I don’t think any of us entered library school with the notion that it would turn us into perfectly formed librarians, armed with everything we could possibly need to know to become whatever kind of librarian we wanted to be. Our field is much too wide ranging and evolves far too quickly for two years of learning to ever be sufficient for a lifetime of librarianship. Even if it were, I think a librarian who is uninterested in learning new things is a poor librarian indeed.
That said I was a little taken aback when I got into my courses and realized just how much the standard MLS program can’t cover. This is particularly true of online students like me who are taking a totally prescribed program; I’m being introduced tons of different concerns within the field, but career-based specialization is ultimately be up to me. For example, one of my courses this semester covered various kinds of coding and a few metadata standards. I really enjoyed it and I feel I learned a lot, but if I had to start a job in administering metadata or coding tomorrow I’d probably have a meltdown. Library school is great and it offers a solid platform for building your career, but at some point you’ve got to refine that platform by seeking out extracurricular professional development.
How you do this will depend on your needs and your available free time. When you’re just looking to build a new skill and don’t necessarily need a formal endorsement, there are loads of free things online in almost every topic you can think of. ALA’s Online Learning section is full of an enormous number of recorded webinars, many of which are free; the Digital Preservation Workflow presentation has been on my list for some time now. Booklist and Library Journal also offer free webinars and webcasts, with Booklist’s offerings tending towards school and public librarians with topics such as weeding and fiction selection, while Library Journal is a bit more wide ranging. The Library of Congress is yet another source of extra-credit learning. LOC’s offerings seem to be primarily aimed at teachers and school librarians, but a lot of the information is applicable to librarianship in general. Check out their professional development section for good information on analyzing primary sources and copyright regulations, among other topics. Finally, OCLC’s WebJunction offers even more professional development content.
On the tech side, CodeAcademy and w3Schools (which is run by the World Wide Web Consortium) are fantastic free resources for improving your coding skills. I used both this semester, and found that I learned code more quickly with CodeAcademy’s interactive method, but used w3Schools when I needed a reference tool or in-depth explanations. You might also see if your school offers students a subscription to Lynda.com (If you’re at UMaryland, the iSchool has a membership). This site offers highly detailed lessons in almost any software of tech subject you can imagine. I’ve used to it get a better handle on inDesign for my day job and found it very helpful, and classmates have recommended Lynda’s tutorials in Microsoft Access.
If you’re in the market for more long-term study or need some kind of completion certificate, check out the ever growing world of Massive Online Open Courses, or MOOCs. These are just what they sound like: online courses open to anybody with an internet connection. They’re generally taught by professors and other recognized subject experts, and many are backed by respected universities like MIT and UC Berkley. You won’t get graduation credit from these but they offer a lot more than a lunch-hour webinar, and your current employer might even let you cite one as professional development in your performance review. Coursera is one of the best known MOOC providers (Per Casey they’re offering a course on Metadata this summer), but there are several other good options so shop around.
The currently employed among you might be able to get professional development funding for seminars and workshops. This advice isn’t limited to library skills or those who work in libraries either. There is a business side to librarianship, and skills like budgeting and team leadership will benefit almost any job. I do a lot of writing for my day-job and I plan to continue that as a librarian, so serve both needs I’m taking a two-day workshop in copy-writing from National Seminars training this week. The Center for Association Leadership also offers excellent professional development opportunities for those interested in management and leadership positions, although many of their offerings many not be useful for someone just starting out in the working world.
If your professional development will stretch, you could also look into a Project Manager certification. There are many different organizations offering this, but the one I’ve come across most often in my day-job is the Project Management Professional from the Project Management Institute. Many MLS programs (mine included) require a project management course already, but having a certification is a way of highlighting those skills to potential employers. One word of caution here: these programs tend to be very expensive so have concrete examples of how you’ll use this certification before you ask your boss to pony up.
If nothing I’ve offered here looks helpful to you, try asking professors, peers, coworkers; or anyone who is currently doing what you want to do. Professional development should ultimately be tailored to your individual career goals and needs, with the goal of advancing your career for the long term. Don’t feel you need to kill yourself with extracurricular stuff; professional development opportunities should never prevent you from keeping up with your MLS responsibilities. But much like the responsibility to own your problems in library school, you owe it to yourself to seek out the learning you need for the career you want.
Categories: Continuing Education