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Local, State, National: Finding Your Professional Home

May 30, 2012

by: Tom Reinsfelder, Christina Steffy, and Amy Deuink

Professional development is an important part of the library profession. It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks, especially at a time when many librarians and libraries are overworked and understaffed. Budget constraints may also limit what it’s possible to do. But making time to communicate and network with our peers can be educational and invigorating.

Attending Local Events

As academic librarians we are a part of larger institutions committed to learning and the exploration of new ideas. It is true that many local events or conferences may not be specifically directed at librarians, but the content is often relevant to our work. Local events provide some of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to take advantage of professional development opportunities and create meaningful partnerships with others. Take a look around and see what is available.

  • Attend on-campus events focused on topics such as student development, improving teaching methods, uses of new technology or software, or assessment of student learning. Then find ways to use your new knowledge to improve your library and build connections with others.
  •  Look beyond your campus, introduce yourself to individuals working at other local libraries (don’t limit yourself to only academic libraries). Attend their events. We can all learn a lot from each other and there is often a significant overlap in the audiences we serve.

State / Regional Events

In addition to local events, it’s also important to attend state and regional events. Joining a local chapter of an organization allows you to meet people outside of your immediate local network. Attending state and regional events allows you to see trends that are occurring outside of your immediate local area, while the information is still targeted to what is happening around you in terms of the economy, budget, and even in terms of local resource sharing opportunities.

Examples of regional organizations are local chapters of PaLA and ACRL, regional groups of Access PA, or others such as ACLCP. Central PA Health Sciences Libraries Association (CPHSLA) is just one other example of a regional library organization here in PA. This group of various health sciences libraries, from large university libraries to small medical center libraries, not only provides an opportunity to network with peers but also provides free interlibrary service to other libraries in the network.

National Organizations and Events

Attending a national conference can seem overwhelming—and indeed, there are more than enough opportunities to keep you intellectually and socially satisfied—but larger conferences do offer orientation sessions where you can learn from experienced conference-goers how to scale it down to your size. Programming offered at the national- or international-scale provides the same opportunities and benefits listed above, but also allows you to really find your niche—colleagues with the same opportunities and challenges that you have—or learn from and be inspired by someone a world apart.

In addition to involvement with prominent national organizations ALA and ACRL, librarians might also seek out smaller, special-interest conferences like Computers in Libraries (in nearby DC), Internet Librarian, LOEX, or the Charleston Conference (issues in book and serial acquisition for librarains, publishers, and vendors). There are also more tightly focused library organizations that provide members with professional development opportunities, as well as a place to publish and present research and best practices. Examples include the Special Libraries Association (SLA), Medical Library Association (MLA), the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), or the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

Librarians might also be involved with organizations concerned with higher education, such as EDUCAUSE, or those of their discipline specialty, like the American Psychological Association (APA) or Modern Language Association (MLA).

Online events

Many organizations, library communities, and even some vendors offer webinars, podcasts, meetings, and seminars online. Some are offered free of charge, while others require a fee. ALA offers ALA Connect and last year began experimenting with virtual town hall meetings. ACRL offers a variety of free or relatively inexpensive e-learning programs to meet the needs of members. In addition, our own PaLA College & Research Division is working on providing online programming to build a virtual community of Pennsylvania academic librarians.

Get Involved

Regardless of what level of events you choose to use for professional development, it’s important to consider giving back to your organization and profession by taking on leadership roles. Organizations are often in need of people to serve on committees or in other volunteer capacities. Doing this encourages you to look beyond present trends and to actively contribute to future of the profession.

Joining a professional organization isn’t just about the opportunities it provides. Your membership also helps support education and library advocacy in Harrisburg and Washington, DC, as well as where you work and live. Your membership makes the voice of librarians louder in government and society. The organization is also there, backing you up, when you need support.

Financial and time constraints are significant factors when choosing which professional organizations and events best meet your needs, but so is finding a professional “home”—
an organization that matches your professional values and goals. Sometimes one organization isn’t able to meet all your needs, but fortunately Pennsylvania academic librarians have access to a wide variety of local, regional, and national professional development events, with increasingly more opportunities for virtual participation.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a favorite conference?

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