Instructional librarians and a culture of professional development

In my course discussion this week about professional development for information and technology literacy, one of my classmates suggested the importance of maintaining the funding for professional development. She spoke of how much she appreciated the opportunity to attend conferences in her current position and how it sounds idealistic, especially in the public sector, but that she felt it was important anyway.

Just because you spend money on something doesn’t mean that you will get results, BUT dedicating money to something (or not) in a budget DOES show your commitment to that thing. I think my classmate’s suggestion about keeping money available for professional development is a wise one.

Let me offer an example of the consequences:

Due to some of the budget side-effects of Act 10, my school district slashed this kind of professional development funding and it seems we are often told, “No, you may not attend X-conference; we don’t have the budget.” Additionally, the Tech Department has been allocated less money and seems to mainly operate as firefighters, trying to put out “fires” with the network and hardware to keep us running, and they too can’t really devote the resources to serve as instructional leaders either. Which leaves the librarians… As far as I can tell, with the upper levels of support stripped back, it is these professionals left at the front lines to help–and they are rockstars! Unfortunately, it’s probably only at the one-on-one, ad-hoc level, instead of systemic, intentional training. Every time I reach out for their assistance though, I’m met with, “What can I help you with?”

While it is possible to be grass-roots and low-budget, money greases the wheels!

From my humble point of view (because I’m not gong to tell anyone how to do their job), to insure that staff participate in long-term, on-going professional development for info/tech literacy, it’s the LEADERSHIP (principals, administrators, directors) who also must believe in the value of developing their staff. The instructional librarian can advocate for this kind of training on their own, but the leadership has to give them the time of day. (The librarian will probably have to sell it to their administration first.)

To be an instructional leader like this, the librarian has be a good communicator, able to read timing, body language and institutional culture. For example, if the librarian’s position has been viewed as lowly, then the librarian will probably be better off treading lightly and not coming in with a tour de force (lest they want to risk their employment status). Instead of shoving change down people’s throats or condescending them by sharing an unsolicited criticism of what’s wrong with the system, working with people to solve their problems will probably earn more respect.

The other thing I would advise would be to ask questions at all levels and try to find the holes in info lit/tech skills and the perceived needs of the building. This way the librarian can find a place to fit their expertise and leadership and potentially come in and save the day. It takes time!

The best advice I was ever given in my career (and I didn’t know it then, I had to learn the hard way), was that “Changing a school (we could say library) is like turning an ocean liner.” There are a lot of moving parts and things are bigger than just you. Plus, we don’t need to capsize the whole ship.

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