| | Introduction | Conduct a personal needs assessment | Join professional organizations | Develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN) | | Attend conferences | Attend webinars | Read professional materials | Other Resources | References


“Obtaining an MLS is merely the beginning of a librarian’s learning.” – Susan E. Montgomery (2012, p. 47).

In today’s society, with technology constantly changing and evolving, it is easy to get left behind. That is especially true for librarians. What we learn in library school is not necessarily how things will stay. According to Cooke (2011), “the shelf life of a degree is approximately three years and declining” (pg. 6). In order to keep up with changes in the field, we must participate in professional development.

Many professional library organizations include professional development in their guidelines. The American Library Association (ALA), for instance, includes professional development in its Code of Ethics. “We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession” (Code of ethics, 2008, Statement VIII).

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the ALA, includes professional development in its Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth, saying, “A librarian should “plan for personal and professional growth and career development” (YALSA, 2010, Area I, Article 3).

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), another division of the ALA, also includes professional development in its Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries, saying, “A librarian should “[Pursue] professional development and continuing education opportunities throughout her/his career” (ALSC, 1999, Area VIII, Article 8).

What is Professional Development?

Professional development, which is sometimes called “continuing education,” can mean many things, from attending a conference to reading a professional journal; overall, though, it includes activities that enhance skills or knowledge that is career-relevant (Coiffe, 2012).

Conduct a personal needs assessment

How do you know what kind of professional development you need? Before pursuing professional development opportunities, it is important is to consider your own needs. Assessing your strengths and weaknesses and the skills you need to build on will help you decide what professional development activities are best for you (Kelly & Werthmuller, 2013).

Join professional organizations

One of the best ways to find professional development opportunities is to join a professional organization. Most organizations offer members several professional development opportunities, like chances to attend conferences, workshops, and webinars, as well as opportunities to serve on committees and to network with fellow library professionals.

Some professional organizations of interest to librarians:

Divisions of the ALA that are specific to youth services:

Some Illinois-specific library organizations:

It is also good to check for smaller, local organizations in your area. For instance, the Champaign, IL area has the Champaign Area Elementary Librarians and Library Educators Group (CAELLEG). Joining a local professional group is a good way to network, to discuss area-specific challenges, and to explore opportunities to collaborate with other librarians in your area (Kelly & Werthmuller, 2013).

When deciding what organization to join, weigh the costs and benefits of membership; consider the perks of membership (i.e. free journals, listserv access, discounts on conference registration, special funding opportunities) versus what you will be paying in membership fees (Pentland, 2011).

Develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN)

What is a PLN?

LaGarde and Whitehead (2012) define a Personal Learning Network (PLN) as “a group of people who are connected by shared passions or common interests, and who benefit from shared learning” (pg. 9). With the Internet and technology today, PLNs can be as far-reaching as you want, sometimes extending around the world. Many times, people included in PLNs aren’t even real-life acquaintances; they are simply other professionals that the person creating the PLN finds inspiring and would like to learn from (LaGarde & Whitehead, 2012).
The main advantage to having a PLN is that you can design it yourself, so they can be specific to your own career, goals, and interests (Cooke, 2011). They are also a good way to learn from peers without any cost, as there would likely be with conferences or webinars (Stranack, 2012).

LeGarde created an online resource which is "meant to help those who are just beginning to start their journey as a connected educator”(LeGarde np). It has information on PLNs, links to twitter and different blogs, articles for reading, and tools of the trade. It’s definitely a great resource for those looking to start connecting with others.

Tools that are useful for creating a PLN:

(from Stranack, 2012)
  • Twitter
    • People and organizations to follow on Twitter
      • School Library Journal @SLJournal: This is a professional journal for youth service or school librarians. It's the largest reviewer of children and young adult items.
      • Library Journal @LibraryJournal: Another professional Journal which includes content for management, technology, collection development, and other professional concerns. It also provides reviews for nearly 7,000 books.
      • The Digital Shift @ShifttheDigital: Home for all the technology related content from the Library Journal and the School Library Journal.
      • The Horn Book @HornBook: A company that was founded in 1924 and provides distinguished journals in children and young adult literature.
      • American Library Association @ALALibrary: Library organization that strives to “Provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and Information Services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all” (ala.org).
      • Yalsa @Yalsa : The Young Adult Library Services Association is a division of the American Library Association and provides resources for library services intended for children aged 12-18.
      • ISLMA @ISLMA_org: The Illinois School Library Media Association is a professional organization that provides “leadership and support for the development, promotion, and the improvement of the school library media profession and programs in Illinois” (islma.org)
      • Tiffany Whitehead @librarian_tiff : Tiffany is a teacher librarian who is also a blogger, presenter, and speaker. She was the keynote speaker at ISLMA’s 2013 conference in Spingfield, IL.
      • Gwyneth Jones @GwynethJones: Also known as “The Daring Librarian,” she is a blogger, International Speaker, and librarian. She was named a Mover and a Shaker by the Library Journal in 2011 and a Visionary Leader by Teacher Librarian Magazine in 2012.Her work and writings have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post.
      • Teacher Librarian Chat: You can follow the twitter conversation with #TLChat every 2nd Monday of each month at 8 P.M. ET where teacher librarians get together to discuss a pre-selected topic. You can find more information on their website.
        • Also available on Teacher Librarian Virtual Cafe is a live broadcast presented in a news show format that features deeper discussions of important issues in school libraries. There are usually special guest experts. Viewers can also ask questions via twitter using #TLChat.
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Delicious
  • Pinterest
    • The Librarian's Listt is a great resource on Pinterest that provides pins, and links, for books, quotes, displays, events, and other library stuff created by librarians all over the world.
  • Blogs
  • RSS Feeds
    • What is RSS? -- Using XML, RSS feeds strip down webpages and create a simple, easy-to-read newsfeed that updates instantly (Stephens, 2012)

Steps to developing a PLN:

(according to LaGarde & Whitehead, 2012)
  1. Consumption – Try “lurking.” Follow some Twitter feeds, blogs, and other tools to see what others have to say. Observe.
  2. Connection – Attempt to connect with some of those you’re following. Start with something simple: a comment on a post, a simple conversation, etc.
  3. Creation – Take something that you’ve learned through your PLN and apply it to your own work.
  4. Contribution – Share your own ideas, work, and resources. In the circle of the PLN, it is important to contribute as well as learn.

Attend conferences

Attending conferences is an easy way to be exposed to an array of professional development activities in a concentrated format and get ideas to take back to the workplace that can be useful not only for you, but your coworkers (Pentland, 2011).

Most professional organizations hold annual conferences. Whether it is a local, national, or international conference, there is sure to be something nearby, and if not, most conferences rotate locations each year. Don’t know where to begin looking for a conference? Try ALA’s Conferences and Events page.

Conference attendance can be expensive, but many employers offer funding for professional development (Pentland, 2011). If that cannot be arranged, there are numerous grants and scholarships offered through many of the professional organizations and other outlets (Kelly & Werthmuller, 2013). See LIS Jobs for examples of funding opportunities offered through the ALA and other organizations.

How can I get the most out of attending a conference?

(adapted from "Resources for First Timers," 2013 ALA Annual Conference Tips)
  1. Plan your conference attendance around the programs, sessions, and speakers that you find most interesting and relevant to your needs.
    • If you are attending a conference with a colleague, try splitting up and attending different sessions. Plan ahead so that you can divide and conquer. You can meet up later to compare notes (from Moreillon, 2012)
  2. Take notes and review them later. If you hear a great idea, tip, or something useful, be sure to write it down so you can think about applying it when you return to the workplace.
  3. Network! Your fellow library professionals are attending these conferences too, so be sure to introduce yourself to people. Ask questions. Exchange information. You could make some valuable contacts that could come in handy later. Remember: even if someone isn’t in your exact line of work (i.e. a school librarian), they could still turn out to be a valuable contact.

If it turns out that you can’t attend a conference in person, don’t be discouraged. Many conferences are streamed or recorded and offered as webinars (Kowalsky, 2012). You can also read up on conference highlights and happenings after the fact in the organizations’ newsletter or journal publications (Quint, 1993). There are also completely online conferences with presentations that are relevant to librarians, like those offered through K12 Online Conference each year.

Attend webinars

What is a webinar?

A webinar is a kind of online seminar, hence the mash up of the words “web” and “seminar” (Coiffe, 2012). Webinars offer unique opportunities for library professionals to learn from field experts that are located elsewhere in the world (Baker, 2013). They can be good alternatives for those who can’t leave work for a conference or travel for other reasons because they can be “attended” from home or your workplace.

How do I find webinars?

Many webinars are offered through professional organizations (Coiffe, 2012). Some are free and some are paid, but if you are involved in other areas of professional development, it is likely you will come across
several webinar opportunities.

For example, Web Junction is a resource sponsored by OCLC that offers free webinars on a variety of library-related topics, from technology to leadership.
Also the The Teacher Librarian Virtual Cafe is committed to creating conversations about teacher-librarians, educational technology, and collaborative connections to facilitate meaningful and lifelong learning skills.

Read professional materials

Another way of keeping up with the latest in library news and getting new ideas is to read materials published for library professionals (Pentland, 2011). Some of these also offer more ideas for professional development opportunities (Baker, 2013).

Some publications of interest

many of which are published by professional library organizations and offered free with membership:

If you can’t afford to subscribe to a journal yourself, or if your workplace doesn’t subscribe, you can try finding the articles in a database or checking it out from a university or larger public library (Pentland, 2011).

Other Resources

  • Professional development opportunities (online & in person) from the Library of Congress
  • Continuing education opportunities through the Illinois State Library
  • The Colorado Department of Education has compiled a list of professional development opportunities for youth services library staff (some are free, some paid) that are applicable to youth services librarians across the country


"About ALA." American Library Association. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

ALSC’s competencies for librarians serving children in public libraries (1999). Retrieved September 25, 2013, from http://www.ala.org/alsc/edcareeers/alsccorecomps.

Code of ethics of the American Library Association (2008). Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics.

Coiffe, D. (2012). Webinars: Continuing education and professional development for librarians. Journal of The Library Administration & Management Section, 9(1), 37-48.

Cooke, N. A. (2012). Professional development 2.0 for librarians: Developing an online personal learning network (PLN). Library Hi Tech News, 29(3), 1-9.

"ISLMA Mission and Goals." Illinois School Library Media Association. 17 July 2012. Web. 23 Nov 2013.

Kelly, C., & Werthmuller, K. (2013). Take charge of your professional development!. Knowledge Quest, 42(1), 76-77.

Kowalsky, M. (2012). Networking at conferences: Developing your professional support system. Knowledge Quest, 41(2), 60-63.

LaGarde, J., & Whitehead, T. (2012). Power up your professional learning. Knowledge Quest, 41(2), 8-13.

LaGarde, Jennifer. "PLN Starter Kit: A Resource for Fledgling Connected Educators" Web. 23 Nov 2013.

Montgomery, S. (2012). Workshops: How they can work for you. Codex (2150-086X), 2(2), 46-60.

Moreilln, J. (2012). Before you pack your bag. Library Media Connection, 31(1), 48-50.

Pentland, C. (2011). Professional development on a shoestring. School Library Monthly, 28(3), 37-38.

Quint, B. (1993). Connect time: The conference scene. Wilson Library Bulletin, 6775-77.

Resources for First Timers. (2013). Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://ala13.ala.org/resources-for-first-timers

Stephens, W. (2012). Amplify your professional knowledge through RSS. Knowledge Quest, 41(2), 26-28.

Stranack, K. (2012). The connected librarian: Using social media for "Do it yourself" professional development. Partnership: The Canadian Journal Of Library & Information Practice & Research, 7(1), 1-5.

YALSA’s competencies for librarians serving youth: Young adults deserve the best. (2010). Retrieved September 25, 2013, from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/guidelines/yacompetencies2010.