The Library of Congress’ Friendship-Based Model for Growth

At the Library of Congress (LOC), the digital learning options are vast and varied. As a library, of course, it may have that advantage. While it offers resources for learners around the country, it has also been maintaining and creating new efforts to keep its workforce building their skills.

LOC’s Director of Digital Strategy Kate Zwaard spoke to GovLoop about what that looks like. Zwaard spoke about the increased training participation, a new staff innovator program and her advice for other agencies to keep their employees learning.

The interview was slightly edited for brevity and clarity.

GOVLOOP: How has the pandemic and telework shed light on the opportunities for digital training?

ZWAARD: One of the things that’s been really neat for us [is that] we created a number of workshops for staff [around] digital tools and digital ways of thinking. After teleworking due to the pandemic, we had to move them from in-person events to online events. The online participation exceeded the room for capacity that we reserved. We’re seeing how even inside the agency the wider option of digital tools can improve our ability to work together.

What has been the biggest change in employee training while remote?

We’ve been thinking about how to use this opportunity to increase literacy for library staff. This is one of the most digitally literate organizations I’ve ever worked for. But there are always things you can learn and can lead you to expand your practice.

We’ve been hosting a few learning groups, workshops and staff innovator programs. They’re driven by interest and knowledge. We’ve been putting out calls for new talks and workshops from staff throughout the library to talk about their area of practice and things that they’ve learned that they can share with other people. It’s the first time we’ve held something like this, and we found that because we’re only asking for 15 minutes of people’s time, we can do lightning talk participation and times, as opposed to if we did it on campus. Before, the amount of time invested to go somewhere presented a disincentive.

Can you speak more about the staff innovator program?

The library has held an Innovators in Residence project for a few years now. Somebody exciting from the public comes to the library and spends a couple of months to half a year doing high-profile projects, reimagining what’s possible with our collections and services.

We just launched a parallel project called the Staff Innovator, where we are making space for some of our innovative staff members to take a step back from their ordinary work and try to work on what they can imagine – more innovative projects. And the innovators we selected for this round are working on a way to improve access to born digital manuscript collections.

What’s your advice for other agencies with limited budgets to encourage internal learning efforts?

One of the nice things about working in libraries, in technology in libraries specifically, is that there’s a robust open source community. People are very willing to share best practices and standards. So one of the ways that we can build capacity in limited funding environments is to partner and work out loud as much as we can. We try to publish as much of our findings as we can on our website. Our machine learning and libraries report is about to be launched, where we commissioned a report studying the state of machine learning in the library. That sort of friendship-based model for growth is one that has really worked well.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent report, “Upskilling and Reskilling the Workforce for the Future.” Download the full report here.

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