Saturday, 23 March 2013

Risk vs return on professional development

Saw a job ad recently for a position as Assistant to the Children’s Librarian and was struck by something that wasn’t listed as either desirable or essential – library qualifications or experience. 

Now, I understand that this role has some very specific aspects to it that mean the weight has been placed on a different skillset, but I can’t help wondering if it is reflecting something about library work in general - rapidly changing demands for skills making library employers look further afield.

People always seem to be talking about future-proofing their skill portfolio, and wondering what direction their development should take. I watched this video from NLS6/Info Online and considered what skills were being mentioned as desirable by those hiring library staff. Coding skills were mentioned, as were customer service skills. Project management skills got a mention in the Library Chat podcast in January with Jenica Rogers speaking about her future hiring needs, and again on Hack Library School. Social media, event planning, teaching skills, marketing skills.

So my question is: are these future desirable staff members librarians first, with these other skills as valuable strings to their bows, or is it the other way around? In some cases, it is obviously the former, but in others, well, to my mind it's not so clear.

I heard anecdotally about an Australian library service hiring those with hospitality background in a traditional Library Assistant/Tech role because of their customer service skills. Amy C passed on this job ad as well for Assistant Manager at a NY library. Library experience desirable, not essential.

 I am currently studying for my Diploma in LIS at TAFE, and have been taking a very keen interest in what sort of training I can undertake now, to make me more employable when I do start job hunting.  Being a busy student, I want such things to fit in to my schedule, and not cost anything, or much.  If your employer can’t or won’t supply much professional development, perhaps you are looking for this too. There are very many opportunities out there, from Web Junction and AL Live on You Tube, online conferences like Library 2.0, twitter and facebook and Codecademy. The library MOOC starting in September looks enticing. I really enjoy the PD Postings that ALIA sends out each month, and the e-books that are available for members. However, with this type of development there is always the difficulty of turning this learning into real skills you can become proficient in, and use to get or change jobs.

And, hey, I can be very pessimistic about such things. I have never worked in a library. I have worked in some pretty cutthroat industries (my background is the money market, and I currently work in a migration law firm), and few things surprise me anymore in business. Sometimes I worry that all the librarian peer to peer advice and support and mentoring about future proofing skills may be so much talking into the echo chamber of like minded souls. My dad told me that no knowledge is wasted, and it is always worth your time to learn something new. I have limited time and I want to invest it wisely but how to know which avenue will bear fruit? 

How do you choose, and what expectations do you have of your personal professional development?

Lauren Castan

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