Training, partnerships and needs assessment


The Bottom Line

ISSN: 0888-045X

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Jones, R.W. and Mansfield, E.R. (2000), "Training, partnerships and needs assessment", The Bottom Line, Vol. 13 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Training, partnerships and needs assessment

Keywords Vendors, Librarians, Trainers, Computer-based-training, On-the-job training

I need to learn how to ...

I just learned how to use that software and now they've changed it again ...

Why did they change platforms ...

Training options and opportunity

Does it seem that the resources that librarians and their patrons use everyday are undergoing constant upgrades, changes in platforms, and changes in formats? The changes are so frequent and so pervasive that it is virtually impossible for librarians to keep pace, and yet librarians are the very persons who have taken responsibility for assisting their patrons in keeping up with technology changes. As frustrating and time consuming as this responsibility is, librarians take very seriously their patrons angst over this constant change. For both librarians and patrons alike, the assumption is that the new technologies presumably offer efficiencies for work product, but this is only the case when training programs have been created and implemented to meet business objectives.

Library patrons assume that librarians keep pace with technological changes. Librarians have compensated for these technological challenges by offering point-of-need (just-in-time) training, as well as trouble-shooting problems, when patrons ask for their assistance. Although librarians may not be aware of, or take advantage of, all vendor-sponsored training opportunities, most vendors do provide some level of training in the use of their products. It is safe to assume, however, that some presentations are nothing more than canned, single scenario examples, highlighting fancy capabilities, that do not meet the needs of the patron/trainee.

Training assessment

Imagine how much greater the effectiveness of the training program would be, if the librarian and the vendor partnered together to offer these training programs. This partnership would allow the librarian and the vendor/trainer to conduct the appropriate needs assessment of the patron group, based on organizational needs and goals. Such information combined with the trainer's thorough knowledge of their product would make for meaningful and relevant training sessions. The task of creating the needs assessment in conjunction with one another, helps engender a collaborative effort between the librarian, the vendor and the organization. When organizational needs are met, it makes for a trusting, long-term relationship.

Librarians represent the context in which a given product will be used by their patrons, as well as how the product complements other products and services in their libraries. This unbiased representation makes the training session less of a selling pitch and more of a true educational program. The trainer, who is a professional trainer, is an advocate for their product, and possesses in-depth knowledge of their product, including the "bells and whistles" and system efficiencies. By training together, the librarian and the vendor/trainer cover the broadest base of instruction in the effective use of the product.

What are the qualities of a good training program? The quality of the program in many instances is determined by what happens before the training event. The first task the librarian must undertake when planning for a training event (and also during the training event) is to ask questions in the form of a needs assessment instrument. The number one complaint from trainees is that sessions were irrelevant and did not meet their needs. A proper needs assessment can avert this problem. The information gathered allows the librarian and the vendor/trainer to tailor and customize the training event to maximize trainees' needs. Training goals and objectives can be articulated in advance of the training event, and real case scenarios or case studies can be sought for training examples.

A well designed questionnaire can serve several purposes in the planning stages of programs and also be used at the time of presentation of the program. These essential purposes are:

  • determine knowledge levels (be aware of varying skill levels and determine whether more than one training session should be held to accommodate divergent skills);

  • expose product attitudes (provide a heads-up on criticism of the product and receive in-depth examples of the trainees' true product knowledge and experiences);

  • stimulate discussion and communication;

  • share knowledge; and

  • directly tie training to business results by using real case studies provided by the trainees.

The information provided from these questions will accomplish two essential outcomes:

  1. 1.

    help the librarians and the trainer to understand user needs and organizational idiosyncrasies, and

  2. 2.

    help create future training programs as necessary, built upon an initial training experience.

The vendor/trainer will also be able to share how other customers have used the product to their benefit. Vendor/trainers learn from their sessions by seeing how users anticipate a product should work. This in turn provides useful feedback that can be forwarded to the product design team as future upgrades are planned.

The format of the needs assessment instrument will vary depending on the type of training you are planning, the amount of time you have in advance of training, and the patron group for which the training will be developed. The instrument may be formal or informal, long or short, manual or electronic, interview, multiple choice, survey, questionnaire, etc. Do not assume a 100 per cent feedback, no matter how simple and easy your assessment instrument. Continuing the questions during the presentation of the product will help fill some of the gaps in your assessment. Whatever format is used, remember your assessment tool is the foundation for your training, and a preventive measure to guard against possible problems. By identifying potential problems, a needs assessment saves time and money, and provides the framework for connecting training to future performance.

Resource links

The Internet has an incredible amount of sources for information on the needs assessment and needs analysis process. The following web sites have been routinely used by the authors as excellent tools for self-study and knowledge enrichment. Both librarian and vendor/trainer can benefit from this further exploration.

American Society for Training and Development ( ASTD produces two monthly journals, Training and Development and Technical Training, and a monthly performance specific bulletin, Info-line. Membership has its privileges, but even non-members can find helpful materials on their Web page. In addition to training links, the Website offers FREE reading lists, FAQs, Hot Topic Lists and customized research.

International Society for Performance Improvement ( ISPI is dedicated to improving individual and organizational performance in the workplace. This association publishes many books and periodicals in addition to providing useful information and links on their Website. Their monthly journal, Performance Improvement Journal, is full of how-to guides, training instruments, and ready to use job aides. Their Website provides a table of contents for issues from the last two years.

The Training Doctor ( in technical training, the training doctor creates customized training programs. The Website offers some useful links.

The Training Supersite ( of the most comprehensive collections of human performance and productivity resources available on the Internet.

Training and Development Resource Center ( to a virtual gold mine of resources for the Training and Development Community. Links include discussion lists, commercial area for suppliers, T&D links to over 250 Websites of interest, from Benchmarking to Performance.

Rachel W. Jones, MSLS, is Manager of Professional Education and Training with the law firm, Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin & Oshinsky LLP in Washington, DC and a member of the editorial advisory board of The Bottom Line.

Elizabeth R. Mansfield, MSLS, is a Senior Editor with the Bureau of National Affairs in Washington, DC

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