August 17, 2009
Cheap and Easy Professional Development Tools
Last week at a job interview, my prospective employer asked me a common question: "How do you plan to stay current in the field?"
There are a lot of possible (and somewhat expected) answers to this, including "I attend conferences, read professional publications and maintain a strong network." However, iSchool students and newly-minted professionals may find that their professional network offers limited information, or that conferences and subscriptions may be a bit of a tug on already-tight purse strings. And what about students who are still exploring multiple career options? What to do?
My answer is this: Don't put yourself in the poorhouse, and don't be afraid to show your resourceful side. Here are some ways to stay in-the-know in your field without breaking the bank. Plus, mentioning these methods in an interview will show your future colleagues that you are interested in learning and creative in problem-solving (the problem being that you have no money and want to learn more). Here are some options for the light-of-income:
Join a listserv
If you're not getting enough opportunities to talk with current professional about what they do and what think-listservs are full of ideas and opinions. As someone interested in librarianship in Michigan, I am a member of the MICHLIB-L listserv, on which librarians post job listings, questions and comments, policy concerns and free equipment/materials offers. ALA has lists online, once you specified an area of interest.
(Note: students may want to consider setting up a second email account if they plan on joining one or more high-volume listservs, such as the yalsa-bk listserv for youth services professionals.)
Find it online, or in the library
Remember, you don't have to own the May edition of American Libraries to learn from the article on cross-generational programming. Many academic and some public libraries may carry subscriptions to some of these publications, and many are available online (Library Journal and American Libraries come to mind).
Also, when conference attendance is not an option, keep an eye on the hosting organization's websites. Often, groups will post conference materials afterward, so that you can learn a bit about "The Library as a Community Art Space" or "Building International Collections" from the comfort of your own home.
Attend smaller, less formal professional meetings
Nobody will blame you if you didn't personally pop hundreds of dollars to attend the ALA conference in Chicago. Yes, these events can be great ways to extend your network and learn a LOT of new things, but the large, annual conferences aren't your only options. You can attend meetings of local groups, such as The Library Network's committee meetings, or local chapter meetings of large professional groups. Also, listservs and organizational websites are good tools to keep you aware of upcoming "unconferences," (smaller events often organized around a topic and participant-led). These are a great way to stay involved, strengthen your "presentation chops" and get some good ideas from other professionals, with fees closer to $35 than $350, and often within the state.
Blogs are a great tool because they're timely, free, and require very little work on your part. I use a Google Reader account to collect blog entries from professionals both local and national. I follow a variety of blogs, and with my Reader I can catch up on all of them at once, when I have time. I use blogs to prepare for job interviews, get help with readers' advisory or program ideas, learn about a new resource or just get some perspective.
Not sure where to start? Well, you can start by asking any librarians you known if they blog, or who they follow. Also, many blogs will recommend other blogs. You can also check out these lists:
100 Best Blogs for Library Science Students
100 Best Blogs for Librarians of the Future
And why should seasoned professionals have all the fun? If you've got some ideas or experiences you'd like to share, start up a free account at Blogger or WordPress and get started! (Here's an article to help with getting serious about library blogging.)
The important thing to remember is the librarianship is a collaborative profession-we love to share our good ideas! Yes, there are benefits to joining professional organizations and traveling to big conferences, but it's not essential at every stage in your career. With some of these more economically-minded tools you can still start thinking about the profession, building your network and getting great ideas, and you may even impress a few interviewers along the way. ;)
Posted by messelti at August 17, 2009 06:02 PM