By Dezarae Osborne
The concept of “lifelong learning” is central to the mission and values of the public library. Usually, we talk about wanting to facilitate the lifelong learning of our library users; while this is critical, our focus on turning others into lifelong learners can sometimes mean that we neglect our own needs for continued growth, particularly when it comes to our professional learning. Yet, as a field, our understandings related to teaching and learning continue to evolve, and we must evolve with them if we want to provide the best possible instruction for the children and teens we serve. That means that we must engage in professional development related to our role as educators within the public library setting. In this chapter, we will explore some of the ways that public librarians can effectively and efficiently accomplish this.
What is Professional Development?
Professional development refers to a wide variety of specialized training, education, or professional learning intended to help professionals improve their knowledge, skill, and effectiveness. People in a variety of fields participate in professional development, and instructional librarians are no exception. Professional development is usually thought of as a formal, structured process, but professional development in informal contexts is also important and can provide different types of information compared to formal professional development. Other frequently used names for professional development include:
- Staff development
- Professional learning
- Continuing education
Professional development can take place on site at your library, at a separate location, or online through webinars. The variety of locations make it easy to incorporate professional development into your work schedule.
Many who have experience professional development have a negative view of the process. It is frequently done as a one-hour workshop where an instructor attempts to pass on a vast amount of information through a lecture. This type of learning is minimally engaging and leaves many librarians with a distaste for professional development. However, this doesn’t need to be the norm. Professional development can come in a variety of formats, including:
- Courses or workshops: One or more sessions on a subject matter, method, or other library related topic;
- Conferences: Library professionals gather to discuss new research and issues within the field;
- Individual or collaborative research: Usually on a topic of personal interest, potentially later published in a research or practitioner journal;
- Peer mentoring: Working with other youth librarians at a similar point in their career to discuss issues and developments in the field;
- Reading literature: Keeping up with the latest research and discussion in research and practitioner journals; and
- Online webinars and chats: Many organizations, such as Teaching Tolerance (tolerance.org). host regular webinars and/or Twitter chats that focus on teaching, learning, and/or libraries.
See the spotlight box below for a real-life example of professional development that goes far beyond the standard one-hour workshop.
The Lilead Fellows program is a professional development program for district level school library supervisors. The program is funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and uses research-based principles that result in high quality professional development for educators. These principles include making time for follow-up after extensive professional development activities, focusing on daily activities of the educators, having mentors to guide participants, using technology to enhance engagement, and making time for personal reflections.
The eighteen-month-long program means that fellows can implement ideas they create and develop skills they were being taught. Participants are paired with mentors who are passionate about their work, and they can focus on issues important to them. This take on professional development is distinct from the one-shot professional development sessions that are frequently the norm, and a program like this could easily be adapted for youth services and other librarians who are focused on instruction in their public libraries.
Why is Professional Development Important?
Professional development is a critical part of any professional’s career, and it is especially critical for librarians. While library science programs generally do a good job informing their students about broad themes and practical skills they will need on the job, libraries are constantly changing. Instructional librarians who work with youth need to stay up to date on new instructional methods, child development research, emerging technologies, and updated laws. Professional development can help librarians keep up to date, so they can provide the best service to their community. Professional learning expert Hayes Mizell (2010) captured the importance of professional development for educators, stating that “professional development provides ongoing opportunities for educators to continue to improve their knowledge and skills so they can help students achieve. When educators learn, students learn more” (p. 19).
Professional development also helps librarians become better advocates for libraries and the services they provide to the community. Being aware of trends in the information and library science field can help librarians make convincing arguments to people investing time or funds in libraries, like donors, library boards, and general members of the community. Some public libraries may have a requirement for their staff to do some sort of professional learning throughout the year and may also have money in the budget to fund travel to conferences or pay for workshops. This varies from library to library, so it is always important to be aware of policies and ask if uncertain.
Planning for Professional Development
As we’ve mentioned, librarianship is a rapidly changing field; there will always be something new for you to learn through professional development. To keep your professional learning manageable and productive, it’s important to set goals for yourself. Like the goals you write for children and teens, your personal learning goals should be meaningful, manageable, and measurable (which does not necessarily mean quantifiable). See Chapter 4 for more guidance on writing learning goals. Your goals should also be tied to a particular timeframe. In K–12 schools and academic libraries, the school year provides a natural duration for professional learning plans, and librarians in these settings are often required to write formal professional growth plans (PGPs). Your library organization may not require formal documentation of your learning goals, but it can still be helpful for your own purposes to write them down and set a timeline for their achievement.
In the rest of this chapter, we will explore some of the forms that professional development can take, and some of the most valuable sources for professional development related to teaching and learning.
Professional Learning Networks
Professional learning networks (PLNs) are a form of ongoing professional development that usually occurs in school settings but can easily be applied to a youth service librarian context. Mary Ann Harlan (2009) defined PLNs as “the people with whom you surround yourself, the tools you use, and the resources you rely on to introduce yourself to new ideas and best practices” (p. 1). A professional learning network can be structured around a specific learning goal, in which case the group may only meet for a short period of time, or it may be ongoing, with learning activities and goals evolving over time. The size of PLNs also varies widely.
When applying the concept of PLNs to youth services librarians in public libraries, the key change is the people who are involved. For school librarians, local PLNs (or professional learning communities—PLCs—as they’re often called in the school setting) typically include teachers at their school; support staff in the school, like guidance counselors and Exceptional Children support staff; and other school librarians in the district. Like school librarians, youth service librarians are often isolated, frequently working as the only youth-focused staff member at their branch or working with one or two colleagues. This means that the people in their PLN may be located outside their library. Potential members of a youth services professional learning network include children and teen librarians in a shared library system; youth services librarians in a region or state; and members of youth services professional organizations like the American Library Association (ALA) or the Young Adult Library Services Organization (YALSA). Youth services librarians in public librarians can also reach out to school librarians in their area to discuss collaboration and inclusion in PLNs. After all, school librarians and youth services librarians at public libraries are largely serving the same community of youth.
Professional learning networks do not have to meet face to face for powerful learning to occur. Social networks can be a valuable tool to expand professional contacts and form PLNs who can then meet digitally. Twitter makes it easy to find like-minded colleagues through its search and suggestion features, and Twitter chats are also a great way to connect with professionals who share your interests. Facebook groups also provide opportunities to connect with potential PLN members; the website 5 Minute Librarian lists dozens of these groups in two posts from 2016 and 2018 (https://bit.ly/1NzFT6d and https://bit.ly/2NWulNH). We will discuss online professional development in more depth later in this chapter. Additional resources for librarians related to developing PLNs are listed below.
Resources to Develop Your PLN
- Explore the PLN Starter Kit created by “Library Girl,” aka teacher-librarian Jennifer LaGarde: http://www.livebinders.com/play/play_or_edit?id=441748
- Watch the archived recording of the ALSC webinar “Create a Personal Learning Network that Works for You,” facilitated by the Joint Chiefs of the Storytime Underground: http://www.ala.org/alsc/creatingyourpln
- Read the blog post “My Online PLN,” by Melissa Eleftherion Carr, a Teen and Adult Services Librarian with Mendocino County Libraries: https://apoetlibrarian.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/my-online-pln/
Professional associations are a great place to find professional development opportunities. There are organizations for a wide variety of interests and many have smaller sections that focus on specific topics like instruction, programming, or collection development. The following professional organizations may be of interest to youth services librarians focusing on instruction in their public library:
- American Library Association (ALA): The national association for librarians in America. ALA focuses on four key areas: advocacy; information policy; professional and leadership development; and equity, diversity, and inclusion; http://www.ala.org/;
- Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA): A division of ALA for librarians, library workers, and advocates who want libraries to better serve teens; http://www.ala.org/yalsa/;
- American Association for School Librarians (AASL): A division of ALA that is focused on school librarians and the school library community; http://www.ala.org/aasl/;
- Association of Library Services for Children (ALSC): A division of ALA dedicated to library service for children. ALSC seeks to support and advance library services and build healthy, successful futures for all children; http://www.ala.org/alsc/;
- Public Library Association (PLA): A division of ALA dedicated to supporting the needs of public libraries and the librarians who work there; http://www.ala.org/pla/;
- Library and Information Technology Association (LITA): A division of ALA that seeks to provide education and services for information and library professionals. LITA empowers libraries through use of and education about new technologies; http://www.ala.org/lita/;
- International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA): A global organization that works on behalf of all types of libraries and library workers; https://www.ifla.org/; and
- International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE): A global organization that aims to help educators, including librarians, solve educational problems through technology; https://www.iste.org/.
There are also state and regional professional associations that may provide additional opportunities and resources separate from the national organizations. Local and state organizations can often have an easier and less expensive path of entry. Some education associations may also provide resources pertaining to instruction that can be applied in a public library context.
Joining a professional organization can require a large investment of money but can also provide access to many resources and opportunities that non-members don’t have access to. Choose one or two professional organizations to join based on needs or interests and take advantage of freely available resources provided by other organizations. Most of the organizations listed above provide a discount for student members, so it may be useful to join early and take advantage of the discount. Some libraries or library systems may subsidize or cover the cost of membership for their staff members, so you should inquire about this possibility at your organization.
Most professional organizations provide professional development resources to their members for free on their websites. For example, the Public Library Association has a section on their site for online learning, including live webinars, on-demand webinars, and online workbooks on a variety of topics related to public libraries. The American Library Association and its divisions provide similar online resources which are easily accessible through their respective websites if you are a current member of the organization. Some resources are available to non-members as well.
Professional associations hold conferences on a regular basis to discuss issues within the community, celebrate progress made, and present new research. Conferences provide librarians with “an almost countless amount of opportunities to learn, network, and connect” (Ludwig, 2011, p. 186). However, it isn’t always easy to attend conferences. Many require expensive registration fees and offer extra sessions that, while relevant to youth services, cost an additional fee. Travel costs must also be considered, since national conferences are hosted at a rotating list of cities that may not always be conveniently located; as a result, most librarians will need to take time off work to attend. With shrinking budgets, many libraries are unable to pay for librarians to attend conferences.
Even with these considerations, conferences remain a fantastic professional development opportunity. The following conferences may be of particular interest to youth services librarians:
- ALA Annual: The annual conference offered by the American Library Association. Typically held at the end of June, this conference provides opportunities to meet vendors, network with colleagues, and attend lectures and professional development sessions.
- PLA: Biennnual conference offered by the Public Library Association that has previously offered sessions specific to youth services librarians.
- YALSA Young Adult Services Symposium: Annual conference offered by the Young Adult Library Services Association in November. The conference offers sessions on young adult literature, technology and youth, programming for teens, library outreach, and more.
Just as there are state professional organizations, some states offer state conferences for librarians, or other conferences that may be relevant to library work. These conferences are smaller and tend to be less expensive and closer. State conferences can be a good option for a first conference when just beginning to enter the world of professional development and organization conferences. State conferences are also a good opportunity to present since there are fewer people and less pressure.
Online Professional Development
Sometimes travelling for professional development doesn’t fit into the library’s budget or time constraints. Online resources provide another option for librarians to continue their education and keep up to date.
Librarians can learn much from the practices of other librarians, and library websites are a good place to start when looking for information about other libraries. Public library websites can include information on programming and collections, which can inform decisions on programming and collecting at your library. Contact information for library staff is often listed on library websites, which can be used to reach out to librarians for information on their best practices when working with youth in an instructional setting. Good places to start when looking for great examples of public libraries are journals and professional association websites, which both feature public libraries that are doing good work. One website that often highlights public librarians who are engaging in instructional practice is Programming Librarian (http://www.programminglibrarian.org/).
While blogs aren’t as popular as they were in the early 2010s, there are still high quality youth service blogs being updated regularly. One example is the YALSA blog (http://yalsa.ala.org/blog/), which frequently posts information about professional learning. The blog also connects readers with examples of youth service librarians and their programs that are working to improve the lives of youth. The blog site features an entire category on professional learning, which includes posts covering examples of professional development sessions, interviews with professionals, and toolkits for applying the information on the blog. The YALSA blog is worth monitoring on a regular basis for its professional learning content as well as other materials.
Librarians are quickly migrating to social media from blogs and other online forms of networking. Social media provides quick access to communication and allows users to share articles easily. Carl Harvey (2012) notes that the rise in ownership of personal devices gives people the opportunity to access resources anywhere and at any time, which means professional learning can take place on the go.
Twitter packs a punch with its 280-character per-tweet limit, and many librarians are using Twitter as an opportunity to connect with other professionals for learning and support purposes. Many professional organizations have Twitter accounts that they use to share information about upcoming opportunities, interesting articles, and general updates. Many public libraries also have Twitter accounts that can be used to share information about programming and best practices. Education professionals can also be useful to follow on Twitter to keep up to date on instructional methods and child development.
Twitter comes with the caveat that following an individual may result in seeing personal content that isn’t relevant for professional development. Privacy is also a concern for some library professionals on Twitter, as is the possibility of harassment on the platform. One option to minimize these risks is to have a private account that can only be viewed by allowed followers. Users can also create a separate, professional account that they share with colleagues while keeping a personal account that is used for sharing information unrelated to professional development. Finally, Twitter allows people to view the site without creating an account, so librarians aren’t required to create a Twitter account to reap the benefits of shared knowledge on the site. Some relevant Twitter accounts are listed below:
- American Library Association, @ALALibrary
- American Association of School Librarians, @aasl
- Young Adult Library Services Association, @yalsa
- Association for Library Service to Children, @alsc
- Project Ready, an equity- and youth-centered professional development curriculum for librarians, @Project_READY
Twitter’s use of hashtags offers another benefit to those seeking to use the site for professional learning. Major conferences usually encourage participants to use a shared hashtag for tweets about the conference, which allows non-attendees to peek in on the events. For example, the hashtag for ALA’s 2018 annual conference was #ALAAC2018. Hashtags are also the primary way that people follow and participate in Twitter Chats—pre-planned, online discussions on a particular topic, usually facilitated by an organization or group of individuals. You can search for particular hashtags within Twitter itself, or you can use a third-party service like TweetDeck to streamline the process and create an automatic feed of all tweets featuring a particular hashtag. See below for a sample list of Twitter chats that may be relevant to public librarians.
Selected Twitter Chats for Public Librarians
- #TLChat: Teacher-Librarian chat; second Monday of each month, 8-9 p.m. EST
- #EdChat: Education chat; every Tuesday, 12-1p.m. and 7-8 p.m. EST
- #CritLib: Critical library pedagogy chat; dates vary; check out http://critlib.org/twitter-chats/upcoming-twitter-chats/ for a schedule
- #Educolor: Activists of color in education chat; every fourth Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST
- #SatChat: Best practices in education, Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. EST
- #YALitChat: Young adult literature chat, every Wednesday, 9-10 p.m. EST
Documenting Your Career Growth
Professional development is all about developing as a librarian and pushing your career forward. It’s important that new skills are documented, and your résumé is a good place to keep track of new skills and experiences. Résumés should be updated on a regular basis, even if you aren’t in the process of the searching for a job. Choosing a personal learning goal is one way to continue professional growth and connect with other professionals. For example, librarians who want to learn how to support youth of color and Native youth more effectively can connect on social media to discuss what they are doing in their libraries to champion youth equity. Writing down these goals and displaying them somewhere you will see them during work hours will help you hold yourself accountable for reaching them.
Professional development can be overwhelming when starting out as a youth services librarian. It is easy to assume the library school will teach students everything they need to know to be successful librarians, but many skills will come from on-the-job learning. This means that the first few years of librarianship may be stressful—and tacking on professional development can seem overwhelming. Candice Benjes-Small and Rebecca Miller (2017) offered advice to instructional librarians, saying that “professional growth is a marathon, not a sprint” and that taking on the role of a learner can help instructional librarians relate to their students (2017, p. 171). Stress and time management are important skills to develop as a professional to prevent burnout.
Stress and Time Management
Managing stress is important in preventing job burnout. Being overly stressed can lead to frustration with your job and could also lead to poor job performance. One way to manage stress is remembering to say no. While an opportunity may sound interesting, it isn’t always possible to say yes to every webinar, program, or event. Having time to decompress and reflect on your learning is critical, which means that some opportunities will need to be passed up. Make sure to prioritize events that are more important or more closely related to topics you’re interested in.
Another way to manage time and stress is by delegating responsibilities. If the library has more than one youth services librarian, it may be possible to share responsibilities or ask a colleague to take on a task if you are overwhelmed. Finally, it’s important to define the boundaries are between your professional and personal life. Find out how quickly you are expected to respond to email when not at work and if you are expected to be on call when not at the library. While this may not be common in large library systems, small library systems with only one youth services librarian may require more responsibility during off hours.
Professional development is critical to growing as a youth services librarian. Connecting to others in the youth services community through professional organizations, conferences, and social media gives you the opportunity to discuss topics of interest and best practice. By setting concrete goals for your growth, you can continue to provide excellent service and instruction to youth at your library.
Benjes-Small, C., & Miller, R. K. (2017). The New Instruction Librarian: A Workbook for Trainers and Learners. Chicago, IL: ALA Editions.
Harlan, M. A. (2009). Personal Learning Networks: Professional Development for the Isolated School Librarian. Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited.
Harvey II, C. A. (2012). Adult Learners: Professional Development and the School Librarian. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Kodama, C., DiScala, J., Weeks, A. C., Barlow, D. L., Jacobs, L., & Hall, R. (2016). Lilead Fellows Program: An Innovative Approach to Professional Development for School Library Leaders. Knowledge Quest, 44 (4), 54–59.
Ludwig, S. (n.d.). Starting from Scratch: Building a Teen Library Program. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Mizell, H., (2010). Why professional development matters. Oxford, OH: Learning Forward. Retrieved from https://learningforward.org/docs/default-source/pdf/why_pd_matters_web.pdf