Act Like a Librarian, Think Like a Director: Exploring Professional Development Activities in Librarianship and Beyond

By Angiah Davis

Professional development is an essential part of a librarian's professional growth. As users' needs change, so does the scope of our expected responsibilities. If you want to further enhance your skills and knowledge and zoom out of your comfort zone, consider participating in professional activities that are not just library related. Participating in professional development activities beyond the library field provides many benefits. For one, it helps you think more globally about your role as an information professional and in the profession. Another benefit to participating in professional development opportunities beyond the library field is networking with professionals who may have similar goals, but work in a different industry. A third benefit is that it also exposes you to new ideas about how to innovate and create services and resources applicable to your library's environment. This type of thinking is particularly important as you take on leadership roles at any level in the profession. Your new-found knowledge can transition with you whether you choose to stay in the library field or decide to pursue a new career option. This article will provide you with resources that you can use to enhance your overall professional growth.

Leadership Skills

The American Library Association's Emerging Leaders program assists newer librarians with the development of leadership skills. Other notable leadership institutes include the ALA Leadership Institute and Harvard's Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians. Many state library associations, such as Pennsylvania Library Association, offer leadership institutes, as well as other specialized associations, such as the Association of Research Libraries. Many of these programs are competitive. You may also consider training courses available from the American Management Association (AMA). The AMA provides in-person and virtual workshops on a variety of leadership topics. You may sign up for electronic newsletters or listen to podcast and webcasts.

Communications Skills

Toastmasters International helps cultivate presentation abilities. There are local chapters of Toastmasters International which can help you develop public speaking and listening skills. Members learn effective ways to handle nervousness, gain experience speaking in front of others, and learn how to speak extemporaneously. As a member, you can network with like-minded professionals and explore your potential to become a more effective communicator. There are area and regional contests which are fun, hands-on, and motivate you to become a better speaker. There is also a leadership component to Toastmasters that will help you develop leadership skills, such as serving in an officer role, coordinating a program, and more. A Toastmaster's membership is affordable, and you can visit a club meeting or two before you join.

Grant Writing Skills

Looking to gain experience writing a successful grant? Visit the Foundation Center. The Foundation Center offers free information resources and webinars on grant seeking basics, proposal writing basics, and more. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provides pre-application webinars to assist applicants with questions and information regarding their grants. Search for grants by name, institution type, or project type. Grant writing is one way your library can supplement funds due to budget cuts without taking away from other essential areas of need. It also allows you to sharpen your writing skills and to gain experience developing programs and services that benefit your library, users, and community. In grant writing, you can still focus on your passion while allowing yourself to become a leader and introduce new programs or resources in your library and the community. Some grants require that you partner with a community organization or academic department, so grant writing also provides an opportunity for librarians to perform community outreach and build partnerships with faculty. Collaborating with others is team building, which is a needed skill for leadership. Success in obtaining grants will allow you to build a reputation inside and outside of your organization, and as a result, lead to additional leadership opportunities. The more you apply, the more practice you get with successful writing. Keep in mind that every request for funds does not have to be a large one; even small grant applications are worth the skill building.

Other Skills

Most successful people have mentors. If you do not have a mentor, get one. You may have a formal or informal mentor. However, consider a mentor who does not think like you. Your mentor can help you see situations from a different perspective. Perhaps what you view as a barrier is not a barrier at all. Mentoring can be mutually beneficial, and can be done in person or virtually. You can find a mentor through your professional associations and professional social networks, such as LinkedIn or ALA Connect.

Many libraries also offer some professional development opportunities at no cost. I have seen programming on library calendars, from creating your own website to workplace conduct and conflict. Talk to colleagues and search the web for free webinars and massive open online courses (MOOCs) that will also expose and sharpen skills and ideas. Check with your local community center and/or college library to see what opportunities are available. If you are a student, seek out your school's career center for professional development opportunities. If you are employed, remember to check with the human resources department for training opportunities. Finally, joining groups on LinkedIn can also help you identify professional development opportunities that you would not have otherwise considered.

Angiah Davis is a Reference Librarian/Collection Development Coordinator at Georgia Perimeter College.