February 17, 2018

Professional Development: What’s It to You? Pt. 2 | Not Dead Yet

Cheryl LaGuardiaIn 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):

  1. Getting embedded in courses they support
  2. Learning about user interfaces and user experiences
  3. Keeping active on social media (Twitter, library blogs, etc.)
  4. Writing for the professional literature and/or presenting at conferences
  5. Taking classes in project management
  6. Learning about data and information visualization
  7. Taking classes in an area of subject interest to their jobs
  8. Taking classes in a language pertinent to their jobs
  9. Learning about web development and design
  10. 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 activitiesthey 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.

Read eReviews, where Cheryl LaGuardia and Bonnie Swoger look under the hood of the latest library databases and often offer free database trials

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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  1. Helene Williams says:

    Thanks, Cheryl, for this great summary! I’m going to post it and the previous column for my students working on their professional portfolios at the University of Washington iSchool: I require them to list specific professional development activities they’ll be doing to round out their skills, and this gives them some solid direction.

    • Thank you, Helene, for helping your students find solid direction right from the get go, as library school students. It makes so much difference for upcoming professionals to have leads on what they can do to add to their skill sets. Thanks again to all the folks who sent the responses to my questions, too!
      Very best,

  2. Fiona Blackburn says:

    I’ve been reading some of the literature about cultural competence in US LIS as part of completing a Master. I think cultural competence is incredibly important and want to start a discussion here in Australia about it – that’s why I’m focussing on this topic in the Master. However the term ‘cultural competence’ doesn’t seem to figure in the professional development people are undertaking or that managers would like to see them undertaking, although some of those activities are part of becoming culturally competent, like learning community languages. The thing is, the US is the only place where I can find cultural competence is discussed in LIS (although there are plenty of other service industries which have embraced it). Maybe my self-appointed job of raising the issue here, is going to be really hard!

    • That job may be hard, Fiona, but sounds like it’s a worthwhile issue for you to explore. I think the #1 most mentioned activity on the part of front-line librarians (“Getting embedded in courses they support”) it part of cultural competence, and other activities they list are aimed at achieving cultural competence, but I’d be very interested in a larger discussion of it, since it influences successful job performance so much. Maybe your comment here will elicit some responses from others who’d like to weigh in with their thoughts on the subject.
      Thanks very much for writing, and good luck with your studies!
      Best wishes,

  3. I find it interesting that you call out social media as a professional development activity.
    Never in a million years would I consider it professional dev. It is something most of us participate in and should do (depending on job). But this is a task; done better by some than others.

    It is on the outreach continuum with communication, branding, publicity, reference work.

    • Glad to hear your perspective, AmyK, but opinion on this obviously varies. For some it may be part of the job, for others, it’s professional development. A gray area rather than a fact, as it were.
      Thanks for writing,

  4. Emily Bell says:

    Hi, Cheryl!
    When you say that management training is something managers would like for their reports, do you mean for those reports who manage others? This might seem self-explanatory, but I wondered if it was something managers would like to see the non-managerial explore. Historically, management and labor have rarely been on the same page, of course, but in a library setting the relationship can be a bit more complicated. Some non-managers are resentful of or misunderstand the management role. A little management training for non-managers might help managers and their reports to work together more smoothly and efficiently.

    I hadn’t thought of social media as a professional development opportunity either, but it’s true that I learn from library colleagues when they use social media just as I learn from them when they make presentations or publish papers- just in smaller bites.