funds were primarily self-trained, not all of the library staff shared the same level of confidence with technology and learning about new technology. In an effort to level the playing field in terms of staff confidence with technology, the Cleveland State Library decided to adapt an existing professional development program, 23 Things, to meet the library staff’s unique training needs.
23 Things: Self-Paced Library Professional Development
Originally created in 2006 by Helene Blowers of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Public Library, 23 Things provides a self-paced staff development program. Twenty-three different modules introduce staff members to a variety of technology tools, including the so-called “Web 2.0” technologies that encourage users to interact with online content and to create new online content. Program participants are asked to read through each module to learn about the topic, then to explore this new technology tool or resource for themselves, before blogging about their experience. Blowers developed the program under a Creative Commons license, allowing others to freely use and adapt her program content, with proper attribution.
Since Blowers first developed the program, 23 Things has become a global phenomenon. In 2009, she estimated that nearly 1,000 libraries across the world had participated in the program. Advocates have described the program as “transformational” and praised the program’s ability “to bring staff together in a common goal: learning emerging technology” (Stephens, Sayers, & Cheetham, 2010, p.1). In researching the program’s impact in Australian libraries, Stephens (2012) found that the program’s greatest success was in promoting personal knowledge and technology confidence levels.
Implementation at Cleveland State
The library was fortunate to have extremely supportive administration. In addition to requiring all staff to complete the program, the library director encouraged staff to work on the program during regular office hours and to discuss program discoveries during staff meetings.
Following Blowers’ (2008) suggestions to “design the program for later bloomers" (p. 56), and to “continually encourage staff to play” (p. 57), the Cleveland State Library’s version of the program was designed to promote staff collaboration and exploration, and to reach a wide range of staff experience levels with mobile and computer technology, using only freely available tools and software.
While Blowers’ original program ran only nine weeks, it was decided to run Cleveland State’s program for at least 23 weeks, in order to cover a wide array of mobile technology concepts and tools. After polling the library staff to help determine relevant program topics and modules, a Cleveland State librarian developed a collection of 23 modules that included both mobile technologies and computer-based tools. Since earlier programs had been licensed under a Creative Commons license, some modules were adapted from existing 23 Things programs. Other modules were developed specifically for the Cleveland State program. Program modules included Finding Apps, Managing Your Online Presence (e-portfolios and online reputation management), Keeping Professionally Current (podcasts and iTunesU), and MOOCs. Each module included an overview of the topic, a list of free apps and software to download, and reflection questions for participants. All participants were asked to consider how the module’s topic or tool could be used to improve library services.
Since the library already subscribed to LibGuides, a web guide management software designed specifically for libraries, the library decided to organize the program modules via LibGuides.
Figure 1: Cleveland State’s 23 Things page.
Each week, the library introduced a new module to staff via e-mail, and staff members read through the module, downloaded any relevant apps or software, explored the tool, and then wrote a blog entry describing their experience. The program began in October 2012, and 100% of the library staff chose to participate. All seven library staff members created a new blog or Tumblr for the program.
Figure 2: Example of library staff blog created for the 23 Things program.
At Cleveland State, 23 Things faced a variety of implementation issues. Since the program was designed to create a more level technology playing field among library staff, one of the greatest initial difficulties was supporting a wide range of staff technology experience and comfort levels. To address this issue, the library encouraged more tech-savvy staff members to assist any staffers struggling to complete the program.
The constantly changing nature of technology provided another consideration. One of the initial program modules introduced staff to the RSS feed reader, Google Reader. Several weeks after library staff had completed this module, Google announced that this product would be shut down, to the frustration of several staffers. To address this issue, library staff discussed several possible alternatives and replacements for Google Reader.
Finding the time to complete the program presented a challenge for many staff members. The program was initially scheduled to end on May 10, approximately 23 weeks after the program was introduced. As a small library, however, all staff members remain extremely busy, and many staff members struggled to complete the program before the initial deadline until the library director extended the deadline until mid-August.
The library gained valuable program feedback through anonymous mid-program and exit Google Forms polls (see Appendix for poll questions), staff meeting discussions, and a cumulative e-portfolio highlighting program achievements.
One staff member responded in the mid-program online poll, “I had been aware of most of the Web 2.0 topics covered in the program, but 23 Things has given me an incentive to think of how they can be used in the library.” During library staff meeting discussions, another staff member reported a new-found appreciation for podcasts, noting that podcasts can be useful for “trying to climb up that technology ladder, one step at a time.”
Figure 3: Mid-session poll results.
Some staff members mentioned feeling constrained by the question prompts for each module. A specific set of reflection questions had been developed to encourage targeted participant reflection, but some staff suggested that these questions remain optional, in order to allow staff members to explore and write about areas of their own interests.
Mid-session poll results also indicated that some modules were more useful than others. For example, several staff members reported that the module on Taking Notes was not especially useful to them. Other staff members mentioned that they would have liked to learn more about computer-based image and video editing. In future versions of the program, module content will be updated and revised to further reflect staff interests.
As a way to showcase staffers’ program achievements, the final program module required participants to create an e-portfolio using the freely available Pathbrite software. Participants selected at least four digital artifacts created during the course of the program. Artifacts selected for inclusion in the e-portfolio included edited digital images, online presentations, and reflections from individual blog entries. As the college moves toward a campus-wide e-portfolio initiative, it was hoped that familiarizing library staff with the e-portfolio software would prepare library staff to address student e-portfolio questions and concerns.
Figure 4: Example of e-portfolio created by library staff member for the 23 Things program.
Conclusions and Next Steps
With 100% staff participation and generally positive feedback, the library was pleased with the results of 23 Things. Rapid changes in technology emphasized that the goal of the program is ultimately in bolstering staff learning and confidence, not the specific technologies or software. In program evaluations, one staff member wrote: “What will we do when 23 Things is over????” During a staff meeting discussion, it was decided that in the short term, the library staff would continue to explore new apps on an informal basis.
The library staff had until the middle of August 2013 to complete all 23 modules. When participants completed the program, they were invited to complete an exit poll, which sought to define the effectiveness of the various modules and to seek ways in which the program had changed the way library staff members do their jobs. Exit poll questions were the same as the mid-session poll questions.
The 23 Things program is likely to have a positive impact on the library's programs and services. Now that all of the staff members feel more comfortable using mobile devices themselves, they are ready to help promote library resources such as the LibAnywhere mobile library site. The library is also beginning to lend iPads to students, in conjunction with Studio Connect. The library staff is now well equipped to support students in exploring mobile technologies. Although the library staff has decided to pursue exploration of new technologies on an informal basis, there may come a time in the near future where another library 23 Things program may be useful. With technologies developing at an increasingly rapid pace, this scenario is not difficult to imagine.
The success of the library's endeavor indicates that the 23 Things model might be useful in other capacities. As more departments at Cleveland State Community College adapt their workflows to include mobile devices, more opportunities for training will arise. The Cleveland State Library's model of 23 things could easily be adapted to any campus office or department. The library could provide support for these endeavors. Our student body is also becoming more mobile literate. A 23 Things for Cleveland State students would be a helpful addition to the library's information literacy efforts. A campus-wide 23 Things initiative, where students, faculty, and staff all follow the same program, would instill a sense of unity on campus.
Suggestions for Developing Library Professional Development Programs
For libraries wishing to start their own 23 Things program, the prospect may seem daunting. Planning ahead can help ensure a successful program that is meaningful for participants. Be sure to gain administrative buy-in since allowing participants to participate in the program during work hours emphasizes the value of the program. Design the program for a variety of skill levels, reflecting the diverse experience of participants. Focus first on discovery, and then provide optional activities for staff to explore topics in more depth. Provide plenty of technical troubleshooting and support for staff. Even the most experienced staff members may come across technical difficulties. This will also help create a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Allocate more time than you think you will need for staff to complete the program. Everyday tasks are likely to get in the way of completing the modules. Allowing staff more time to work through 23 Things will emphasize the exploratory nature of the program.
Blowers, H. (2008). Ten tips about 23 Things: how to make the most of the famed online 2.0 tutorial from the program's creator. School Library Journal, 54(10), 53-58.
Blowers, H. (2009, February 28). WJ hosts 23 Things summit [web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.heleneblowers.info/2009/02/wj-hosts-23-things-summit.html
Brenner, J. (2013, June 6). Pew internet: Mobile. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/February/Pew-Internet-Mobile.aspx
Cleveland State Community College. (2008). Title III proposal. Cleveland, TN: Author.
Dahlstrom, E. (2012). ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology, 2012 (Research Report). Louisville, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied REsearch. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERS1208/EIG1208.pdf
McCracken, H. (2013, April 16). Who’s winning, i0S or Android? All the numbers, all in one place. Time. Retrieved from http://techland.time.com/2013/04/16/ios-vs-android/
Rainie, L., Zickuhr, K., & Duggan, M. (2012, December 31). Mobile connections to libraries. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2012/12/31/mobile-connections-to-libraries/
Smith, A., Rainie, L., & Zickuhr, K. (2011, July 19). College students and technology. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/College-students-and-technology/Report.aspx
Stephens, M., Sayers, R., & Cheetham, W. (2010). The impact and benefits of Learning 2.0 programs in Australian libraries. CAVAL 2009 Visiting Scholar Research Project. Retrieved from http://www.vala.org.au/vala2010/papers2010/VALA2010_93_Stephens_Final.pdf
Stephens, M. (2012, May 28). “23 Things” as transformative learning: promoting confidence, curiosity and communication via library staff professional development. Unpublished paper presented at IFLA: Information technology with education and training, Helsinki. Retrieved from http://conference.ifla.org/past/ifla78/150-stephens-en.pdf
Mid-Session and Exit Poll Questions
- Which topics have been LEAST useful to you?
- Which topics have been MOST useful to you?
- Which topics do you wish had been covered?
- How might you change the program format to increase your learning?
- Longer time to complete each module
- More individual assistance
- More technical assistance
- More input into topic selection
- List one way in which the 23 Things program has changed your work here at the library.
- Any other comments or suggestions that will help us improve the program?