Wednesday, December 4, 2013

On Professional Development

Professional development is essential to becoming proficient in one's profession. This is particularly true for youth services librarians because we are impacted by popular culture, changes in technology and by research in education. That's a lot to keep up with and it can be overwhelming.

Libraries were very different when I started as a trainee in 1971 and although it was 1990 when I started as a children's librarian, there have been major changes since then as well. Librarians who are not willing to explore new ideas will lose touch with their patrons' needs which are also constantly changing. You don't have to embrace every new idea but you should be willing to try new things or adapt them to suit your situation.

Many people will say that they can't get out of the building or they can't afford to attend conferences since they aren't reimbursed. That was more of a problem when I was starting out as a children's librarian because there were no webinars or online resources because there was no web (although they were working on it). Also, I was the only youth services person so indeed it was difficult to leave the building. Because my previous experience was limited, I made an effort to attend as many workshops and meetings as possible. Although I believe that one learns the most on the job, meeting with and learning from other children's librarians is also important.

Today there are many more options available for professional development:
1. Online training - some courses or webinars are free or reasonably priced. Look for offerings from state libraries, regional consortiums and cooperatives. State and national associations also offer online training.
2. Newsletters - Get information sent to your inbox. School Library Journal often lists free webinars in its newsletter, "Extra Helping." Keep up with the latest in the library world by subscribing to the weekly newsletter, "AL Direct," if you are a member of ALA. (Previous newsletters are available on the website for those who are not members.) Keep up with the latest news in children's books by subscribing to PW's "Children's Bookshelf" (subscribe here).
3. Even if you are not a member, the ALA website provides numerous resources. For example, ALSC just released a list of recommended titles for tweens that is available for download.  State and regional organizations will have information available to non-members as well. CLEL - Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy is an outstanding example.
4. Seek out websites of non-library organizations that provide information about subjects that interest you. Not only will they list resources but often have newsletters and blogs you can subscribe to. One example is the blog from the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media.
5. Blogs - Learn from your colleagues. Explore some blogs by youth services librarians and subscribe to those that interest you.
6. Social Media - Youth services librarians are on Twitter and Pinterest and Facebook. So are various library organizations. Build a network of people who are passionate about what they do. Join Facebook groups such as Flannel Friday and Storytime Underground. Become part of an online community not just for informed discussion but also for the support offered by these virtual colleagues.
7. Do try to get out of the building and meet with other youth services librarians. Although I have never attended an ALA conference (unless attending PLA once counts), I did treat myself to the ALSC Institute last year. I figured that a program just for youth services librarians was worth my money. I also make an effort to attend New Jersey's annual Youth Services Forum which is well worth my time and money.
8.Teach yourself. Pursue what interests you. When I started out as a children's librarian, I was on the constant lookout for books with draw and tell stories, paper cutting stories and flannel board stories. I built up a nice storytelling resource library over the years. It was almost as tough leaving that collection as it was leaving my storytime families when I left that position. (I have bought some storytelling books for my personal collection and fortunately my current library has a good collection.) Be selective in your professional reading. I tend to focus on material that will be useful to me. I also enjoy reading about trends in the profession.

What's the point of all of this? I don't want youth services librarians to be discouraged about professional development opportunities. There are ways to learn and be supported without going to meetings and conferences. Try to do that if you can but also build a network of librarians and resources to keep yourself informed. We are a friendly bunch and are always willing to help a colleague whether in person or virtually.


  1. Great post! If this doesn't get people pumped about CE I don't know what will!!

    1. Thank you. Since the only youth course I took in library school was children's lit, I learned mostly through CE and helpful colleagues. Professional development has always been important to me.

  2. Linda, this is super list, and I am so happy to see CLEL get a nod. Thank you!