In my last column I summarized what “a slew of library managers” told me they do to develop professionally, as well as what they’d like their direct reports to do in the area of professional development. This time around I’ve asked a bunch of frontline librarians (public, academic, special, public services, tech services, special collections, etc.) what they’re actually doing in terms of professional development. After summarizing their responses, I’ll do a little comparison between the different sets of replies.
What the FrontLine Librarians Said
Listed in order of the frequency each activity was mentioned (most to least):
- Getting embedded in courses they support
- Learning about user interfaces and user experiences
- Keeping active on social media (Twitter, library blogs, etc.)
- Writing for the professional literature and/or presenting at conferences
- Taking classes in project management
- Learning about data and information visualization
- Taking classes in an area of subject interest to their jobs
- Taking classes in a language pertinent to their jobs
- Learning about web development and design
- Attending professional conferences; performing committee work
That’s the list, but once again the comments reveal more about what folks are doing (small edits made to preserve anonymity):
“I attend academic lectures on campus for courses I work with. I find that reading course reserves, course syllabi, faculty publications, and students’ course works (short responses, papers, bibliographies) as well as all types of general course readings prepare me well when I work with faculty and students. I consider this kind of learning as my professional development, including the novels I read that can be connected to student research interests.”
“Since I coded my first web page I’ve been studying and learning about user interfaces and user experience (UI/UX…or the new amalgam, IX). Understanding what a user wants and expects, validating or challenging those mental models, then developing solutions iteratively around the findings is one of the most critically successful approaches to design there has ever been. At this point my study consists of active engagement with the local community, to learn and share experiences and techniques.”
“I’ve been going to workshops and reading the literature about qualitative library assessment and user experiences, learning as much as I can about how to collect user feedback as a means of designing user-centered library services and spaces.”
“I contributed an article to a professional journal. In addition, I give papers at conferences in my area of interest and have adapted talks I’ve given with colleagues into papers for the journal that focuses on our area of specialization.”
“I’ve written up findings from local projects and analyzed them in articles for professional journals.”
“My publications are the research guides I create to support courses locally.”
“I edit a reference source and write and review for a professional journal. It’s really helped me in providing good reference and doing source-rich LibGuides.”
“Managing students and their work on digital projects has been a fun roller coaster the last few years, but it’s definitely made me be more rigid about project scopes and time lines—not that I wasn’t before, but now I’m articulating it in writing through plans and charts, so it’s somewhere else other than just in my head (it makes so much sense in there, but when I try to document it…not so much). So, I’ve been taking courses on the topic and have been dipping into relevant tutorials from Lynda.com.”
“I’ve attended formal school/classes in my area of specialization. Probably won’t be doing that this year, mostly because of a lack of professional development funds, as participating in intense course work off-site (other states, Europe) is quite costly.”
“I took a two-semester intensive course in reading French.”
“I’m taking a Spanish course.”
“When I can get funded I take a class in an area that speaks to my work. If I can’t get funding, I can’t take the class: my budget is too tight and raises are few and small.”
“I attend the odd conference.”
“I attend the ALA preconference in my area of specialization; I think this is important in keeping connections with people in the field and also vendors who come to show stuff.”
“I’ve served on committees and helped organize a preconference for my ACRL division.”
““I attend few conferences nor do I participate in professional associations.”
“I help my ACRL division by updating its webpage. I am not officially on any committee, but am liaison to a committee, which means I do their web updates. Being on a committee would necessitate going to both ALA annual and Midwinter and would probably mean paying my own way, so I’m loath to get too entrenched without institutional backing.”
“I don’t find ALA conferences terribly helpful, and even the divisional conferences seem to have lost touch with frontline librarians.”
“I consider reading Twitter and library blogs to be one of my most important professional development activities—they put me in contact with colleagues across the country, and I’m constantly learning new things and finding inspiration in the great ideas they have.”
“I’ve been doing work in data and information visualization for years; little did I know it would be the hot buzz phrase it is today. As I work with students and colleagues on projects (designing infographics, for instance) I talk with them about the principles behind visualization. I’m also learning about it in a more disciplined way, filling in the blanks left through my organic gaining of knowledge. I’ve applied to attend conferences and workshops on this topic.”
“It’s only now, as the dust settles around the Browser Wars, that web design is really getting interesting. Because of local issues I haven’t had much reason or opportunity to flex those muscles like I used to. That’s changed recently, however, and very shortly some exciting new projects that have got me fired up about this work again will be unveiled online at our library. Now it’s all I can do not to spend my time at home reading more about it.”
Compare and Contrast
There were some types of professional development about which both managers and those they supervise were pretty much on the same page. Greater technical competence is implied in some of what the frontline librarians said they were doing, but it wasn’t their number one priority. A number of frontline folks said they were getting or seeking training in project management, but none of them said they actively were seeking formal management training, nor did they mention earning an advanced degree as part of their professional-development game plan (although many of them mentioned taking classes for developing in various ways). There was also no mention of mentoring new professionals or of making visits to other libraries. But the items that struck me most were:
- Professional conferences and committee work: some of the frontliners are doing this, but many of them are not (several of them dismissed attending conferences very specifically in their comments).
- Keeping active on social media: no mention of this at all from any of the managers, but plenty of mentions by frontline librarians. That’s a big disconnect in my book.
- User experience: I was interested that the managers put this in the context of space planning for libraries, whereas the frontline librarians were concerned about the overall user experience (services and online tools included).
- Data: just about everyone is interested in data, learning about how to handle it and manage it, and I think that’s good (both for us and our users).
- Funding: frontliners are planning their professional development very much with costs in mind; repeated mentions of needing more funding were made by librarians from across library types and functions.
- Management training: getting this was the second most important priority noted by managers for their reports’ professional development, but none of the librarians brought it up as being on their radar. This suggests to me another column I need to do soon….
My heartfelt thanks to everyone who responded to my queries about professional development in libraries. It looks to me like yet another area of librarianship experiencing major shifts; most important, though, is that managers and their reports work together to assure that librarians develop in ways that are meaningful both to the individual and to the institution supporting them in that development.
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