Friday, September 16, 2011

With Professional Development, The Sky Is The Limit by Camilla Grigsby

Professional development is really, really, really important to librarians. You probably learned this in library school, or at least got the idea from the extracurricular goings-on while you were a student. On a very basic level, it is a great way for us to connect with each other and share ideas about the profession. A way to socialize, if you will. But on another level, it is also a great way to keep abreast of new technologies, new products, and new trends that shape our workplaces. And professional development opportunities are so plentiful it is almost impossible to stay stuck in a professional rut for long. 

So what is professional development? You might think it's limited solely to the realm of conference attendance. Conferences and workshops are a huge part of professional development, and you undoubtedly heard a lot of chatter about their importance while you were in library school. However, they are by no means the only ways to network and learn about the profession. In fact, they may seem increasingly out of reach as libraries and institutions, facing budget cuts, limit the number of librarians they are able to send to such events. 
This tendency to limit makes a lot of sense. Conference attendance and the other accoutrements of professional development seem, at first glance, to be a huge budget suck. But don't ever be afraid to ask for support from your employer, with this caveat: you might not get it. Not because The Man is trying to hold you back. Money’s tight these days. Your manager might say, "Sorry, but it's just not in our budget." But you might be surprised. Even though you might not be offered full financial support, but your manager might be able to could offer some partial assistance -- covering just registration for a conference, but not travel or just hotel expenses. Even a small amount of assistance can be helpful, and the very worst you will hear is: “not this year.” All you have to do is ask. 

Outside the employer-assisted realm of opportunities, the world really is your oyster. If you are unable to go the “traditional” route and attend ALA every year, it’s up to you to guide your efforts. Seek opportunities outside the tried-and-true realms -- and don’t wait for those opportunities to be offered to you. Keep an ear to the ground as to what is going on in local library circles. Attend local meetings. Read as many blogs as you can. Read as much literature about your specialty as you can. 

Play around with new technologies. Your library might not have the budget to buy iPads for the staff, but it's good to know how they work, even if you happen to know how they work simply by hovering over the display models at the Apple store. It's also good to know what gadget/website/social network/etc. is the "next big thing." Have a Twitter account, even if you dedicate most of your tweets to pithy comments about your pets. Find out what Pinterest is all about. The idea is to know how these things work, bottom-line. People -- co-workers, patrons -- will ask you about these things. You will find ways to apply them to your job, regardless of whether “social media” or “hot devices" are keywords found in your job description. 
Share knowledge within your own organization. My workplace is on the eve of starting up monthly reference staff conference calls. We've never done this before and have a large reference staff in offices all over the U.S. (and in some international locations, too). I don't think anyone is really sure how these calls will pan out, but it can't be a bad idea for a bunch of people doing essentially the same job for the same company to share ideas and talk about best practices, can it? 
Go places -- local talks that interest you, social events hosted by professional organizations. Even if you're not a member of a certain professional organization, invitations are often extended to programs to non-members for a slightly higher fee. If the local chapter of SLA is hosting a talk on competitive intelligence and that's a topic you'd like to learn more about, consider whether it's worth it to shell out a few extra dollars and give up a couple hours after work to go learn something and network. 
Speaking of networking: this can be a scary prospect to many of us who are introverts by nature, but I promise, it gets easier the more you do it. Like riding a bike! A bike that includes small talk on the pedals and LinkedIn invitations on the handlebars. It is probably one of the most crucial pieces of professional development there is. As librarians and information specialists, we can learn so much from each other -- even when the other party is not standing behind a podium at a program. 
It is true that you get out of professional development what you put into it. Anything that you can use to further your career, enhance your skills, or support learning and progress in librarianship counts as professional development. It is your opportunity to hone your skills as an information professional, to grow professionally (and often, personally) and discover new interests and capabilities. If you are willing to look for opportunities in unexpected places, the sky really is the limit.
Camilla Grigsby is a Library Research Specialist at a large law firm in Cleveland, Ohio.

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