"We actually had a great example almost the day we launched it," says Deb Koep, deputy director of the West Vancouver Memorial Library, speaking about a new online learning tool available for free to North Shore residents.
Since last month, the West Vancouver and City of North Vancouver library systems have offered Lynda.com, a web tool that gives patrons access to thousands of self-directed online training courses. Lessons are delivered through a series of videos and cover a range of topics, including computer software, business, management and design. Courses are suitable for beginners and those with a general interest in exploring a subject area or learning a new skill (like how to use a tablet or build a website), as well as working professionals. For example, engineers or architects who are in need of specialized support or are looking to upgrade their skill sets would find many courses of interest.
Koep explains West Vancouver library staff were pleased to see the new offering prove impactful right out of the gate after a woman approached a librarian asking for help. Previously working in banking, she had taken some time out and was interested in re-entering the workforce. However, she realized before she would be ready, she needed to tune up her skills and wondered if the library might have some books that could help.
"One of our staff was able to say, 'Actually, there's this brand new resource: Lynda.com," says Koep.
The woman and the librarian explored the site together and were overwhelmed by the abundance of useful courses. Those on accounting, desktop applications, spreadsheets, e-commerce, web conferencing and a series on leadership that could help her get up to speed on current management practices were among those that caught her eye.
"She was able to look at it and almost create a learning plan for herself based on different courses that she saw that would help her get to the place where she felt confident to go back into the workforce. We were really excited to have that example right off the bat. That's what we want to be able to do," says Koep.
Libraries are increasingly playing a role in people's learning networks, says Koep. People complete formal educations through their K-12 years and then at the post-secondary level, but learning no longer stops there.
"The world is changing so fast and there's so much coming at us and we're all learning constantly. Just finding ways to support that learning is becoming a primary role for public libraries. So a tool like Lynda.com allows us to start with what we offer within our walls - our expert staff and some of the materials (and introductory courses) that we offer - and then build on those and give people opportunities to pursue their interests further," says Koep.
Libraries are committed to making sure they're where their community needs them to be.
"People continue to read for pleasure and we continue to support that need both with physical books and with great collections of ebooks," says Koep.
The same goes for the universe of nonfiction and libraries continue to house large collections of textbooks and manuals.
"(However), the skills and the knowledge are changing so fast and appearing so quickly that that kind of publishing almost can't keep up. Being able to offer to people new ways of learning and ways of learning independently on their own time, at their own pace, in a way that works for them, that's just part of continuing to be part of people's learning networks and ensuring that they're connecting to the information they need in whatever form that needs to be. If it needs to be a book, great, we can help with that. If it needs to be articles or newspapers or a database, we can do that. If it needs to be people in the community, or organizations in the community, we can help with that. And if it needs to be online then we have that piece now too," says Koep.
Lynda.com was founded in 1995 and is headquartered in Carpinteria, Calif. It takes its name from co-founder Lynda Weinman and was recently acquired by LinkedIn.
The site allows users to search on a particular subject, for example, creativity, business skills, spreadsheets or drawing, and then filter by skill level.
All of the courses are curated, the instructors are considered experts in their respective fields and the offerings are constantly updated. Community members can access the site by coming into either the West Vancouver or City of North Vancouver library, or at home by logging in with their library cards.
Online learning has come a long way, says Koep.
"Folks who've been in formal education recently, this is nothing new to them but for folks who maybe their last formal education experience was 10 or 15 or 20 or more years ago, they might be surprised to see how much better the online learning environment is now," she says.
"The folks who are delivering learning in that way have learned a lot and have applied a lot of research and they have changed how they teach so that the courses actually work much better, so I think it's worth looking at," she adds.
Lynda.com is just one of the online learning tools available to patrons at both the West Vancouver Memorial Library and North Vancouver City Library.
The West Vancouver library also offers: the Learning Express Library, which offers support for exam preparation and provides practice tests and tutorials for things like citizenship, LSAT and TOEFL exams; and Mango Languages, which offers lessons in 65 different languages. The North Vancouver City Library's online learning tools include Pronunciator, which offers instruction in 80 languages.
In addition, both library systems offer links to other online university level courses, known as MOOCS (massive open online courses), in addition to a variety of other digital services like streaming movies and music, and downloadable ebooks and audiobooks.
The District of North Vancouver library system is also committed to supporting community members in online learning. Currently, its libraries offer links to a number of useful educational and entertainment-focused databases like BC Stats, Ancestry Library and Academic Search Elite, and is currently exploring adopting some online learning tools of its own.