Options for Continuing Education

by Ellen Mehling, Career Development Consultant at METRO

With ongoing changes to the workplace, job market, job descriptions, users/patrons, and technology for all kinds of information professionals, keeping skills current is necessary for everyone, from job-hunting new graduates to those currently employed with years of experience. Staying informed about new trends and issues in the profession is also critical to maintaining professional competence.

Some information professionals have additional incentive for continuing education (CE). Public librarians in NY State who got their Professional Certificates on or after January 1, 2010 are required to get 60 hours of CE every five years in order to maintain their certification. Archivists certified by the Academy of Certified Archivists and School Library Media Specialists in NY State also need professional development/CE to re-certify or maintain their certification.

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Fortunately, there are a range of options and with research and deliberation, an appropriate continuing education plan can be devised by each information professional.


What to study: 
Start with what you are interested in. What kind of library work are you doing and/or do you want to do in the future? Talking to those who are already doing that kind of work and looking at current job descriptions for jobs similar to what you want to do are two good ways to start. These will give you an idea of skills that are in demand for the work that you want to do.

Reading LIS blogs, websites, articles and group discussions on LinkedIn and elsewhere may also suggest possible subjects for study. Use your research skills to find out more about what’s being discussed (skill, topic, trend, technology, app, etc.), including how and where it is being put to use now and what is predicted for the future, to help you make up your mind as to what you wish to pursue.


Where and when to study: You'll need to take into account your schedule, transportation options, and how much time you can devote to study, when making decisions regarding CE. If you opt for classes, they may be face-to-face (F2F), online, or a blended/hybrid model (mostly online with some F2F meetings).

When taking a class you should also take into account your own learning style and preferences: in what kind of classes are you most comfortable? Do face-to-face meetings help you to stay focused or is that not something you need or want? Do you feel something is missing in a class that is entirely online? At what time of day do you feel sharpest mentally? If a regular, structured, traditional classroom environment works best for you and you prefer in-person discussions, then a face-to-face class may be best. If you are a night owl and/or have a work schedule that changes from week to week, an asynchronous online class might be the right choice for you.


Cost: Another factor in the decision is, of course, the price of the CE option(s) you choose, especially if you’ll be paying for it yourself. Some employers are willing to fund CE, but this is not as common as it used to be and it may still be necessary to seek education opportunities beyond what your employer will pay for.

Another choice that costs little or nothing is volunteering at a place that is willing to provide training. Such opportunities may be a challenge to find, but it is worth keeping your eyes and ears open and perhaps making a gentle inquiry if you are on good terms with someone at a certain workplace and think this might be a possibility.


Self-study, in person and online: This is not the best option for all subjects, but for some things you can teach yourself or begin learning something new this way and go on to more formal study later. Sites like SlideshareYouTube, and Vimeo are good places to start. Free online tutorials/webinars/podcasts such those offered by WebJunction may be of interest. 

MOOCs(Massive Open Online Courses) are another option for online study. These courses are usually free and not for credit. Most have a start and end date, with communication and interaction between instructor and students, but there are also some MOOC-like courses that students may start whenever they choose.

MOOCs are best if you are comfortable with fast-paced online learning in a non-traditional student-directed community environment. Whether MOOCs as they are today are here to stay remains to be seen, but they definitely provide some opportunities for info pro education

Unconferences,Meetups, and other local meetings may serve as an introduction to something to be studied in greater depth later. Such meetings may be free or a fee may be charged. 

One-off classes or a short series of classes/workshops (these may be F2F or online), such as those offered by METRO and the Foundation Center, are another option. With some organizations, members get a discount. Local colleges and universities may also offer CE classes you may be interested in.


Continued learning through membership: Local, regional, national or international conference attendance offers many opportunities for CE, for all kinds of information professionals. Among the choices: ALA conferencesSLA’s Annual Conference, and others found on American Libraries' calendar of events. If are paying for attendance yourself, you may want to seek information on grants or scholarships to help defray the costs, for example: scholarships for ALA’s Annual Conference.

Membership organizations also offer professional development courses throughout the year. Some of these will offer CEU (Continuing Education Unit) credits, which may be used for some kinds of recertification. 

ALA:

METRO:

SLA:


Enrolling in a certificate or degree program: This is the option that costs the most in terms of time and money, and so the most careful thought and research should precede choosing this option. Get feedback and advice from your mentor(s) and those in your network who have experience relevant to the type of degree or certificate you are considering. Make sure you are clear on what your professional goals are and whether this step is likely to be helpful in moving you towards those goals. You may also be able to audit classes, or take them for credit as a non-matriculated student; there may be discounts for alumni.

Some library schools offer free resources, such as:


A sampler of additional resources: For further reading, try Continuing Education for Librarians: Workshops, Conferences, College, and Other Ways, edited by Carol Smallwood, Kerol Harrod and Vera Gubnitskaia (reviewed on the Hiring Librarians website). Another great resource is a blog on professional development for librarians called Learning Beyond.

Additional resources for archivists include membership with Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (local, F2F), the benefits of which include education and events. The Academy of Certified Archivists provides a list of recertification-approved workshops, and Connecting to Collections Online Community includes info on courses/webinars for archivists (some are free). You may also want to view the Society of American Archivists Continuing Education Calendar

It takes effort to keep your skills and knowledge up to date, but the fact that this is required of everyone levels the playing field somewhat. Career-long learning will give you the best chance of a thriving, growing professional life, and you'll never be bored!