Career Strategies for Librarians
Finger on the Pulse: How to develop your own Continuing Professional Development (CPD) plan
by Robyn Ellard
You have just graduated with a library qualification, and you have your first library job. Finally, you can sit
back, put your feet up and rest on your laurels – right?
Some of my colleagues have proven themselves to be the most dynamic and adaptable professionals
because they have planned and maintained their own professional development. They understand the
needs of the workplace and their clients, keep up to date with the latest information and resources and
remain adaptable in an ever-changing environment.
Remember how easy it was when we were in library school to keep up with the latest developments and
research? But notice that now we are out of school, it takes a lot more self-motivation to keep developing
our professional knowledge. For this reason it is a good idea to have in place your own CPD plan.
So what is CPD and how can you jump on the bandwagon to become highly prized by your employer and
peers, I hear you ask? Well, read on for some handy hints.
Continuing Professional Development
There are very few professionals who have been unaffected by the rapid pace of change in their chosen
field over the past decade, and being a professional relies on the ability to respond quickly to this
change in the industry. Being involved in CPD in the library industry enables you to maintain and improve
your technical knowledge, professional skills and competencies. It allows you to remain flexible and
adaptable by keeping yourself up to date through activities such as professional reading, seminars,
courses and conferences.
Often for new librarians, being involved (formally or informally) in CPD can give the graduate an edge
when applying for positions or short-term contracts within the workplace or in being nominated for a
position on a committee.
Stay Current Virtually
Email lists can be a great place to begin your professional development. They are often informative,
interesting and usually don’t require too much work on your part -- but only if you don’t go crazy and
subscribe to hundreds! Rather, join a few interesting and relevant groups. Currently, for example, I am
on e-lists for SALIN (South Australian Library and Information Network), NewLib-L, NexGen and various
ALIA groups including ALIA New Graduates Group.
Discussions and topics on e-lists are as wide and varied as the people on them. The latest topics on
the lists I’m subscribed to have covered such interesting areas as stereotypical librarians, interesting
libraries around the world, the latest copyright issues, privacy laws and client confidentiality, career and
employment issues, workplace and employment advice, interesting links and articles found – the list
goes on. These e-list topics help us become aware of what the current issues are facing all sectors of
the library profession and can aid in helping committees and even library schools plan relevant events
and course programs.
The best thing, though, is that you get to ‘meet’ people virtually and informally while keeping up to date
on the latest developments of your industry. You will begin to recognise the names of other people who
contribute to the list, and later you may make a special effort to contact them regarding an issue or topic
with which you need assistance.
Once you begin to feel comfortable on your e-lists, you may like to contribute with an interesting and
informative post that could become the next hot topic. Contributing to lists can also provide increased
visibility for you as a professional, and you may just begin to have people contacting you off the list to ask
Professional Reading and E-Alerts
Professional reading is one of the best ways to learn about what is happening in the industry. I have set
up a few e-alerts for myself at work and once a month I receive emails listing the latest articles in my
favourite journals. If any look interesting or relevant I either download the article or search it out. I try to be
a browser and not overload myself with reading, as I never manage to read more than one or two articles
outside of work a month!
If you are a member of a library association try and read the magazines and literature they send around.
Often the information is very relevant to the sector in your town or state and it will keep you up to date with
the latest developments, and any conferences or seminars you might like to attend.
Publishing is valuable. Often I find the resources I've gathered when preparing to write something have
become valuable tools for my job. Your writing can also be useful to others -- what a kick it would be to
learn that one of your articles was being used and referenced by other librarians!
But I suggest you start small. Begin by posting emails to the lists you are on. Once you feel confident in
your writing skills, consider writing a short article for your association’s monthly newsletter or, like I have,
for a website such as LIScareer.com. Later, try teaming up with a senior colleague or other new
graduates to write for national or international journals. Recently some colleagues and I wrote an article
for the Australian Library Journal titled "Opportunities for the new generation: the formation of a
networking group." This refereed article was a wonderful way to learn more about what was happening
in the industry and has helped to raise my profile considerably.
Organised mentoring has become a huge part of CPD in the library industry in recent years and it can
offer huge benefits to your knowledge, experience and career. Just over a year ago I entered into a formal
mentoring programme through my position at an academic library. My mentor was wonderful; she gave
me the great opportunity to discuss ideas and opinions with her which would not have come up in my
everyday work. At the time I was employed in a non-professional role as a supervisor in Document
Delivery and my day revolved around copyright issues, broken-down photocopiers, and staff problems.
Mentoring gave me the chance to talk about libraries globally and the changes that were occurring in the
industry. Not long after my mentoring ended I was employed elsewhere as a professional librarian and
have since had the confidence to change jobs, which further developed my skills and competencies. I
now have a job as a reference librarian which I love, and interestingly, my mentor is also a reference
librarian. I still stay in contact with my mentor; she is the person I go to when I need advice from a well-
Mentoring can occur formally or informally. If you have no access to an organised mentoring programme,
try and find an established professional you feel comfortable with, and possibly one in a position you are
interested in. You don’t need to be formally mentored; instead you can approach your mentor when you
need advice about applying for positions or interviews, or maybe if you just want to discuss the library
world’s latest developments.
“Network, network, network!” This was the mantra Kate Sinclair recently used in her opening paragraph
of "Building New Generation Networks in Australia: A personal experience." At a recent ALIA New
Librarians’ Symposium 2002 we nicknamed the author of this paper the ‘networking queen’ for her
ability to get around and meet everyone. Her approach has led to her being asked to join ALIA’s National
Policy and Advisory Group (NGPAG), a committee that is made up of nominated members only; asked to
speak at a number of events; and featured in a newspaper in South Australia as a representative of the
new generation library graduate.
Networking gives you an excellent opportunity to meet like-minded people in the profession. Often these
people become valuable contacts that you may approach for advice in their area of expertise. Some may
even become good friends whom you enjoy meeting and catching up with at conferences and events.
Seminars and Conferences
To remain up to date and maintain your skill base, it is important to attend as many industry seminars
and conferences you can manage.
Conferences can be expensive so if you find you can’t afford to attend, watch out for ones being held in
your own state or city. Often organisers of conferences will plan workshops or breakout events that non-
conference goers can attend for a very reasonable cost. Also keep up to date with all emails or flyers you
receive about events and seminars that your local library associations are organising. These are often
very inexpensive and can be an amazing treasury of information. If you don’t think you will know anyone
there, invite another like-minded graduate or ask around your workplace to find out if anyone else is
It is at these grass-roots events and conferences that you will often hear about new ideas, be able to
gain new skills and remain current. Your networks will also increase your potential of becoming a
Become Involved in your Professional Association
Getting involved with your local professional association could be one of the most important aspects of
your professional development. Joining a professional association and becoming active in its
committees will increase your organisational and event management skills, and may even help you
develop ideas for publishing articles. Committees are the best places to meet, work and develop
professional relationships with people who will extend your views, increase your current awareness and
sometimes even inspire you. Sometimes these networks lead to job offers, publishing and presentation
opportunities. They often can develop into friendships that may last a lifetime, and will be invaluable to
your professional development.
Formalising your Continuing Professional Development
Many professional associations recognise the importance of CPD and encourage member involvement
by offering formalised CPD programmes that are recognised by many employers. If your association
offers this, I suggest you join up. Most of the activities I have suggested are recognised, so you will be
able to count the activities towards your programme. Just remember, the idea behind CPD is to extend
your knowledge and skills, not to make you work yourself into an early grave – accept that you cannot do
everything, all the time.
Baxter, Graeme “Professional development and the recently qualified information and library studies
professional: factors affecting success in attainment of the UK Library Association’s Associate status”
Education for Information 18 (2/3) 2000 p169
Bell, Steven “To keep up, go beyond: Developing a personal professional development plan using e-
resources outside the bounds of library literature” College and Research Libraries 61 (7) 2000 http:
Sinclair, Kate “Building New Generation Networks in Australia: A personal experience.” LIScareer.com,
Aug 2003 http://www.liscareer.com/sinclair_salin.htm
About the Author:
Robyn Ellard is a Reference Librarian in the Flexible Delivery Service of the Library, University of South
Australia. She is a co-founder of SALIN, the South Australian Library and Information Network, state Co-
Coordinator of ALIA New Graduates Group and committee member of ALIA SA, ALIA ARCoM and ALIA
Information Science. She is also the Programme Convenor for the 2nd ALIA New Librarians’
Symposium which will be held in Adelaide, South Australia in December 2004.
Article published Nov 2003
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.