Continuing Education as a Professional Responsibility
by Lara Z. Church
The MLIS is just the beginning of a librarian's education. Library school teaches theories and practices, but it cannot prepare the librarian for the everyday troubles of the job. The masters degree also teaches students what is currently being observed in the world of library science. The Information Age has changed the way people look at libraries, librarians, and information, in general. There is always something new to be learned or a way to improve an existing skill. That is why it is essential for library and information science professionals to continue their education as long as they are in the business. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, such as conferences, seminars, classes, or reading professional literature.
What is continuing education?
Continuing education (CE) is what it sounds like. Throughout their careers, library professionals must continue to add upon the knowledge they have acquired through job experience and formal education. No matter how capable the librarian is, there will always be something new to learn. It is largely the sole responsibility of the librarian to educate him/herself.
Why is it important for librarians?
Anne Woodsworth, Dean at Palmer School of Library and Information Science, summed it all up when she said that "we must all commit to a lifetime of continuous education to stay employable (Woodsworth, 62)." It is as simple as that. Technology is rapidly growing, and we have to change with it to be able to survive.
Technology has changed the way we obtain information. Since the advent of the World Wide Web the library world has changed dramatically. There are many new pressures that make CE a must and more important than ever. There are more demands from a 'consumer society.' People want information, and they want it easily and quickly. There is a more flexible job market. There is competition for jobs from those who hold an MLS and a MBA and from graduates with Computer Science and/or Information Science degrees. Most importantly, the disappearance of the " 'job for life," is a reality (Swaffield, 536). Librarians need to keep learning new skills and improve existing ones if they want to be successful in their careers.
What is expected of us?
A lot is expected of the newly improved library and information professional. It seems that the image of the librarian is being reintroduced and repackaged as an information specialist, a "multi-talented renaissance person (Abell, 537)."
Not only are we expected to perform the traditional duties of running the library, but we are supposed to be have more business savvy and have a knowledge of with various computer programs and software.
Noreen Steele, an information network manager at United Technologies, expects "information professionals to develop competencies as their careers (grow)," such as, "change management, problem solving and decision making, critical thinking, and time management. (Woodsworth, 62).
In a meeting, Woodsworth recalls that "an employer mentioned that applicants are now expected to show their homepages on the web (62).
It is very important for a library and information professional to be aware of technological advances, as is possible. An MLIS degree can be a ticket to many jobs outside the immediate library field, such as information broker, where internet searching skills and knowledge of electronic databases are essential.
What is the problem?
Everyone seems to agree that librarians need to continuously update their skills and knowledge but the question is, what is the best way to accomplish this? Do you keep it as a voluntary decision? Generally, librarians are not required to take post-MLS courses for re-certification or promotion. Since it is critical to keep abreast of new technology and practices, do you make it mandatory? Traditionally, a librarian would go to a workshop or conference to learn a new skill. Although this is still done, there are many other opportunities available.
Library Schools often offer workshops for library and information professionals looking for a ‘refresher course’ and/or to learn something new. The College of Library and Information Science, University of South Carolina, has a continuing education committee which annually plans a program called Panning for Gold. The 1998-1999 program offered courses, such as, advanced desktop publishing, and search engines and search strategies for school media specialists.
For library professionals that do not live near a library school program, distance education has become a common phenomenon. There are a number of library schools that offer distance education programs, whether it would be through satellite, videotape, WWW, or two-way video. The University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin at Madison are emphasizing synchronous instruction, using a "variety of Net-based tools to create courses where students meet, sometimes in person at the beginning of the semester, sometimes electronically in digital classrooms" or both (Schneider, 90). The University of South Carolina offers classes via satellite with talk-back capability (over the telephone).
Professional Library and Information Science organizations also offer many opportunities for class (this will be addressed later on).
What is the solution?
It is difficult to create one solution because each case (each librarian, each work setting) is different. There are varying opinions about what the best choice is.
Some believe that employers need to take the initiative and support continuing education for their employees. Woodsworth believes that employers should "make it a part of job performance expectations and invest more resources in staff development." A survey showed that this was not likely in many libraries. Special and public libraries were likely to provide financial assistance, whereas academic (and special) libraries are more willing to give time off (Woodsworth, 62).
In Great Britain, the Library Association published "Framework for Continuing Professional Development," which was a do-it-yourself package distributed to all members. It was endorsed by a number of employers, because it "enables users to customi(z)e a development plan that includes personal aspirations and preferred learning methods (Swaffield, 536).
Marianne Hartzell, executive director of the Michigan Library Association thinks local and regional chapters should help educate their members. "Teach what isn’t being taught. Most of our programming today is very practical. Participants can take what they’ve learned, go back to their libraries, and put it to use the next day. She also believes that librarians must be taught the "nuts-and-bolts" of financial management (Watkins, 11).
Professional Organizations are an excellent way to continue your education. They publish informative serials, organize and hold annual conferences, which include workshops and seminars. There are several different library oriented organizations, and often there are divisions within each organization if one wants to concentrate on a specialized aspect of librarianship.
The American Library Association (ALA) is the major organization for library and information professionals. To contact the ALA you can call 1-800-545-2433 or visit their web site at http://www.ala.org.
There are several divisions of the ALA that you can become a member of. Below are a few listed:
American Association of School Librarians (AASL) http://www.ala.org/aasl/index.htm
Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) http://www.ala.org/alcts/index.html
Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) http://www.ala.org/acrl
Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) http://www.lita.org
Public Library Association (PLA) http://www.pla.org
The ALA is committed to the continuing education of library professionals. It has a web page (http://www.ala/work/learning.html) where it lists the opportunities available to members. Such opportunities are often available through local/regional chapters of the ALA.
The ALA also has a web page where conferences and events are listed (http://www.ala.org/publicprograms/events.html)
The Special Libraries Association (SLA) is another large organization with many divisions. Contact them at http://www.sla.org. Here are just a few:
Biomedical and Life Sciences http://www.sla.org/membership/divisions/bio.html
Geography and Map http://www.sla.org/membership/divisions/geo.html
Museums, Arts, and Humanities http://www.sla.org/membership/divisions/museums.html
The SLA has their own Distance Learning Program from which you can purchase learning materials in a variety of different formats. (http://www.sla.orgprofessional/disindx.html)
SLA also has annual conference CE programs.
The American Society of Information Science (ASIS) http://www.asis.org
ASIS is concerned with education and advancement of information professionals. Most of the CE programs are conducted at the annual conference, but there are, also, regional seminars and presentations. http://www.asis.org/CE/ce.html
The Music Library Association (MLA) http://www.musiclibraryassoc.org
The Medical Library Association (MLA) http://www.mlanet.org
MLA also has independent educational opportunities, such as a virtual workshops, a MLA/NLM teleconference, and a symposium. http://www.mlanet.org/education/career.html
Society of American Archivists (SAA) http://www.archivists.org
SAA offers CE courses and has constructed Guidelines for the Development of Post-Appointment and Continuing Education and Training Program (PACE) (http://www.archivists.org/PACE97.html)
Professional Mailing Lists
Another way to stay in touch with your peers is to subscribe to a mailing list that applies to your type of work and/or something that interests you. Library Oriented Lists and Electronic Serials (http://www.wrlc.org) is an informative site maintained by the University of Houston.
There are also others sites:
Tile Net (http://tile.net)
L-soft International (http://www.lsoft.com/lists/listref.html)
There are numerous library journals available on a variety of different subjects within the library and information science profession. Below is a sampling of titles:
Acquisitions Librarian, American Libraries, Journal of American Society for Information Science, Art Documentation, Cataloging and Classification, Collection Building, College and Research Libraries, Health Libraries Review, Journal of Library Administration, Law Library Journal, School Media Quarterly, Reference Librarian, Special Libraries, Technical Services Quarterly, Public Libraries, etc.
Abell, Angela. "New Roles? New Skills? New People?" Library Association Record 99, no.10 (October 1997): 538-539.
Farmer, Jane and Fiona Campbell. "CPD and success: a simple equation?" Library Association Record 99, no.10 (October 1997): 541.
O'Neill, Ann L. "What's for dinner? Continuing education after the MLIS," Library Acquisitions 22, no.1 (Spring 1998): 35-40.
Swaffield, Laura. "How the others stay on top," Library Association Record 99, no.10(October 1997): 536-537.
Watkins, Christine. "Chapter report: continuing education today is practical and sexy,"American Libraries 28, no.1 (January 1997) 11-12.
Woodsworth, Anne. "Learning for a lifetime," Library Journal 123 (January 1998): 62.
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