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The Overnight Expert: Creating a Program on a New Topic

November 30, 2015
Short Title
The Overnight Expert

You've been tasked with creating a program on an unfamiliar topic. Don't panic!

Recently, I was tasked with creating a class that introduced the basics of publishing work online. In addition to covering blogging and text editors, I decided to add a brief introduction to platforms where one can upload and sell their ebook. 

The problem? I had exactly zero experience with this task. 

Working on laptop As librarians, we almost always know where to instantaneously find an answer. Many of our patrons look to us as the experts in everything. I once had a patron tell me I could definitely become a doctor after locating a definition in a medical dictionary. Let's face it: once we become familiar with our sources, we feel pretty darn powerful. 

However, when we’re asked to step outside of our expertise, panic ensues. When developing a program on an unfamiliar topic, how does one become comfortable enough to coherently explain it to other people?
Here are six easy steps to getting started: 
  • Accept  and embrace your position. Repeat after me: it’s perfectly natural to have knowledge gaps. It doesn’t make you any less of a well-rounded librarian. Repeat loudly and often throughout the entire process.
  • Determine your level of need. Think about the type of knowledge you hope to impart to your patrons. Will you be targeting complete novices who need to know basics, or a more familiar audience looking for in-depth advice? For example, is your program about Microsoft Excel, or using Microsoft Excel for your small business? This examination, combined with your overall workload, timeline and budget, will help you decide how much you can accomplish on your own, or if you'll need additional help from an expert.
  • Act like a librarian. Everything you need to get started is right at your fingertips in your library. When I first began researching ePublishing, I checked out all of our topical books to get started. Now is also the perfect time to use those online instruction databases for yourself. Not only will these resources help you increase your general knowledge, but they may also provide inspiration for activities and insider tips.
  • Ask an expert. Remember, experts don’t necessarily come in a consultant or trainer package. Think about which friends or professional connections have experience in your topic. They may be able to provide some valuable tips for the price of a cup of coffee. 
  • Converse with other librarians. One thing I love about the library world is our openness to collaboration. Ask your colleagues on your statewide listserv, an electronic mailing list, or on the Programming Librarian Facebook group if anyone has taught a class on your topic and if they would be open to sharing any tips. Chances are, you’ll get some information in your inbox. (If you find any direct material you’d like to incorporate into your own class, remember to ask for permission.) 
  • Revise, revise, revise. Take note of what questions are asked during your program. Provide a program evaluation, and be sure to review them! Are there any commonalities in feedback? Use this valuable information to edit your materials for a more well-rounded program. 
And now, it's your turn: help others become experts! What topic left you stumped, and how did you conquer it for the sake of your patrons? 
Patron using laptop
Library Type
Academic / College
School (K-12)
Job Functions
Resources and Program Starters
Program Evaluation
Programming Librarian Forum