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Author’s Corner: Continuing Education for Librarians

Today I’m happy to give you an excerpt from a new book on professional development.  The excerpt is from the preface by Dr. Robert P. Holley, Professor, School of Library & Information Science Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, and provides an overview of the scope and organization of the book, which incorporates the thoughts of a number of different authors, gathered together under the editing eyes of Carol Smallwood, Kerol Harrod and Vera Gubnitskaia.

The title of this book, Continuing Education for Librarians: Workshops, Conferences, College, and Other Ways, only hints at the cornucopia of practical advice that the reader will discover in its twenty-eight chapters. I discovered new information and, more importantly, fresh perspectives though I have been an academic librarian and library science professor for almost forty years and teach courses that include continuing education.

Most authors in the collection combine a general discussion of the topic with practical examples of their experiences. They avoid a Pollyannaish view that continuing education is easy in today’s age of reduced staffing, higher work expectations, and complicated lives; but they accurately point out that these factors require librarians to stay on top of developments in librarianship. The library science degree is only the beginning. Employers expect librarians to acquire new skills and sometimes secure additional formal and informal credentials. Some of the case studies don’t turn out exactly as planned, but the authors agree that surprises were part of the learning process.

The book is divided into eight parts of from two to eight chapters, but the parts are not mutually exclusive. For example, Part II, “Online Education,” deals with the delivery of the continuing education activities and gives advice on how to succeed in an online course (Francis). Similarly, the chapter from “Personal Life” by Ward, “Balancing Act,” gives her account of acquiring an additional degree but with the focus on how she managed to integrate the demands of her formal education into her personal life. While the content of some chapters overlaps, the authors emphasize different aspects and share differing experiences.

continuing education for librariansThe book covers all stages of a librarian’s professional career. The chapters on formal education include finding the right online library program for the MLIS (Jackson) and pursuing a certificate (McGlynn), a second masters (Rupp), or the ultimate achievement, a doctorate (Kimmel/Garrison). The reader also gets tips on how to make the most of workshops and conferences. Two authors (Mason and Butler) focus on learning more about special collections from workshops. The more adventuresome will profit from the experiences of Wise and Blackburn on attending an international conference where they discovered that different rules apply when varying library cultures come together. The two chapters on professional associations (Braccia and Farmer) straddle the line between formal and informal because these authors stress that as much continuing education occurs in the corridors as in the meeting rooms. Technology and Web 2.0 have a role to play in learning through Massive Open Online Courses (Bond) and in making contacts through social networks (Cooke and Goben).

For me, learning by doing is the most revolutionary aspect of the book. Effective continuing education is not passive but arises from actively teaching others. Three traditional ways are emphasizing the teaching function of librarians (Ross and Sweeney), becoming an adjunct professor for a library and information science program (Wright), or teaching an information literacy course (Storm). For an unorthodox challenge, Benson suggests volunteering to give a presentation on a subject that the librarian doesn’t know much about as a surefire way quickly to become an expert on the topic. Other examples of active learning include organizing a fellowship program (Mediavilla) or hosting a conference (Root).

The two chapters on mentoring (Creel and Zanin-Yost) take great care to talk about the continuing education value for the mentors as well as for the mentee. Money is the topic for two authors. Sheehan suggests casting a wide net to find scholarship funds to support getting the MLIS. From a different perspective, Soules looks at all the continuing education activities, many discussed in more detail in other chapters, that are free. Two chapters look beyond library skills. Marcus recommends acting training to improve personal interactions and to learn how to deal with unexpected situations. Similarly, Matthew Cook narrates how he profited professionally by integrating his interest in jazz into his work life.

These brief summaries cannot do justice to the richness of this book, but they will have met my goal if they tempt you to delve more deeply into this volume. Choose first the topics that interest you the most. Don’t forget, however, that many chapters weave together the multiple strands of continuing education and professional development and that you might find valuable insights in the most unexpected places.

Continuing Education for Librarians: Essays on Career Improvement Through Classes, Workshops, Conferences and More 2013. Edited by Carol Smallwood, Kerol Harrod and Vera Gubnitskaia by permission of McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640.  www.mcfarlandpub.com

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