May 22, 2018

Personal, Actionable, Accessible | Office Hours

In a recent survey, I asked public library staff from all types of libraries across the United States to imagine what their perfect professional development (PD) learning experience would look like if neither money nor time were an issue. It’s a wide open and a bit messy question, but the 350-plus analyzed responses tell a fascinating story. Perhaps these ideas might inspire changes to your library’s learning opportunities for staffers. Library associations (national, state, regional) might be interested in this data as well.

Face Time

A majority of the respondents specifically stated they wanted a chance to talk face to face with others: to share ideas, engage, and talk about their learning. Webinars and online options were mentioned but not with anywhere near the frequency of in-person engagement. For example, one stated, “Give me anything interactive. I find in-person workshops with the opportunity to try out something and discuss afterward to be the most helpful.” One librarian described an inspiring state library program that meets once a month for ten months: “It is all-day meetings with librarians from various institutions throughout the state.”

Others wanted time with a mentor “that I know and trust,” or someone who could coach them through a project or initiative. One librarian noted “there seems to be a dearth of training to prepare our future leaders” and a lack of mentoring opportunities with established managers and administrators.

Some wanted like minds and interests to come together—“I want to be with other YA specialists with freely flowing dialog and creative brainstorming”—while others wanted views beyond library life: “I’m currently participating in community training where my cohort has 12 people from 12 different businesses/agencies. I’m learning more there than I’ve learned at any library conference.”

On the Road

Conferences were an attractive avenue for learning experiences. The public librarians who took the survey noted state and national conferences as a worthwhile way to learn and grow professionally. Mention of national conferences often occurred with the words “rewarding” but also “expensive.” One respondent stated, “There’s just no money” to go to American Library Association (ALA) or Public Library Association (PLA) events. State conferences, however, seemed more affordable and valuable. One respondent described attending the state meeting, finding “numerous new ideas” and opportunities to network more easily because of location.

For some, the process for attending a conference as a PD opportunity was out of reach or opaque. “It seems like the same ten to 20 people go to all of the conferences,” stated one. “The application process isn’t openly available or discussed during training.”

Make it Real

Others offered suggestions for how learning should be delivered. One respondent wanted “personalized experiences with feedback and follow-up” and “connections that last.” Others wanted to “be challenged” by topics that go beyond general introductions. Another wanted “instructors who are interested in my dreams and challenges.”

Respondents called for more activity and engagement. Trainers should “lose the prerecorded bits that are archived and used for way too long” and focus on facilitating “workshops where I can brainstorm and share ideas.” Then, respondents want to take concrete action items back to their libraries to share and implement.

Perfect Picture

One concept from the data was a specific model for professional learning experiences woven from the thematic areas above. It was a notable thread across the answers. Public librarians crave a chance to come together in a small group for active discussion, learning, and hands-on play with ideas and technologies.

Some called it a “retreat,” while others imagined “networking with peers over one or two days.” This response describes it well: “I want a three-day conference with about 20 people in the group. Three days allows us to transform our thinking.” Of course, one model will not work in all situations for all libraries.

From the answers to this question, I think it’s a good bet for the folks leading development of learning experiences for library folk to consider incorporating more on-the-ground, face-to-face interaction when planning meetings or conferences. Public libraries of all sizes and budgets could surely benefit from a clearly articulated strategy for conference attendance, ways to seek funding, and an equitable chance for all to attend. Finally, facilitators, trainers, and consultants should develop content that not only challenges but provides outcomes and takeaways based on participation and a “think tank” atmosphere.

Watch for more from this compelling data set soon.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens (mstephens7@mac.com) is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA

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Comments

  1. This is awesome! Thanks Michael :-)

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