Name change reflects department's expanded mission
When Heather Howiler decided to change the name of her Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System department from “training” to “continuing education,” she felt the change was overdue.
The department has been expanding steadily over the past few years. In addition to its long-standing computer and software classes, it offers new classes that teach website creation using online tools such as WordPress, and coding basics for all ages.
A mobile computer lab visits the Cleveland Heights Community Center and local retirement communities, offering classes to seniors in social media, computer basics, and more sophisticated topics such as photo editing. The mobile lab also visits two of the system’s branches (currently Coventry Village and Noble Neighborhood, and University Heights in the fall) to bring computer classes and tech assistance to people in those neighborhoods as well.
“It’s more than just a name change,” said Howiler, manager of continuing education at Heights Libraries. “When you factor in job search courses and online genealogy classes, it becomes clear that what we’re really offering our community are free educational and enrichment opportunities, not just simple trainings.”
The department also offers what could be called “self-service” technological and educational opportunities. A media lab at the Lee Road Library provides cardholders with free access to audio and video recording equipment and editing software that they can use for up to two hours at a time. Portable Internet Wi-Fi hotspots are available to check out for use anywhere a customer can find Wi-Fi service.
The library’s website offers free access to online educational services, such as Lynda.com, and links to other educational sites, such as GFCLearnFree.org and DigitalLearn.org, which offer tutorials on subjects as diverse as how to buy an airline ticket online to advanced mathematics.
Unlike a community college or other formal educational institution, the library can’t provide customers with degrees or certifications; what it can provide, however, are free, curated options for meaningful self-improvement.
“We’ve broadened and increased our offerings to provide opportunities for genuine skill building and lifelong learning opportunities,” said Howiler. “A great example of that is the customer who told us she’s using our hotspots at home to access and complete online coursework to finally get her bachelor’s degree. She doesn’t have the Internet at home, so the hotspot has made a huge difference for her.”
Howiler and her department staff have also taken steps to ensure that the people who need tech support can get it by switching to an approach that lets customers make appointments with library technology trainers. “We found people were saying they wanted tech help, but they weren’t showing up at our prescheduled tech help sessions,” said Technology Librarian Jackie Mayse. “So we created Reserve a Tech Expert, which allows people to make appointments with tech staff, like they would with a doctor or other professional. We’ve had great success with that model.”
Mayse has created another new educational opportunity for customers. Called the Learning Circle, it’s a six-week study group for people who want the support of other learners who are interested in the same topic. Library staff will provide guidance and structure, but group members will learn primarily from one another in a supportive environment. The first session, New Rules of Work, begins in September, and is intended to help job seekers prepare for the modern workplace.
“We encounter people at all stages of life,” said Mayse. “Our goal is to meet people where they are, and find a way to improve their lives.”
Sheryl Banks is the marketing and community relations manager for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System.