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Career Strategies for Librarians
Functional and Stylistic Needs of Every Online Portfolio
by Christopher A. Brown

Blame it on the lingering natural instincts of one-upmanship associated with only-child syndrome, but I
cannot help regularly checking online to see how my portfolio compares with those of other information
specialists.  The need to hunt down the résumés, projects, and career goals of my peers has an
addictive quality that I can rarely resist.  Having spent my waking hours ferreting out these examples, I
can proudly say that I’ve seen hundreds of portfolios, both online and in print.  During my frequent
excursions online, I’ve noticed that many library professionals do a wonderful job of collecting their
accomplishments but do a poor job of showcasing them in an easy-to-follow online portfolio.

Online portfolios are a fantastic way to make a more well-rounded impression on potential employers.
However, this impression can quickly sour if a portfolio is not logically constructed.  The elucidation of
work that conversation provides is not available when that work is viewed alone or without the creator’s
knowledge.  All portfolios need to be well labeled, easy to follow, visually attractive, and regularly checked
for redundant information.  Just as importantly, they should be easy to navigate and viewable with
different types of computers and internet software.  Don’t forget to check frequently to assure that all links
and sub-pages are functioning properly.   

Does this mean that you must become a Web page guru, churning out technological masterpieces of
advanced coding and HTML work?  Of course not; it means that your online portfolio must be neat,
simple to understand, and organized so that future employers can view it online as well as offline. Many
individuals who have online portfolios have little or no knowledge of HTML code. Luckily there are several
Web editing programs available.  If you are enrolled in graduate school, you may be able to obtain a copy
of one of these programs for a reduced cost or for free, and you might be able to set up a computer-
based portfolio on your university’s Web space.  If you are not enrolled at a university, you will need to
purchase a Web editing program and Web space.  While this might appear to be a cost concern,
consider this: many individuals in your field already have online portfolios.  Each time they submit
applications, potential employers are granted the ability to learn about their accomplishments and
projects without paying the costs associated with a formal interview.  These individuals therefore have
an added advantage each time they apply for a position.  As online portfolios become more common,
employers are not going to wonder if you have one, but why you don’t have one.   

Organization

Organization is the most important underlying component of an electronic portfolio.  The information
must be arranged so that anyone can easily navigate through the page without getting lost or confused.  
When planning your online portfolio, first draw a radial diagram in a notebook depicting the information
you wish to place online.  Topics should lead logically out of the main Web page, and while some topics
might interlink, there should be clearly defined sections for each of your accomplishments.  After you do
this, ask yourself if your diagram properly resembles a starburst or if it has so many confusing lines and
circles that it looks more like a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.  If it’s the latter, you need to thin out the
information you want to include and arrange the pages and links in a more logical manner.   

Many electronic portfolios are well organized but lack a basic functionality that employers will be looking
for during the hiring process.  While searching for online portfolios, I have come across many individuals
who have an online version of their résumé that is not suitable for printing.  While it is helpful to have a
Web-based version, please remember that your future employers are human; they may misplace your
résumé or need additional copies for all the members of the hiring committee.  If you have an online
version that prints out on five pages due to odd spacing or one that prints in colors that do not photocopy
well, employers might overlook your résumé or disregard it completely.  To ensure that a paper copy is
always available, include word processing or PDF files of your résumé and all pertinent documents.   

Subsections and Links

When considering basic functionality, the information and style you choose should reflect a portfolio and
not a Web page.  Web pages are designed to share information with multiple groups of people; online
portfolios are designed to present information about your career to future employers.  For this reason,
certain features of Web design should not appear in an online portfolio.  While hunting for good
portfolios online, I have come across many individuals who include a guestbook along with their work.  
As happy as I am that Jane Doe’s Grandma Maxine loves Jane and the work she produces, I do not find
this information pertinent to Jane’s career.  Not only does this type of information detract from the
professional tone that Jane should be setting, it also creates a subsection on her page that does not
contain any of Jane’s work; this can lead to confusion for a potential employer.  Keep in mind that not
every member of a hiring committee or human resources department may be computer literate.  A future
employer who becomes lost among Grandma Maxine’s glowing comments may believe he or she has
exited your portfolio.  Once potential employers have navigated out of your portfolio, there is no guarantee
that they will take the time to go back and continue exploring your body of work.   

Keep this in mind when deciding to include external links in your portfolio: While it might be beneficial to
direct potential employers to outside sites, such as a Web page you have created or an article about you
in a local paper, remember that this also provides an opportunity for them to wander away from your
portfolio and into cyberspace.  Recently I stumbled across a portfolio created by an MLIS student who
used links to his disadvantage.  This student had a well-outlined portfolio, except for his links section,
where he provided links to his classmates’ online portfolios and several library-themed blogs.  In
addition to providing his future employer with examples of his work, this student was also providing an
extended job pool for the employer to peruse.

What to Include

Remember, the ultimate goal of any portfolio is to show the diverse and resourceful nature of its creator.  
The information you present to your future employer should reflect all of your qualifications positively.  
Portfolios must have variety; they should not be composed of only one type of document.  Use
pathfinders, displays, poster sessions, presentations, etc. to show future employers the multifaceted
capabilities that you will bring to their organization.  Include photographs of events you have organized
and positive comments from past employers to underscore your dedication to your work.   

Most importantly, remember to constantly review your portfolio as if you are a prospective employer.  Is
the layout attractive and easy to follow?  Do the items you’ve selected depict you in a positive and
versatile light?  Is the tone of your portfolio professional and inviting?  If you can confidently answer “yes”
to these questions, then you have already gained an advantage over many of your peers. You’ve provided
your future employer with a comprehensive impression of yourself that could not be conveyed by a
résumé alone.   

About the Author:

Christopher A. Brown is a Children's Librarian for the Free Library of Philadelphia.  He has maintained
an online portfolio (www.christopherabrown.com) for the past three years.  In his free time, Mr. Brown
enjoys discussing the writings of Kennilworthy Whisp, the tribulations of unfortunate orphans, and
computer-based portfolios.  

Article published Jan 2007

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