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Training and development for librarians: Why bother?

August 21, 2018

By Leo Appleton

A librarian's view on why training is strategically important in leading and managing library services

I was recently asked to draft a staff development policy for my university’s Library Services Department. The library staff are very proactive in seeking out and taking part in training and continual professional development (CPD), and at any one time we have awareness-raising and training sessions scheduled, staff lined up to attend professional conferences, and colleagues undertaking academic or accredited training programs. In addition, team members train each other in essential skills for using systems or software, and new employees are involved in induction training. This all makes for a wide variety of CPD activity, which is why the library management team thought it appropriate to develop a policy: so that we could have a strategic oversight over the training and development activities available to staff and ensure parity in accessing these opportunities.

I am in a very fortunate position, in that the driver for creating a staff development policy is an appetite for professional development. However, I am aware that others’ experiences of enabling and engaging staff in training and development is quite the opposite and that ambivalence, lack of enthusiasm and institutional culture can hinder a proactive training and development environment. Therefore, I think it is useful to start a staff development policy by questioning the need for CPD at all. Asking and answering “Why bother in the first place?” then allows discussion around the “How?” and “What?” of a policy.

Why bother? What’s the point of staff training and development?

For an organization to be effective and able to deliver its intended outcomes, its workforce needs to be skilled, competent and confident. In addition, the nature of libraries, across all sectors, means that they are subject to continual change, especially in today’s digital information environment. Similarly, the political and economic environments in which libraries operate mean that we need to be flexible, agile and continually evolving. In order for a library to embrace change, its workforce must continually develop its professional and technical skills. It could be argued that the ability for a library to sustain through strategically aligning itself with its parent institution is reason enough to bother with training and development, but there are many other reasons for library and information professionals to engage in CPD and for library managers to invest in it, including:

  • Motivation and morale:

    Library managers should always strive to have a motivated workforce. This is fundamental to successfully delivering excellent services. Equipping staff with the essential skills they need to perform and fulfil their roles can contribute to this. This might seem obvious, but I’ve encountered many library staff who don’t feel they have the skills to do what is expected of them. We need to respond to the ever-changing digital information environment, whether that takes the form of supporting new software or systems, providing IT support to library users, or just remaining aware of the range of digital resources available to library users. If library managers don’t invest in training and development to meet users’ changing demands, they will be left with demotivated and demoralized staff who lack the competencies and confidence to do their job through no fault of their own.

  • Reward and recognition: 

    Because of budget concerns or other reasons, not many library managers can reward staff financially for great work or going the extra mile. However, CPD opportunities are another way to recognize achievements and reward staff for extraordinary work. For example, you might have a team member who is demonstrating management or leadership skills, even though their role might not require them. To recognize these skills (and the attitudes and behaviors that accompany them), you might invite this individual to participate in a leadership program. Or you might encourage a library staff member who has demonstrated some innovative or creative practice to respond to a call for papers for a conference and provide the opportunity and support for them to attend. While the member of staff benefits from presenting (which is also good PR for your library), they will also learn and develop through their conference attendance.

  • Career development and advancement: 

    There are many roles and positions available in library, information and knowledge work, which means there are many opportunities for library professionals to have a diverse and rich career. In order for individual staff to realize their potential and gain new career experiences, they often need guidance, encouragement and support from their managers. Library leaders should try to manage the talent and aspirations within their teams through strategic staff development. An obvious example is encouraging potential managers and leaders to apply for the “next” level position within the management structure. But also remember that for library and information professionals who don’t want to be managers or leaders, enabling a variety of experiences and working environments can be equally important. CPD is a great way to accomplish this.

  • Team development: 

    While it is easy to recognize the needs of an individual, pay attention to team dynamics as well. “Change” often happens to a team as a whole, so by developing the whole team (or even the whole department) together, members of that team face the challenges and opportunities together. Or you may want a team to bond and get used to working together. “Away days” or team events can be used to enable this. Team development is particularly effective for new teams or when management and leadership teams undertake leadership development together.

But how do we find out what CPD our library staff require?

Library staff and library managers need to identify not only where training and development is appropriate, but also what kind development could be used. The provision of CPD within any library organization should be strategically informed and should enable the library to achieve its strategic goals. A well-informed staff development policy can be helpful in clarifying appropriate channels for identifying and commissioning staff training and CPD requirements. For many, the annual employee appraisal is a great opportunity to discuss individual performance and, more importantly, to set objectives for the coming year or planning cycle. In doing so, individuals should be able to discuss the type of development that would help fulfil individual and team objectives. It is important to take these discussions seriously and to act upon them, so that the review process is not seen as checking a box but as a fundamental part of service provision and strategic planning.

CPD should be continually discussed and considered — not just at review time — and having platforms for such discussion is good practice. Some library organizations might have a staff development committee that gathers staff training needs, organizes training programs, or scans mailing lists to ensure that staff are aware of external CPD opportunities. Similarly, library management teams can have “Training and CPD” as a standing item on their agenda to make sure that they can respond as and when training needs are identified.

But how do we actually do this CPD stuff?

So now that we have identified “why” we should bother with training and development and “how” we identify staff requirements, we can move on to “what” staff development actually looks like and how to make opportunities available. People often think only of conferences as soon as you mention CPD, but there are many forms of training for library professionals, including:

  • Conferences:

    One of the most stable and reliable CPD platforms is the tried and tested conference. In the academic library and scholarly publishing sectors, there are an abundance of professional conferences with many innovative learning opportunities. Conferences are effective on a number of levels. They allow you to discover emerging trends within your area of work or sector; share best practices or seek reassurance in how you are working with current trends; meet vendors and suppliers and discover new products and solutions; give something back to the profession through presentations; engage with inspirational practitioners; and network with library and information professionals from other organizations and sectors (Appleton, 2017).

  • Internal training programs: 

    If the library is part of a bigger organization (such as a local authority, university, or hospital) the human resources or staff development departments may have internal training programs for IT and software training, customer service training, or overall awareness of institutional activities and functions. These are useful baseline CPD activities and might even present other opportunities such as introductory management or supervision skills training. In addition, your library could complement an internal program with its own staff development events. Such events enable a responsive approach to staff development and ensure that staff training needs are continually being considered. Internal programs are also a very cost-effective way of delivering a critical mass of CPD.

  • External training programs:

    External library groups can range from local consortia to regional branches of your professional associations, such as the American Library Association (ALAopens in new tab/window) or the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIPopens in new tab/window). While many organizations have a program of events throughout the year (excluding conferences), they also provide excellent opportunities to attend specialist library and information-oriented events. Regional or sector wide groups — such as the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONULopens in new tab/window), the M25 Consortium of Academic Libraries (M25opens in new tab/window) or North West Academic Libraries (NoWALopens in new tab/window) — provide similar programs. They are all opportunities to receive practitioner-led training, share experiences and network externally.

  • Academic programs, vocational qualifications and professional accreditation: 

    Some staff members may need a more formal study program. This could be an academic program (for example, many academic librarians undertake teaching qualifications to develop their teaching practice). But a vocational qualification in library and information work, IT, media, or customer service might also be appropriate. In many instances, library staff can be encouraged to pursue professional recognition and accreditation by seeking chartership or fellowship of their professional associations.

  • Job shadowing:

    Job shadowing is another cost-effective way of enabling quality staff development, especially when someone needs to broaden their library and information experience. Job shadowing can be easily arranged internally, but it works best when the individuals involved have specific goals rather than just following each other around.

  • Coaching:

    For staff who are new to a position or facing specific challenges in their role, coaching can be a valuable source of CPD. It can be particularly useful for library staff who are in leadership or management positions for the first time or are working within a specific “change” program and need to discuss and resolve challenges. Your library may have the expertise within its own workforce to offer coaching opportunities, or a local consortium or network may offer coaching, both of which offer another cost-effective way of providing CPD (Hodges, 2017).

  • Mentoring: 

    Some libraries have internal mentoring programs in which staff members are “mentored” for a period of time by another staff member who has the experience and expertise to develop the mentee in their role. This can be very useful for library staff who gain new positions within the organizations and need some support to adjust to their new role. Mentoring can also be used as an effective CPD tool for all new members of staff (Hussey & Campbell-Meier, 2017; Hodges, 2017).

  • Reading groups:

    Reading groups can be encouraged among library staff and allow for reflective time to read and discuss relevant professional literature. Individual teams may have common interests (such as information literacy or critical librarianship) and can use a reading group to develop their understanding of the issues. As well as enabling reflection, critical thinking and discussion, reading groups are a great way of supporting teamwork and team development.

  • Scholarship:

    Many librarians are involved in very creative and innovative practice, and we all have a natural instinct to share our experiences and our good practice. Conferences are a great platform for this, as is writing for scholarly publication. Library and information sectors all over the world have active conference scenes and a wealth of academic and professional journal titles, all of which encourage contributions from practitioners. Encouraging and supporting library staff to become involved in library and information scholarship can be another great source of CPD, and a very motivational one for staff (Morris, 2017).

Closing reflections

This has been a very brief overview of the why, how and what of training and CPD within a library and information context. It is by no means comprehensive, and there are many more reasons for pursuing CPD and many more avenues for doing so. I hope my reflections have been useful and that they form a basis for discussion and consideration of why we “bother” with training and development. It has certainly allowed me to reflect on what is important to include in a staff development policy and has affirmed why CPD is so strategically important in leading and managing library services.

One other thing that CPD enables is reflection, and I am conscious that have not made enough mention of this. Time and space for reflection, for thinking critically about what we do in our day-to-day work and in planning our future work (or future role or career), is essential good practice, and all the CPD platforms that I have mentioned above allow for this. In our busy working environments, time for reflection can often feel like it is out of reach, but it is only through reflection that we can step back and look at what makes us effective. Time to reflect on our practice, on our skills and on our future is time well spent. And that is essentially why we need to “bother” with training and development.



Leo Appleton

Director of Library Services