Taking charge of your Continuing Professional Development

Below is the paper I wrote for the New Professionals Conference in July. You can also download it as a PDF from my Slideshare page, where you can also see the slides I used.

Taking Charge of your CPD

Ladder to the sky. All metaphorical for the CPD process, innit

What is CPD?

dictionaryContinuing Professional Development (CPD) is the “conscious updating of professional knowledge and the improvement of professional competence…a commitment to being professional, keeping up-to-date and constantly seeking to improve”[1]. You’ll notice that I used the word “professional” a grand total of four times in the preceding sentence – this is important. There has been some debate over whether or not librarians can really claim to be “professionals”[2]: I am not going to get into that debate now, other than to note that I do believe we are professionals, but it is worth noting that the debate exists. If there is debate within the profession about whether or not we are, in fact, professionals, then how are we to convince those outside of the profession – those who perhaps don’t really understand the value of what we do, but are frequently responsible for setting our budgets? Commitment to CPD is central to demonstrating our professionalism.

Why is CPD important?

Librarianship and information management is a rapidly changing field. My grandmother worked as a librarian back in Card cataloguethe late 1940s and early 1950s, but when I talk to her about my current job, it bears absolutely no relation to what she trained to do 60 years ago. I know that changes in any profession are inevitable over a stretch of 60 years, but the same point stands when I talk to people who entered the profession 10 or even 5 years ago. What I studied at university and what I do for a living now, will likely be utterly irrelevant by the time I retire.

In addition, the nature of information itself is changing. The ease of creating digital information means that the digital universe is expanding exponentially. In 2009, it was estimated that the total size of the “digital universe” was 0.8 ZB (Zettabytes, or 1 trillion gigabytes). By 2020, it is predicted that this will have increased by a factor of 44 to 35 ZB[3]. Much more information is also now “born digital”: i.e. it has never existed in a physical format. This is probably a good thing – if all that digital information were printed out, we’d be drowning in paper – but it does raise challenges when it comes to storing, organising and finding that information. If we, as librarians, are we to claim any expertise in the area then we must keep pace with the changes that affect our profession.

GraduationCPD is doubly important to new professionals. The main entry route into the profession is via an academic qualification, but librarianship is a very practical job. It can be very difficult for new professionals to find their first library job, or to make the transition from a Library/Information Assistant position to their first professional-level post. It’s all too common for entry-level job seekers to find advert after advert for jobs that sound perfect, but specify that you must have experience of tasks that wouldn’t necessarily form part of a graduate trainee or library assistant’s job description. Actively seeking out opportunities to develop your own professional skills outside of your job description can be an ideal way to build up your experience and give you something to talk about in job interviews – particularly in these troubled economic times!

Barriers to keeping up with CPD

Money! All the money!!ClockOf course, it can be difficult to find the time, the money and the opportunities for CPD. Across all library sectors, money is tight and budgets are shrinking. A global survey[4] of libraries – including academic libraries, public sector and government, and corporate libraries – undertaken in December 2009 found that almost a third of the libraries surveyed expected to have to cut staffing budgets over the next two years. From personal and anecdotal experience it seems that one of the easiest targets for budget savings is the staff development and training budget. In my own experience in the corporate legal sector, I know how difficult it can be to argue for funds. When I started in my current role, I was told that I could go on any training courses I wanted, as long as “the cost was small enough to hide in the stationery budget”. In practice, this meant that my employer would only cover costs of training up to £40-£50. This obviously rules out most “official” training, such as the CILIP training and development courses. Even with the membership discount, CILIP courses cost from £250-£450 to attend – I cannot afford to pay that for a one-day course, and that amount would certainly stand out in the stationery budget!

Reduced budgets can also mean reduced staff and service levels, which can make it difficult to justify taking time away from work for CPD. I am lucky enough to have a sympathetic manager, who is happy for me to take time off for training and development, but many workplaces are less flexible on this. In these cases, it may be necessary to come to a compromise with your line manager – for example, to take shorter lunch breaks in order to make up the time. It is also worth remembering that, as of 6 April this year, all staff working in an organisation that employs 250 or more people, have the statutory right to request “time to train”[5]. This will apply to employees in organisations of all sizes from 6 April 2011.

Tips for negotiating funding

It is always worth trying to persuade your employer of the benefits of a certain training course, even if you officiallyLine drawing of a handshake have no budget. Requesting funding can be daunting, but is always worth a try – even if you are unsuccessful, your manager is likely to be impressed by your eagerness to learn.

The most important thing to remember when making a case for funding is that your employer will need to know what the benefit is to them. Saying that you’d like to go on a course because you think it’ll be interesting is unlikely to impress whoever is holding the purse strings – far better to explain exactly what you plan to get out of it and, crucially, how it will benefit the organisation. Don’t assume that the training need you’ve identified is self-evident, especially if the person in charge of the budget is not a librarian. Try and use examples of how the training will improve your job performance that are tangible and measurable.

Giving examples of measurable outcomes can also help to remind your line managers of the benefits of the training after it is completed. After you have completed the training, make a note of any occasions in your day-to-day work when the knowledge and skills you gained have helped you complete a task faster and more effectively than you would have done without the training. This kind of evidence can make it easier to request funding next time round, and is also useful material for annual appraisals.

If you are taking part in on-going training, then keeping evidence of how it is benefitting you can also help to justify the cost/time taken, particularly if you did not have much support from your employer at the start. I recently signed up for an evening course on the English legal system, run by BIALL[6]. I was initially told that if I wanted to attend I would have to pay for it myself, which I planned to do. A couple of weeks into the course, after a few conversations with the library manager in which I gave several examples of how the legal knowledge I’d gained had helped me solve some specific enquiries, he suggested that the firm contribute part of the costs towards the course.

Finally, once you have finished the training make sure to share your new knowledge with your colleagues. Employers will be far more likely to consider funding training if they know that your colleagues will also benefit – they’ll still only have to pay for one course, after all! This can be done informally, such as discussing some of the new ideas you’ve picked up in the staff room, or formally, such as giving a five-minute presentation during a staff meeting.

CPD on a budget

Piggy bankIf your requests for funding are unsuccessful, you may need to foot the bill yourself. I would encourage anyone to consider paying for courses etc. themselves – I paid for my own Masters course, as well as several other training courses since graduating, and I’ve never regretted anything I’ve spent money on. It does mean that you need to be more selective about what CPD you pursue, but I would argue that that’s a good thing.

Obviously if you are paying for yourself, you will be limited by your own budget. Particularly if you are a student or recent graduate money is likely to be tight, which will rule out a lot of the high-end professional courses. However, there are still plenty of low-cost, and even free, options available for CPD. How you choose to approach managing your own CPD is down to what learning styles suit you and what resources are available in your area, but I am going to share some of the approaches that I have found most useful.

Professional literature

Shelves of academic journalsOne of the easiest ways to keep your professional knowledge up-to-date is by reading the professional literature. By “professional literature”, I mean both the professional journals – such as CILIP Gazette and Update, and sector-specific titles such as BIALL’s Legal Information Management – and ‘unofficial’ professional writing such as library and librarian blogs.

This is something that can easily be done in your spare time. I commute to work on the London Underground, and use this time to catch up with my professional reading. I also use (occasional) quiet enquiry desk shifts for this purpose. How and when you do you reading, and what format you use, is entirely down to personal preference. I tend to use a mix of paper and online reading materials, and most journals will provide both. Obviously if you read a lot of blogs then you are restricted to online-only content, although I do know someone who goes through their favourite blogs once a week and prints off interesting-looking posts to read, so if you really can’t bring yourself to read on screen then there are ways around it.

If you’re bewildered by the sheer amount of information published, and aren’t sure what you should be reading, there are a number of resources that can point you in the right direction. The UK Library Blogs Wiki[7] is a useful listing of blogs written by individual librarians and institutions/groups based in the UK. It’s a really useful starting point if you’re new to the ‘biblioblogosphere’. There is also a regular column in the CILIP Gazette, written by Danielle Worster, highlighting interesting and/or useful blogs in various sectors.

For professional journals, the obvious starting place would be with the publications of your own professional body – CILIP or any others relevant to your sector. If you are a member of CILIP, then you also have access to several databases through the CILIP website, such as Information Research Watch International (IRWI) and Proquest Library Science (including 145 full text journals)[8].

Involvement with professional bodies

“If you put five librarians in a room, within three hours you’ll get at least three associations, five committees, six Trusty gavelmeetings, and one manifesto” – Stephen Abram, May 2009[9]

CILIP is obviously the main body for UK library and information professionals, but there are many other sector- and location-specific groups available. For example, as well as being a member of CILIP, I am a member of the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians, the Special Libraries Association (European chapter), and the City Legal Information Group, which is aimed at information professionals working in the City of London. Obviously, not everyone can afford to join that many groups – I’ve managed to join so many through a combination of student subscription rates, membership as part of an award, and my employer paying for some of them – but it’s worth seeing what other groups outside of CILIP may be useful to you.

I believe that membership of a professional body is a vital aspect of CPD. Your professional body can provide resources (such as the professional journals available through CILIP) and opportunities for networking. Attending seminars, presentations and tours organised by your professional body (or their local branch) can be a fantastic, low-cost way to improve your knowledge of current information issues in your own and other sectors, as well as getting to know other information professionals outside of your workplace.

Volunteering on professional body committees is also a perfect way to build up your experience outside of your job description. I volunteer on committees for BIALL and SLA Europe, which has given me the chance to learn new skills that I wouldn’t have picked up in my current job. These have ranged from simple tasks like organising a meeting and writing an agenda, to more complex ones such as collaborating on redesigning a website.

Job shadowing and visits to other libraries

Shadow on a white wallObserving how other people work and how other libraries are organised is a really useful way of getting ideas that can feed back into your own work. If you work in a large organisation, such as an academic library, it can be useful to arrange to shadow someone from a different department for a few hours, or a day – this can help to provide a better understanding of how the library as a whole functions. If, like me, you work in a very small team, this sort of formal job shadowing isn’t really practical, but it can still be useful to make time to talk with each of the other members of the library team about their roles.

Visits to other libraries within your sector can provide ideas about how your own service could be improved. This is another area where membership of a professional body can be useful – contacts you’ve made within your sector through your professional body are an ideal starting place for finding other library services to visit. It can also be illuminating to visit libraries in other sectors – practices will obviously differ depending on the nature of the information service, but it can be interesting to see what different issues present themselves in another sector, and how common issues across sectors are handled.

Attending events virtually

There are always plenty of interesting meetings, talks, conferences etc. going on in the world – and chances are, most Globeof them will be miles away from where you live. In this day and age, that really shouldn’t be a problem (although it still is in some cases). Many events are now filmed and streamed live online, or made available as recordings after the event. For example, the “Mashed Libraries”[10] conferences have posted the presentations[11] and videos of the talks[12] online after the events have taken place.

Obviously, not all events organisers make it easy for you to attend events online. I think the Americans tend to do this better than we do – probably because it’s a much larger country, so they have more of a need to allow people who can’t travel to the venue in person to view the event online. As mentioned, I’m a member of the Special Libraries Association, which is based in the States. They provide free webinars for members, on library and information topics and general topics (for example, I watched a webinar in preparation for the New Professionals Conference on “Pain Free Public Speaking”), which can be attended live or watched online at a later date. They also provided a Virtual Conference[13] this to run alongside this year’s Annual Conference, for people who were unable to attend in person.

If the event you’re interested in is not being filmed for a webinar or streamed live, there are other ways to attend virtually. By far the simplest is to pay attention to services like Twitter. Twitter has become very useful for bringing together people attending events in person, and people who are interested but cannot attend. The idea is that people attending the event in person send short messages – Tweets – about the talk/presentation they are listening to. Anyone who is following them on Twitter can see these. If the event attendees use a hashtag (the # symbol followed by a word or acronym that represents the event. For example, the hashtag for the New Professionals Conference is #npc2010) then people can use this as a quick way to see all tweets from this one event. Live tweeting isn’t designed to give a comprehensive account of an event, but it’s a good way to get a feel for the ideas discussed and people’s reactions to them. Following an event hashtag is something you can do easily from your desktop at work – assuming your employer doesn’t block Twitter.

Awards and bursaries

Gold man holding trophyThe final resource for free and low cost CPD that I wanted to draw attention to was the myriad awards, bursaries and sponsorships available to information professionals. This is particularly true for students and new professionals. There are sponsorship opportunities available for all the main UK conferences, and several for overseas conferences, available to students and new entrants to the profession. These are advertised in various places, but probably the most useful way to keep up with them all is to sign up to the LIS-Awards email list. Opportunities for sponsored attendance to conferences and seminars are advertised on this list regularly.

Even if there are no sponsored places advertised for an event you are interested in attending, it is worth contacting the event organisers to find out if they can offer any free or subsidised places. Most people are willing to help out students, so take advantage of this while you can. It is also often possible to attend events for free or for low cost if you volunteer to help out at the event. This can be a really good way to get to events you wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend, as well as seeing more of how these events are run.


There are certain to be more opportunities for low cost CPD than I’ve mentioned here. I hope the examples I have described have provided some ideas to work with. Above all, taking charge of your CPD means taking the initiative. Ask around, talk to other professionals within and outside of your workplace, and find opportunities that work for you. No one is going to do this for you: but there are many ways to develop your skills on a shoestring if you are willing to look for them.

Hand reaching out

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuing_professional_development (Accessed 11 May 2010)

[2] http://otherlibrarian.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/ten-reasons-why-professional-librarian-is-an-oxymoron/ (Accessed 11 May 2010)

[3] http://www.emc.com/collateral/demos/microsites/idc-digital-universe/iview.htm (Accessed 11 May 2010)

[4] Charleston Observatory (2009), Libraries and the economic downturn. University College London. Available from: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/infostudies/research/ciber/charleston-survey.pdf (Accessed 20 May 2010)

[5] http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/Employees/Timeoffandholidays/DG_183635 (Accessed 21 May 2010)

[6] British and Irish Association of Law Librarians

[7] http://uklibraryblogs.pbworks.com/ (Accessed  20 May 2010)

[8] http://www.cilip.org.uk/membership/benefits/informed/online-databases/Pages/default.aspx (Accessed 20 May 2010)

[9] http://stephenslighthouse.com/2009/05/18/what-is-a-group-of-librarians/ (Accessed 26 Jun 2010)

[10] http://mashedlibrary.ning.com/ (Accessed 20 May 2010)

[11] http://www.slideshare.net/tag/middlemash (Accessed 20 May 2010)

[12] http://mashlib09.wordpress.com/2009/07/23/mash-oop-north-videos/ (Accessed 20 May 2010)

[13] http://s36.a2zinc.net/clients/sla/sla2010/public/Content.aspx?ID=99&sortMenu=101001 (Accessed 23 May 2010)

2 comments on “Taking charge of your Continuing Professional Development

  1. Thanks for including my article in your presentation. I think that the debate itself (as you suggest) is an exercising in developing the ‘stuff’ to demonstrate to people outside librarianship that our work is valuable.

    • Yes, I agree. Your post was rather provocative (to say the least!) but I think it’s necessary to be provocative, to make us question the things that we take for granted but perhaps aren’t quite so obvious to those outside the profession.

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