• Q&A: Lead Pipe on Professional Development

    February 8, 2012

    By forkergirl on Flickr

    This week, In the Library with Lead Pipe fields professional development and career questions from library school students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The questions they asked ranged from committee work to composing cover letters to conference attendance. Here is the complete list (so you can jump around if you like):

    1. What committees do you serve on that are most important/relevant to your professional development?
    2. Which activities do you feel have been the most beneficial for your professional development?
    3. What is the best way to represent professional development on a resume? Should most relevant/recent experiences be included rather than a long list of professional development experiences? Is it better to include more substantial professional development experiences on a resume (e.g. conferences) rather than short, 1-2 hour in-house professional development experiences?
    4. When you first started publishing, did you have to submit to multiple journals before your article was accepted?  How did you decide which journals to submit to (or what process did you use to narrow the list)?
    5. How often (if at all) and in what ways do you use social media professionally?  How are you cultivating your online presence, keeping track of current trends in librarianship, and learning to use new technologies once you are “in the field” and are busy working.
    6. How can publishing a blog or having a Twitter feed, etc. work to your advantage/disadvantage when it comes to being hired for a job? Aside from publishing inappropriate material, should you also be wary of putting your views on a certain topic online in case your potential hirer disagrees with those views?
    7. How can you bring up professional blogging in a resume or job interview? Is it possible to provide links to published blog posts in a resume, or is that inappropriate?
    8. Do you have any tips for getting the most out of a large conference?

    In true Lead Pipe fashion, our team has responded with a range of perspectives. We don’t have all the answers, and we don’t always agree, but we appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts with you. Please join the conversation by adding your own thoughts on these questions in the comments.

    1. What committees do you serve on that are most important/relevant to your professional development?

    Emily

    I think it’s equally important to serve on committees that are related to your job and also those that you find interesting. At least for me, a lot of my professional development work occurs “off the clock” so it helps if it’s something I care about and in which I’m interested. Fortunately, my employment and my professional development interests have been complementary.

    Over the past year I’ve changed jobs and focus, which has led me to re-evaluate my professional development commitments. Since I liaise with disciplines that study policy, my involvement in library legislative and policy focused committees still remains relevant. However, I’ve been actively looking for additional professional development opportunities related to the areas of my job as a subject librarian. While to some extent this reflects my change in jobs, it mostly reflects my evolving interests as I come to know position. Because of this, when I last renewed my ALA membership I made the hard decision to drop my membership in RUSA and switch to ACRL to reflect the direction my career was going. I looked to join relevant sections of ACRL that mirrored my interests as well as those that would help me develop into a more knowledgeable Urban & Public Affairs Librarian. I joined the Law and Political Science Section (LPSS), the Instruction Section (IS), the Health Sciences Interest Group (HSIG), and the University Libraries Section (ULS). I also continued to be a member of New Member’s Round Table (NMRT) and Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT). Currently ACRL is seeking volunteers for committees, so I’m deciding to which committee I’d like to try and join.

    Eric

    More important than association committees are the people I work with here in Austin—they provide the best learning opportunities I’ve had in some time.  Cross-departmental teams that involve information technology, the faculty, and other academic support staff at the university provide new perspectives on higher educational imagine there will be a point when I’ll be ready to reinvest in developing an association-based career, but for now, I’m turning towards those closest to me to grow and change as a professional.

    Kim

    All of them. Some committees are more dynamic than others, and some address topics that are more directly relevant to my work, but every group I’ve participated on as member or chair has helped me grow as a professional. Even if I’m not learning content that informs me as a librarian, I’m learning how to plan and run meetings, how to budget and manage projects, and how to productively collaborate with individuals around the country. Plus, I’m meeting people who might potentially create opportunities for me in the future (and vice versa). I see a direct link between my ALA/ACRL activities and the fact that I was hired as a library director so early in my career; when interviewing, I cited examples from my committee work as evidence of my administrative potential.

    I’m somewhat unusual, I think, in that I truly enjoy committee activity. That stems in part from my unending curiosity about librarianship and my colleagues, and in part from the fact that I don’t take myself too seriously. I do serious work, but we’re all volunteers on these committees and we should be able to laugh, too. I try to bring that joy to every meeting.

    Ellie

    Like Eric, I’ve stepped back from being on a ton of committees. I had some negative experiences at the national level and have found much more satisfaction at state and local levels. I’ve recently moved and haven’t fully settled into my new location yet, but when I was in Texas I was on the Automation & Technology Round Table. They gave me my first professional public speaking opportunity. I showed up to a meeting after having been awarded a scholarship from them and they asked what programs I thought were missing from their lineup. I told them my ideas and they asked if I’d be up for speaking. That lead to continued presentations at the Texas Library Association annual conference for several years.

    I’ve also really enjoyed serving on selection committees. In addition to all the usual benefits of committee work, you can also learn a lot about what aspects of proposals make them most likely to succeed. It definitely makes me more confident when submitting applications or proposals of my own.

    2. Which activities do you feel have been the most beneficial for your professional development?

    Brett

    Getting to know other librarians, both locally and across the country, many of them with jobs that are very different from mine. As a profession, we’re incredibly approachable and eager to help. For me, it’s just a question of getting past my shyness and introducing myself, either in person, on the phone, or online. I always try to have a few questions in mind that seem particularly appropriate, or have a project or two I want to discuss. And then I have to make sure to follow up, which can also be challenging: when you’re in the middle of a project it’s difficult to take a breath and send out an update to people who helped you get started, and when a project is over it’s tempting to move on to the next thing. This is definitely one of my struggles, but I try to be mindful of it and do the best I can. Again, librarians are happy to help, but if they give you advice you have to do something with their suggestions and let them know about it, and if they collaborate there has to be an outcome.

    Eric

    Changing jobs altogether.  Before becoming a systems librarian, I was the opposite—a reference and instruction librarian.  It has taken me over a year and a half to begin to feel comfortable in my systems role, but it has changed my perspective on the profession immensely.  I think of it like a master of some athletic skill—like a golf swing.  When you become an expert at doing things one way for so long and you introduce a new skill (like a new golf swing), you may actually become a worse performer than you were before… until you get the hang of it.  Then you become even better and, in my opinion, more valuable, dynamic, and adaptable.

    Even if you don’t change jobs altogether, look in-house to find job sharing opportunities in an area completely outside your routine work.  Try learning to catalog, or maybe take  a stab at instruction.  It might change your perspective on what you consider yourself “good” at.

    Continuing education, if it’s an option for you, is also a nice way to build a robust skill set.  At St. Edward’s, I’m able to take up to two credit courses a semester for free; I’m in my first semester of an MBA program, taking a course in statistics and in conflict resolution and negotiation.  The latter is a class based on role playing and scenarios, and there’s been nothing better to get me out of my comfort zone and into difficult situations.

    Erin

    Participating in the ALA Emerging Leaders Program has been one of the most beneficial professional development activities for me so far. I was able to meet and work with ALA leaders and colleagues from all over the country within one year. That was back in 2009 and I still find that many of my professional accomplishments (publications, presentations, guest blog postings, etc.) have stemmed from collaborations with other emerging leaders. There are definitely pros and cons to the program, and they are continually looking for ways to make it better, but in my book, the connections you can make there are priceless. Which brings me to my next point: collaborations. Find ways to work with other people. Team projects and co-authorship have taught me so much—how to work virtually, the give-and-take negotiation of multiple viewpoints, the brainstorming potential of great minds. It’s easier to share the load and keep each other accountable for things like publications and presentations.

    3. What is the best way to represent professional development on a resume? Should most relevant/recent experiences be included rather than a long list of professional development experiences? Is it better to include more substantial professional development experiences on a resume (e.g. conferences) rather than short, 1-2 hour in-house professional development experiences?

    Emily

    Your resume should reflect how you meet the needs of the position to which you’re applying. Every time you apply for a job you should be tweaking your cover letter and resume to highlight those experiences that best match the job description. For example, in my most recent job application process I highlighted my professional activities in regards to scholarly communication and legislation in my cover letter to illustrate my experience with and knowledge of copyright and policy, respectively. Because I had mentioned them in my cover letter, the committee reading my resume would have seen these activities and others in the “Professional Activities and Service” section of my CV.

    Hilary

    Emily is absolutely correct that you should tailor your resume and cover letter to each and every job you apply for (1) because it shows that you are actually interested in the job and (2) you want to showcase and highlight why you are a good fit for the job.  I would limit the listing of professional development experiences to those that are relevant/loosely relevant for the position or that demonstrate a perspective that you can bring to the job (e.g., you apply for a reference librarian position, but you participated in a workshop on scholarly communication—list it because it shows that you have some exposure or engagement with scholarly communication issues that might be handy for the reference librarian position).  Whatever you list, you should provide some sense of order—chronological, from most recent to older, is standard.  It’s preferable to leave out the 1–2 hour in-house professional development experiences where you were a passive participant (i.e., audience member of a seminar in your library) unless you’re so new to the field that this is all you have under your belt.

    Ellie

    I agree with everything said above and just want to add that the answer will also vary depending on your years of experience and what type of job you’re applying for. As an academic librarian, I expect to see a 2–3 page CV and wouldn’t be particularly alarmed if it were longer. I wouldn’t write off a 1 page resume, but I don’t consider it the standard. I do notice that students tend to have more of their coursework and smaller workshops, but if I’m hiring for an entry level position, that’s what I expect to see. If I’m hiring for more experience, those smaller things seem like reaching.

    It also depends what you’re trying to convey. Like everyone said above, you should be tailoring the resume to the job, so if they didn’t ask you to list your professional development experiences and yours aren’t relevant to the position, they’re not really adding anything. If they really gave you meaningful experience that is relevant to the position, then include them and mention them in the cover letter. I do tend to list conferences on my CV, but I’m typically trying to express an engagement with the broader community rather than specific skills gained.

    4. When you first started publishing, did you have to submit to multiple journals before your article was accepted?  How did you decide which journals to submit to (or what process did you use to narrow the list)?

    Erin

    I recently had a peer-reviewed article published in the Journal of Web Librarianship, my first article highlighting original research (A Use of Space: The Unintended Messages of Academic Library Web Sites). My co-authors and I designed a timeline with deadlines for each step of the research, analysis, writing, and editing. These deadlines were incredibly helpful in terms of keeping our momentum going on the project. Between the time we conceived the article to the time it was published, the project took us almost exactly one year (mid-summer 2010 to early-fall 2011). This is a really short turnaround time for a peer reviewed article, and I would say it’s in no small part due to the fact that we queried the journal very early into the process. All it took was an email to the editor with an explanation of what we wanted to do. In return, we received valuable feedback that helped shape our research methodology and saved us a lot of tough editing further down the line. In the end, we only submitted to the Journal of Web Librarianship and were accepted after one round of revisions.

    Identifying where we wanted to publish helped us conform to acceptable publishing guidelines that vary from journal to journal (headings, author biographies, citation style, etc.). When we were looking at potential journals to submit to, we considered our content (was it a good fit topically?) and if the journal was peer reviewed (I go up for tenure in the fall and needed a peer reviewed article on my CV). However, in the future, I will be doing everything I can to publish in open access journals.

    Ellie

    I have not submitted anything for publication outside of In the Library with the Lead Pipe, but while I was in library school I was encouraged to submit to College & Research Libraries News as a good starting place.

    Kim

    That’s a good question. I think the truth is that when I was getting started I didn’t really make a conscious decision about what to write or where to publish; I was lucky to have mentors who were experienced writers and allowed me to co-write with them. They already knew the process and had the connections and knowledge to get published, and I was eager to try out my voice and contribute to the scholarship of our field. We both came out of it with another publication so it was a win-win. I did this on several early writing projects and it gave me an invaluable leg-up in my writing career.

    I would recommend that approach to anyone trying to break into publishing, as well as to those new to librarianship in general. I personally haven’t found organized mentoring programs to be successful for me, but I work hard to establish and maintain informal mentoring relationships with those I have met who I feel I can learn from. We’re in a field of the most helpful people in the world! You can’t throw a canvas bag in the air at an ALA conference without hitting someone who’d love to help you out. Some people are more forthcoming than others, but the great majority of individuals I’ve approached have been receptive and generous with their time and knowledge. Librarians are wonderful people.

    5. How often (if at all) and in what ways do you use social media professionally?  How are you cultivating your online presence, keeping track of current trends in librarianship, and learning to use new technologies once you are “in the field” and are busy working.

    Brett

    I’ve made a conscious decision not to use Twitter and to avoid Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn as much as possible. When people contact me through these services it goes to email. That’s also how I follow the roughly 70 blogs, journals, and mailing lists to which I’m subscribed: I have them set up to go to my email. In general, if there’s anything important happening, it shows up in one of my subscriptions very quickly. The only three websites I check regularly are Hacker News (2–4 times per day), Library News (1–2 times per day), and Pinboard’s Popular page (2–3 times per week).

    In terms of putting myself out there, again I mostly use email: it’s a great way to  communicate directly with someone or with a small group. I’ve also averaged three posts a year on the Lead Pipe, plus I help edit another three or so, and contribute to group posts like this one. I’d also really like to see Library News succeed, so I’m making an effort to post there as often as I can.

    I think most new technologies are incredibly simple to use, so it always kind of surprises me when librarians make a big deal about learning to use them. The whole point of Twitter or If This Then That or Google Chrome or iPads is their ease of use. I think the greater challenge is learning to use the older technologies that are much more powerful once you invest the time. I’m already behind on Code Year, but committed to using it to finally learn Javascript. I also really want to learn Vim. And then Python. There’s nothing shiny and new about simple programming languages or powerful text editors, but if every librarian learned these technologies it would revolutionize the profession.

    Eric

    +1 on Code Year.  I have a computer science degree and program as a part of my job, so none of the code is new for me.  However, I’m intrigued by Mozilla’s Open Badge Initiative (which I heard about through the VP of Information Technology at my university), and Code Year is giving me a user’s perspective on how badges might be used to demonstrate all of the learning that happens outside of formal educational credits.

    That illustrates one way I keep up: through the people I associate with.  IT at St. Edward’s is filled with brilliant people who are always on the bleeding edge of what’s new in tech, so I keep in touch with them, figure out what trends are coming in higher education tech, and apply them to libraries.

    Not really social media, I guess, but social.

    As for an online presence, you’re looking at it.  I rarely tweet, I’ve left Facebook, and I have Google+’d once (in an experiment with social search).  I have started and stopped blogs a few times, and I’d like to find the time to do more than just Lead Pipe publishing.

    Erin

    I’m an advocate for merging the personal and professional in your online presence. This feels most comfortable to me and I don’t have to worry about feeling inauthentic on or offline. It can certainly be different for others based on their experience and comfort level. My Facebook profile is private, my Twitter (@libscenester) is public, and my blog (Library Scenester) is public. I have a Google+ profile, but I don’t use it often. I never feel pressure to update my social media—I update when I have time or the inclination, when the mood strikes. So, my posting can be rather sporadic as opposed to scheduled.

    In terms of keeping up with current trends, I rely on Facebook and Twitter for the most part. This week I unsubscribed from my 300+ RSS feeds, a kind of personal spring cleaning. I plan to add them back selectively, only the ones I know by name because they were inspiring or memorable. My goal is to clear space for some reading outside of librarianship, in fields like design, art, and higher education. There were a lot of library blogs I subscribed to just because I felt like I “should” but I didn’t really enjoy reading them. It was a truly liberating feeling. I recommend trying this kind of “cleanse” if you’re looking for ways to escape the echo chamber.

    Ellie

    I only actively keep up with Facebook, which I do use for both professional and personal connections. I’ve always been of the “don’t say it online unless you’re okay with everyone seeing it” mindset, so I don’t feel much tension between whether my librarian colleagues see posts about my board game marathons or whether my friends are bored to tears with all my information literacy posts. I don’t have any special privacy settings or permissions set up along those lines. When Twitter and FriendFeed first seemed to be the thing to join I did join them both, but didn’t find a community that engaged with me. The people I friended on Facebook did comment and reply to my comments, so that’s where I’ve maintained an account and the rest I’ve let fall away.

    I use Facebook and my RSS feeds for keeping up in a general sense, but really most things I don’t actively make a conscious effort to keep up with. Being a techy and geeky person by nature, I tend to hear of tech things through my non-librarian reading and friends. And I tend to learn how to use them by just fooling around with them.

    6. How can publishing a blog or having a Twitter feed, etc. work to your advantage/disadvantage when it comes to being hired for a job? Aside from publishing inappropriate material, should you also be wary of putting your views on a certain topic online in case your potential hirer disagrees with those views?

    Brett

    Here’s how I see the situation: You have views you feel so strongly about that you would be willing to publish something about them. But an employer disagrees so strongly, either with the views themselves or with publishing something about them, that it would prevent them from offering you a job.

    In my opinion, that’s the best argument I’ve ever heard for publishing your views, either online or in print. You wouldn’t be happy working for an employer like that, and they wouldn’t be happy having you as an employee.

    Emily

    What Brett said. And also to expand on this, there have, in the past year, been several job postings in my region for institutions that require you conform to a community’s way of life or religious views in order to be a successful job applicant. Some of these jobs even required applicants to submit a “statement of faith” (of the Christian flavor). Being an Atheist Jew, I couldn’t even consider these opportunities.

    In this economy it may be tempting to convince yourself that you could write a statement and work in such an environment, but if your gut tells you anything otherwise, don’t apply for that kind of job. If you do, you should consider that any employer that weeds out candidates based on faith, (or anything else—smoke free workplaces are a good example, too) your online presence and personal life will likely be under scrutiny. There are enough people out there who can and will apply to these jobs and whose values are in line with the employer’s; you’d just be wasting your energy. Don’t fake it to make it.

    Ellie

    I agree with the sentiments above about not wanting to work somewhere that wouldn’t hire you for views you feel strongly about. I’ll add however that you still ought to put some thought into how you express yourself online. I think our current sharing atmosphere has us putting out a lot more off the cuff things that don’t fall into the category of “feeling so strongly you’re willing to publish.” I’ve seen people get in trouble at work for using social tools inappropriately during work time and was very surprised that the person hadn’t thought it was inappropriate at the time.

    I’ll reiterate my motto of “don’t put it online anywhere (no matter how protected you think you’ve got your privacy settings) if there’s anyone out there you wouldn’t want to see it.”

    Also only you can make your own decisions about which things are most important to you. I have my own pet issues and they would definitely stop me from working certain places, but others may not feel as strongly. I don’t think I could be comfortable working someplace that had any anti-LGBTQ policies, but I have a friend who is bi who applied to work at a religious school that takes an explicit stance against homosexuality in their policies. It’s not my place to say where that person would and wouldn’t be comfortable working, but if they want to work there, they also want to make sure they don’t have an online presence that could get them fired. If it’s a topic that you don’t care much about, but you know a potential employer might, why take the risk? If it’s something that is important to you, then I completely agree with what everyone else said above.

    Also, to address the first part of the question, since no one said it explicitly, I’ll add that having a strong online presence can help you in many ways. It can show you’re tech savvy if you have a well-designed website. It can show you’re up on current technology. It can show you are personable and have good communication skills.

    7. How can you bring up professional blogging in a resume or job interview? Is it possible to provide links to published blog posts in a resume, or is that inappropriate?

    Emily

    Again, when you’re working on a cover letter or resume, carefully read the job description and advertisement. Is there language in it that speaks to being engaged in the profession? Chances are the answer is yes. Bringing up your blog is appropriate if you are directly relating it to the position and requirements expressed in the job description.

    To use another example from my recent experience: the job advertisement and position description of the job for which I was applying, required for the successful applicant to contribute to the scholarly and professional literature. I used as examples my experiences writing for and being an editorial board member of In the Library with the Lead Pipe to speak to these requirements. I was able to make connections between writing topics for Lead Pipe with my evolving scholarly agenda, and my drive to contribute to the written discourse in LIS.

    Because of the connections I was able to make between Lead Pipe and the position, I found that during my interview the search committee and others in the library were curious about my experiences and wanted to hear more. Since I was able to frame this discussion as relevant to the job at hand, I got to talk about blogging and writing professionally.

    I have all of my pieces with In the Library with the Lead Pipe linked from my CV. They are peer-reviewed and they show my ability to think, write, and engage professionally in discourse. However, if were writing in a non-peer-reviewed blog, I might simply include one link to the blog, instead of linking to each individual article.

    Ellie

    I totally consider my Lead Pipe articles to be published papers, so I do list them under my publications section in my CV, and list that I’m an editor. I picked a few of my favorites and called it something like selected works. I also list presentations. I don’t list any of my personal blog posts because I don’t think they are academic enough, but I do list my personal blog somewhere on my CV. I only mention them in my cover letter if it’s relevant to the job listing, e.g.,  if they specifically list wanting someone involved nationally, or collaborating electronically and asynchronously, or if the specific article deals with a topic they focus on, like assessment.

    Kim

    I differ from Emily and Ellie on this. Personally I consider writing for a blog to be recreational activity so I don’t give it much attention on my CV. Lead Pipe appears in two lines on my CV under “Other Publications,” and that’s it. I definitely don’t list all my posts. That’s not to say that a potential employer wouldn’t find my blogging interesting, but I think the rest of my work as a professional has to stand on its own. I’ve also worked for more conservative libraries where such activity is considered a liability more than an asset, so unless you can afford to be choosy about your workplace, you might be better off playing it safe.

    8. Do you have any tips for getting the most out of a large conference?

    Brett

    Go to meetings rather than presentations, ideally smallish meetings focused on topics that have little to do with your job or areas of expertise. I’m the director of a small, public library, and I belong to LITA, so do spend some time in meetings that cover what I do on a day-to-day basis, but I particularly love going to ACRL and ALCTS committee meetings. I also love ALA’s Council meetings (which are large, though not all that many people actually talk) and ALA task force meetings. Just by showing up and being quiet and paying attention (turn your devices off and write things down on paper), I find myself leaving these meetings with several good ideas.

    I also try to make sure I line up meetings or meals with people before I go. I don’t fill my schedule because it’s always good to have some flexibility, but it’s nice to catch up with people I only see once or twice a year, and I also try to meet at least one or two people in person every time I go to a large conference. I mean, of course you’ll meet far more people than that, but I think it’s worth scheduling something with one or two new people in advance.

    Emily

    I diverge from Brett in conference tactics. Usually I attend the meetings of the committees I’m on or interested in, and then I choose a few programs and discussion groups that interest me and get me out of my comfort zone.

    Sometimes programs promise to be interesting on paper, but when it comes to actuality it’s not what you thought. I try to sit on the aisle or at the back of the room for an easy escape route. If I’m unsure about a meeting or program, I always choose a second option, be it another program, getting lunch, or hitting the exhibit hall. Then, if the program doesn’t interest me, I have a plan B.

    Hilary

    Some organizations offer a conference buddy system (e.g., ALA and SLA).  Sign up for those and meet with your buddy in person or online before the conference and get their take on what you should plan on attending.  If you have questions or comments for the speakers of the events you attend, go up and talk to them!  Bring your business card and be sure to hand them out when you have a common interest and/or you’ve requested someone follow-up with you.  Likewise, if you promise to follow-up with someone, be sure to make the turnaround time after the conference quick.  Email speakers who you’re interested in learning more from after the conference.  Go to the exhibit hall at least once or twice to see what they’re like.  Step up to a vendor’s exhibit and find out what the vendor’s pitch is by asking things like “What’s new at x?”.  Finally, check out Stephen Abram’s conference tips (still relevant even though they’re from 2006!).

    Ellie

    I’m more comfortable if I know someone, so I try to arrange to meet up with a friend or friend of a friend at a few points throughout the event. I’ve also found socials to be great. For ALA, I try to get to the Community & Junior Colleges Library Section dinner and the GLBT Round Table social. I tend to know someone and then they know more people and I end up getting a nice new bunch of professional colleagues.

    Also, don’t feel obligated to stay at a session that isn’t doing anything for you. Session hopping is totally standard practice.

    Kim

    The simplest and most critical thing you can do to get the most out of large conferences is to embrace your inner extrovert. We’re librarians and the great majority of us are natural introverts, but at conferences you have to set that aside. As Brett touched upon in #2 above, you have to leave your shyness at home and push yourself to make conversation with complete strangers. If you walk into a meeting or program and don’t know anyone, find a seat next to a person who looks sympathetic, put on your friendliest smile, and reach out your hand. Make small talk. Ask them about their work, their activities, their kids or pets. We all love to talk about our passions. Don’t hide behind the “introvert” label at a conference or you will miss out on the richest part of attendance: getting to know more of the amazing people in our field.

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