Professional Education and Lifelong Learning
Do we ever really stop learning? Life offers numerous opportunities for people to develop as individuals, better themselves, and find success and fulfillment. One can demonstrate a commitment to continued professional education and lifelong learning in a number of ways: by joining a professional association or club, attending conferences and seminars, or by participating in committees and other groups.
Information professionals hoping to advocate for their jobs and their industries often place education at the forefront of their efforts. Librarians who make a commitment to professional education demonstrate recognition of the ever-changing status of the information industry: you must keep learning as long as your field keeps evolving. The more skills that information professionals have, the more transferable they are, not just between libraries, but also between other information centers and organizations.
For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed learning in all its forms: from classrooms to clubs, apprenticeships to internships. I self-taught myself different web programming languages, and try to regularly practice my Japanese so I don’t get rusty. The summer before I started in the University of Southern California’s Master of Management in Library and Information Science (MMLIS) program, I attended the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in my hometown of San Francisco to get a feel for what the organization offers its members. I find the opportunity to network and collaborate with like-minded people exciting, and what is education but networking with people who are willing to exchange information with you?
Over the course of my education in USC’s MMLIS program, I’ve had the opportunity to both learn about and join several professional associations that will benefit me greatly throughout my career, including the American Library Association (ALA), the California Library Association (CLA), and the Special Library Association (SLA).
American Library Association (ALA) Membership
Artifact context and relationship to goal. I joined the ALA as a student member in my first semester of the MMLIS program. My experiences at the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco convinced me that membership would be worthwhile. My membership in the ALA affords me the opportunity to attend conferences like Annual and Midwinter at a discounted rate. At those conferences, I can attend several workshops and panels to learn more about the library field, network with other information professionals, get my resume reviewed, participate in mock interviews, check out organizations that are hiring librarians, and obtain resources for further learning in the form of online classes and webinars. Additionally, membership in the association gives me access to numerous awards and grants, professional tools, specialized publications, programming ideas, and more.
Roles, responsibilities, and process. I joined the ALA as a student member in the spring of 2015. I joined the student chapter of ALA at USC in August, just before our semester started. During the Annual Conference in San Francisco over the summer, I also joined the New Members Round Table (NMRT), and I attended informational sessions featuring other groups, such as the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA). Since the MMLIS program has been intensive, I haven’t had the opportunity to fully research or select any other divisions, committees, or round tables, but I hope to join and participate in a few of them following my graduation. As of right now, the ALA’s own “social network,” ALA Connect, does not seem very active, so I instead network with other professional librarians through the “ALA Think Tank” and “deeper think tank” Facebook Groups, and various similar groups on LinkedIn.
California Library Association (CLA) Membership
Artifact context and relationship to goal. Similar to my membership with the ALA, I joined the CLA early in my library education; my membership in the association gives me the opportunity to attend annual conferences and other special events at a discounted rate. At those events, I can do many of the same activities that I can at ALA events, but with a more “localized” touch, as the people and organizations present are likely to be California-based. While CLA doesn’t have the sheer numbers or monetary backing that ALA does, it still offers many awards, programs, mentoring opportunities, and program ideas that allow me to further my professional education and continue to learn and grow as an information professional.
Roles, responsibilities, and process. I participated passively in the CLA at first, getting emails from the Calix mailing list forwarded by a student advisor. Later, I joined the Calix list on my own, to see the full breadth of messages, and eventually went to the CLA Annual Conference in Sacramento in November 2016, where I attended several workshops, panels, and speaker events. The smaller crowd at the CLA Annual Conference meant I could feel more comfortable interacting with people and hearing about their experiences in our shared state. Since the conference took place only 20 minutes from my home in Davis, many of the librarians in attendance were from Sacramento, the Bay Area, or other nearby cities. These individuals are people I can continue to network with and solicit advice from, such as Andrew Carlos, the STEM and Web Services Librarian from California State University East Bay who acted as my mentor from the conference, or Amador County Librarian Laura Einstadter, who helped me improve my resume. I also had the opportunity to meet with USC’s former MMLIS program director and at least one of my classmates at a reception the program had at the conference, which was very appreciated, as I am a distance student and do not live near the USC campus.
As with ALA, I hope to gain a more active role in the CLA leading up to and beyond my graduation. At the recent conference in Sacramento, I connected with the co-chairs of the Student Interest Group to come up with ideas for how CLA could better serve its student members. I hope I can aid in making some of those ideas reality for the cohorts following mine, even if I am no longer an active library school student. I’m also interested in other CLA Interest Groups, such as Academic Libraries (since I am interning at an academic library and hope to work in one after graduation), Games and Gaming (an interest of mine; I also reported for a video game blog for several years), Marketing and Public Relations (interests of mine that I developed working as the Publicity and Events Manager for my local independent bookstore throughout the first four semesters in the MMLIS program), and Technology (another interest of mine).
Special Library Association (SLA) Membership
Artifact context and relationship to goal. Like my ALA and CLA memberships, I joined the SLA early in my academic career. All three professional associations afford me the chance to my attend annual conferences and other special events at a discounted rate, but the SLA in particular also includes professional development opportunities such as programs, webinars, and leadership training; discounts on affiliated products; student member benefits such as the First Five Years Advisory Council; networking and career resources, and more. Because the SLA is targeted toward librarians working in specialized environments, membership in the association helps me discover career opportunities in unexpected places, such as the American Psychological Association, or the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Roles, responsibilities, and process. At this time, I’m more of a passive member of the SLA in comparison to my membership with ALA and CLA. Though I receive SLA newsletters and read their bimonthly online publication, Information Outlook, I have yet to meet up with any librarians in the Sierra Nevada chapter with me (an extremely large chapter that I initially didn’t anticipate covered my region) or attend any in-person conferences or events. Additionally, since I have yet to begin formal work at a library, I haven’t joined any divisions, although I have attended several webinars with special librarians that the USC-SLA student group has organized. Compared to the social networks on other association websites, the Special Library Association’s SLA Connect seems more active and seems like something I could easily participate in.
One thing I’ve noticed about both the SLA and the CLA websites is that they often have difficult navigation and/or outdated information; as someone who enjoys web design, I could feasibly get involved with the organizations by volunteering to help with updating parts of the site, or helping my chapter’s web and social media presence.
Skills and abilities. Members of professional associations who actively participate in events, conferences, and professional development opportunities reap more benefits than those who merely maintain an annual membership. By attending annual conferences like those of ALA and CLA, hearing from special librarians through the USC-SLA student chapter, and staying abreast of the latest information via regular newsletters, announcements, and publications, I apply several skills and abilities, including Personal/Interpersonal competencies like Collaboration and Learning and Innovation, as well as Community Relations and Core Technology competencies for staying involved with members from a distance.
Attending panels, conferences, webinars, and other events all involve a measure of Collaboration with fellow librarians, from icebreaker sessions at the ALA’s Annual Conference for the New Members Round Table (NMRT) to joining student chapters in the CLA and SLA for webinars and committee meetings.
Membership also affords me the opportunity to continuously learn and innovate via conference events, such as panels, workshops, roundtables, and other meetings; webinars featuring guest speakers like special librarians or library career specialists; and discounted educational programs such as those offered by Library Juice, Infopeople, WebJunction, Amigos, and others.
Demonstrating “the value of the library and its services to the community” (Gutsche & Hough, 2014) is just one part of Community Relations that itself involves an understanding of the expertise, vision, and experience of other librarians, as well as building ongoing support for libraries and with other community organizations.
Finally, involvement with a professional organization in the modern era inherently requires Core Technology Competencies, in order for members to stay connected despite long gaps in time between conferences and events, or physical distance from other members. Professional association members must stay in touch with each other, and reach out to outside individuals and organizations through the use of e-mail. Additionally, members manage meeting and events through software-based calendars and need to understand the necessity of mobile access to association tools and resources. Each of these activities utilizes the Internet for staying connected and continuing professional development, but also Core Hardware and Software Applications, whether accessed via a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Modern professional associations also make use of Core Web Technologies such as web conferencing software for webinars and other professional development opportunities, forums for ongoing interaction between members, and more.
Future Work Environments
Knowledge gleaned from involvement with professional associations is often immediately applicable to work environments: why else would libraries and other information organizations encourage employees to attend, either via stipends or budget allocations for professional association events? By remaining a member and staying involved with professional associations including ALA, CLA, and SLA, I can not only discover new career opportunities but network with other librarians, including recent graduates of LIS programs in a similar position as myself.
Many professional associations feature conferences with exhibit halls, where library leaders and management have the opportunity to directly interact with vendors. These meetings offer library personnel the chance to try new hardware or software, get immediate answers regarding what a product can do for their library environment, and obtain show specials or discounts. Knowing what sort of technologies various libraries look for improving their services before becoming an employee better positions me in future work environments.
Finally, continuing participation in a professional association’s events and activities demonstrates personal investment in the library field as a whole. Members who actively stay abreast of opportunities for professional development, expanded knowledge, and issues of importance to the information profession are better able to serve not just fellow members in the association, but also members of their organization and its patrons.
Gutsche, B. & Hough, B. (Eds.) (2014). Competency index for the library field 2014 (2nd ed.). Dublin, OH: OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.webjunction.org/documents/webjunction/Competency_Index_for_the_Library_Field.html