Continuing Education is not Optional

Over on the Librarians on the Job Market LinkedIn group, I posted a reply to a questions about whether or not a recent graduate should go to webinars and other continuing education classes.

“I’ve found that some kind of ongoing training is essential for a few reasons. 1) The last three interviews I have had all asked me about a recent learning experience (formal or informal), and how it has impacted my work as a librarian. 2) If you fall out of the habit of learning what is going on in the field, it is super easy to fall behind. Employers want you to be current, no matter when you graduated. 3) Learning new things makes you a better librarian. I certainly don’t jump on every new product (the libraries I have worked in never have that kind of money), but knowing what is available, and what advances have been made make it much easier to plan if you are ever asked what new idea or technology your library should be adopting. As [ another poster] mentioned, there are plenty of free training opportunities, especially if you work even part-time for a library. “

Since then, I’ve been thinking about why I think that continuing education is so important, and I’ve come to some conclusions:

Falling Behind is Easy to Do, and Hard to Fix

    Working with non-traditional students has taught me that most people stop learning once they leave school. It is easy to do: without a pressing need, most people don’t  feel like they have the time or energy to put into learning new skills, or reading the latest articles in their field, and some of them simply don’t have the resources to do so.  But each of these students has needed to get up to speed fast, and end up with a crash course in technology, research, or academic writing in addition to their normal class work and life commitments.

    Acquiring skills bit by bit is both less stressful and more effective: the best librarians I have known  make it a point to learn new systems, new technologies, and keep up with the literature of the field. Because they take the time to work continuing education into their working routines, they never need the crash course approach.

    The biological fact is that learning gets harder as we age, and retaining knowledge becomes more difficult. Most of us have probably had the experience of working with a professor or  family member whose knowledge of their specialty was ten, twenty, or thirty years out of date. I watched this first hand when my father dealt with a series of medical issues a number of years ago. At the time, he was a bit of a “tech bug.” He bought new technology, stayed current with new programs, and was pretty tech savvy. But for about three years, most of his time and energy when to dealing with his health. Those three years saw the rise of cloud computing, Facebook, new software, new hardware… when  my father came back to technology, his knowledge was obsolete. Where I had learned little by little how to use the new programs, how a flash drive worked, and the joys of online data storage, he didn’t have the first clue how any of it worked. Despite working for the last 4 years to understand where things are now, he still is uncomfortable with the latest technology, and probably always will be.

    The moral, such as it is: you cannot afford to fall behind.

New Experiences Create New Ideas

    The first time I attended a library conference, I came home with a ton of new ideas, techniques, and a deep love of Chicago deep dish pizza, which previously I had not really seen the point of. Doing new things jolts your brain out of its rut, and makes new connections between what you already know, and what you just learned.  This, I strongly suspect, is where the idea that travel is “broadening” comes from. While we can’t always run off to new and exotic places, once can certainly travel in the world of ideas. Read new books, watch new films, attend a class on something you have never done before.  All of this makes you a more knowledgeable, more interesting, and a more relatable human, and librarian.

Continuing to Learn Helps You, Your Work, and Your Career

In my original comment, I talked about how hiring committees are specifically interested in what you are learning, and how it impacts your professional work. I don’t think it is overstating to say that in this day and age, one must keep learning to be competitive in the job market. Luckily, there are tons of resources available once you start looking, and I’ve outlined a few library specific ones below.

Resources for Library Continuing Education on a Budget

Classes and Webinars

I live in Florida, and follow the Florida Libraries Training website. Also check with your local library cooperatives, and your state library association, if you have one. Many of these organizations will allow you to register for free, or, for those of you who work part-time, as a staff member if your library belongs to a cooperative. There are also national webinars, some of which are free. I’ve attended Web Junction Webinars from OCLC , and there are others. ALA has tons of webinars on their site, but most have a small fee attached.  

Other Ideas:

Archived conferences

Some library associations post videos or slides from their conferences online for free, which can be a good way to see what is being discussed at conferences without paying for hotels and admission.

Follow free online resources:

There are tons of blogs and publications out there: find some in your field, or that you enjoy the writing style.

I specifically like

  • Library Journal: Free online content, excellent for keeping up with trends.

  • Chronicle of Higher Education: Especially for academic librarians, this is a must. Not everything is free, but there is a lot of content available without a subscription.

  • In the Library With a Lead Pipe:  Peer-reviewed online journal, with really excellent articles.

  • The Swiss Army Librarian: Public librarian with a focus on meeting community needs.

  • The Distant Librarian: Academic librarian, with a focus on distance education.

  • The Feminist Librarian: Special librarian in a historical research library. Often does excellent book reviews

  • Unshelved: A library web-comic. This is more humor than anything else, but their forum, Unshelved Answers is amazing.

  • Tenured Radical: Not actually a library, or librarian blog, but a history professor. Excellent thoughts about the future of college education and careers in academia.

Apply for a grant or scholarship to attend a conference.

Everyone’s pockets are hurting, so lots of organizations offer scholarships or grants to attend conferences. Look around, and start early: most organizations end applications up to six months before the actual event.

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