Professional Development: Who, me? Ongoing professional development and the problem of ownership

Photo: CC0 by Justin Luebke

Photo CC_0 by Justin Luebke

For the next two weeks, the QUT Information Studies Group are taking over the ILN Blog to talk about Professional Development: 

 As an educator, there are two things I am particularly conscious of. Firstly, I want to make sure our students leave us knowing they are heading out into a learning profession and that when they leave us, they aren’t finished with learning by any means. Secondly, I want to help our students acquire the skills and confidence to own and look after their professional development.

As a PhD student, my principal supervisor once told me that my PhD wouldn’t be the defining piece of research for my career. It wouldn’t be my only research, and nor would – or should – it be the best. She told me that a PhD is just a license to do research. At the time, this was reassuring to me. It made me feel like it was okay for me to have my training wheels on and to lean on those training wheels (aka my supervisors!) when I felt like I needed to. It helped me to understand that my PhD wasn’t my life’s work and that was really reassuring at 2am when I just couldn’t wrap my head around some aspect of my research.

But in hindsight, I think the license analogy is useful in another way: it’s a reminder that you don’t just get a PhD and then bam! You are forevermore a qualified and capable researcher. Qualified? Yes. Capable? Well… That depends what capabilities we’re talking about. Because doing a PhD doesn’t teach you everything you could ever need to know about doing every type of research you might encounter during your career. It teaches you to think like a researcher, it helps you develop deep knowledge of a very narrow space, and it allows you to develop expertise with a specific methodology. The reality is, I still have a whole lot of learning ahead of me in my career. There will be people around me who will help me along the way, but I’ve handed in my training wheels and swapped them for a license that needs renewal, and renewing that license is my responsibility.

And I think the same is true for information professionals. Your degree gives you a license to be a librarian, but it doesn’t equip you with everything you could ever need to know about being an information professional. Try Googling “what I didn’t learn in library school” and you’ll see lots of commentary on the skills and knowledge people didn’t acquire through the process of getting their degree. Much of this commentary is framed as criticism of library and information science courses and as an educator I’m always keen to read these posts and reflect on them. But the fact is, we can’t teach you everything you need to know to have a career in librarianship, for several reasons. Firstly, our curriculums are jam packed. Most LIS courses in Australia are postgraduate courses and we don’t have you with us for very long. Secondly, this profession is dynamic and rapidly changing. Technological innovation has a significant impact on this field and the pace of change is fast. We constantly update our curriculums, but we can’t, for example, teach you all the tech skills you’ll need in 10 years time because we simply don’t know what the tech will look like. Thirdly – and building on the previous point – I believe it’s critically important that we help our students develop both a love of learning and an understanding of how to keep learning, independently and proactively.

I’ve got my researcher license now, but I need to keep renewing it (emphasis on the ‘I’!). In fact, I’ve got my librarian license too, and as an educator in this field, I also need to keep renewing that license. The same is true for library and information professionals. Your degree is your license, but you need to keep renewing it. That renewal is a constant process and the responsibility for it sits wholly and solely with you.

Let me say it a different way: My professional development is my responsibility. Not my supervisor’s. Not my organisation’s. Not the facilitator of the researcher development workshop I’m going to next week. Mine.

Likewise, your professional development is your responsibility. Not your supervisor’s. Not your organisation’s. Not the facilitator of the next course you go on. Yours.

This is probably the key message that will underpin all of our posts for this topic. You’ll see a Do-It-Yourself Professional Development flavour across all of our posts. Because I think I can speak for the whole team when I say we fundamentally believe that responsibility for professional development sits with the individual.

Yes, our employers have a responsibility to ensure we have access to training and development to help us do our jobs and develop as a professional.

But it’s our responsibility to have an overarching vision for our own career development and to proactively seek out opportunities to develop the skills, knowledge and aptitudes we need to develop as professionals, and to get where we want with our careers. My license is my license, and your license is your license.

If you’re involved in the International Librarians Network, I suspect you’re someone who is proactive about their professional development.

But I’d like to hear from you.

  • What are your thoughts about this?
  • Where do you think the responsibility for professional development rests?
  • How much of the responsibility sits with you, and how much with your employer?
  • Do you have a vision for your career development?
  • When was the last time you really invested your time or your money in developing yourself?

I’d also like to know what barriers exist for you around professional development? What stops you from acquiring new skills and knowledge? Lack of time? Lack of motivation? (And lack of motivation is completely legitimate. Sometimes we just get stuck.) Money? Not knowing where to start? Not knowing what skills you need to acquire?

We want to tailor the posts we make over the next fortnight so we can help you to be proactive about your professional development. So comment here and tell us what you think, and what you need. We’d love to hear from you.

– Kate Davis

Posted in Discussion topics, Round 2016A and tagged , , , .


  1. Hi Kate. I am a first semester student in your Master of Info Science: Library & Info Practice. It has been an enlightening journey these past months. I’ve been raising my kids and finally now that they are catching public transport to school I have an opportunity to study this course.
    Two points that come to mind straight away about the challenges of PD.
    1. We have been hearing about how important networking is & attending and volunteering at conferences. I’m
    Hopefully that I can, but my children are still young so I can’t commit myself to PD like I might’ve in my twenties. I wonder how others juggling motherhood find the time for a lot of PD…
    2. This course, like any uni degree, is very expensive. I truly feel lucky to be able to afford it so that I can learn so much of your great curriculum. But what if others who don’t have access to such teachings?

    • Hi Kelly

      Thanks for your comment. You’ve made a couple of great points here.

      As I write, I’m sitting at a cafe having a sneaky coffee and muffin on the way home from the school run, thinking the treats might entice me to do some work I’ve been putting off. I can do this today because the school pick up is later thanks to dancing, so I can trade the time off. I’m only an aunty and I struggle with finding time for everything, and I know that as a mother, your time is even tighter.

      A wise colleague once said to me ‘it’s not my season’, referring to the fact that as a mother of small children, she wasn’t in a place at that point in time to do some of the ‘extra curricular’ work stuff she’d like to be doing. A couple of years later, she’s picked some of that stuff up again. I think we have to keep it real and the reality is we can’t do everything all at once. So as the mother of young children and a new graduate, you mightn’t be going to every event and speaking at every conference, but that’s okay. You just need to find some balance between the different aspects of your life, prioritising what is most important to you and leaving the things that are lower down the list. I’m going to leave it there, because I think this would make a good blog post topic, so I’m going to see what we can come up with to post in the next ten days or so. I’ve also got a post coming up about being too busy for PD, so keep an eye out for that one too.

      On the second point you make here: one of the great things about this profession is that we all fundamentally believe in the value of openness and sharing. And that means there is great free stuff out there that you can draw on as part of your professional development. Kate Devitt has a post coming up that presents one option, but I’ll see what else we can pull together in the next little while.

      Stay tuned!

    • Hi Kelly

      You going to really enjoy the Master of Info Science: Library & Info Practice. Kate and all the lecturers in the Master’s program are great and very supportive of their students. Good-luck and I hope all your dreams will come true.

      Cheers Jenny

  2. Hi Kate

    1. Where do you think the responsibility sits with you, and how much with your employer?

    For me the responsibility of professional development sits with me not my employer. In my experience I have never had support of my employer in regards to my professional development. This cause me to continue my professional development at night and by distance education. However, I think that the responsibility of employer is to give encouragement to their employees to continue to learn. This will make employees and the workplace a happier environment.

    2. Do you have a vision for your careers development?

    I do have a vision for my careers development however I am not sure that it will ever happen.

    3. When was the time you really invested your time or your money in development yourself?

    In away all my educational achievements, ACT School Certificate, Associated Diploma of Arts in Library Studies, Bachelor of Arts in Library Studies and Master of Information Technology (Library & Information Sciences) was to give me

    • Self confidence
    • Show people that I can do it – Self Esteem

    I stop work for number of years to look after my parents so I know that I will never work in library environment again. To keep my Library skills up to date I have participated in Library Professional on Facebook, Library Camp, International Librarian Network and my Master Degree.

    I did enjoy the research unit INN690 in the master degree. This allow me to see what was involve in doing research. This started me to think about doing a Master of Research to finish my project from INN690. However, due to being unemployed money was one of the issue that stop me from starting a Research degree. Another issue was my age. I wondering should age be factor in people thinking when deciding on acquiring new skills and knowledge?

    • It’s great to see you are so committed to your development Jenny.

      Is age a factor? Well, I think there are lots of different factors that come into play when we’re deciding whether to pursue study or any other PD really, and these are personal things that are different for all of us. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer! I guess it’s about working out what’s best for you personally.

  3. Hi Davis. Love your write up. I agree that professional Development lies mainly on the individual but institutional/organizational factors play a great role to the individual’s professional development. The person (Like me) may be proactive like you said and want to grow professionally, but the institution just not have or provide opportunities (that i know other institutions provide) to help individuals grow. And self sponsorship (finance) is not easy with the fact that ones self development also contributes to the institution’s development and growth.
    Another thing is practicing and keeping up to date with what one has acquired from such development.E.g.Professional development requires one learning how to use a particular software, but after learning how to use the software, the institution in which one works does not have the software, so that becomes a problem.

    • Hi Ufuoma

      Thank you for your comment it really started me to think about these issues and how we could change that culture. However, if we do not continue to enjoy reading and learning how will our society change. I believe that individual’s professional development also helps universities and educational institutions to find out what students and organizations needs and hopefully in time change their programs to reflex that. I was wondering have you got any ideas how we could change this culture and help everyone to enjoy the wonderful world of reading and learning?

      Thank you Jenny

    • Organisations do have a responsibility to provide training and development opportunities, but I believe the onus for developing a strategic approach to PD lies with the individual. We need to work with our organisations to achieve our PD plans, but I really believe we need to own this.

      On the issue of self funding: there are limits to what we can do, for sure. But I don’t have any concerns about the fact my organisation might benefit from me funding some of my PD. That’s because I know it’s my students who will benefit at the end of the day. If I worked in a library, it would be my customers benefiting, and I’d be very happy about that too. Actually, my colleague Andrew wrote something related to this today:

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. Like others I feel that the responsibility of PD lies with ourselves – to remain curious and openly engage in areas of our profession. I do feel that workplaces need to support staff in this endeavor so as to enable equitable opportunities – monetary funding can make a difference as to whether or not you can attend events.
    I am curious as to whether any workplaces provide repositories or applications for staff to record and share their PD?

    • Absolutely, organisations should provide support for our PD and conferences etc are expensive. But there are also lots of events around that are free or very inexpensive, and many opportunities other than events. In fact, I think most of my learning happens outside events.

      I’m not sure about whether any organisations provide repositories, but I’ve written a report on an event for the rest of the organisation before, and also presented on one. I think conference debrief sessions are a great idea. ALIA Queensland often runs a reprise after a conference where people who went talk about what they learned, and people that presented reprise their presentations.

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. Hello all.
    Kate, wise advice to Kelly, to ‘keep it real..’. Indeed, we can’t do it all, even less all in one season. There is so much to learn. My turn came late in life, to pursue this career. That brings me to a response to Jennifer… I took the approach that to me personally, age was not going to be a factor. However, it’s a fact that when people interact with an older person they have preconditioned opinions and/or prejudices, and it’s up to us to prove that our skills and knowledge are current, and that we are active professionals. That is why I engage a lot in PD opportunities, many offered free via MOOCs. I attend free workshops where I can, and also view various Webinars. is a good resource for librarian webinars, and once registered, you’re sent the link after the event which allows you to view it at your leisure, as they realise that time zones make it impossible for everyone to join the live event.
    Being unemployed does not necessarily mean I may have more time than others. I have a busy household, I help to run my son’s freelancing business, and I volunteer 3 days a week in a library (which I find to be the best form of PD right now). Unemployment does, however, inhibit my choices as to what I can partake in, for e.g. conferences and travel are often too costly. It means, though, that I have to be more exploratory to find opportunities that are available to me.
    My eye remains on the end goal… to work in a library, to gain knowledge and skills, and to remain an active professional.
    In my opinion, PD is a personal responsibility, but I agree with Jeannine that, if you’re employed, the workplace should offer assistance or, at least, encouragement. Otherwise, lets just keep encouraging each other. The ILN is perfect for that.

    • Yep organisations should definitely offer encouragement. I’ve had that in the past, e.g. I’ve self funded conferences and been allowed to go on work time. is a great tip. Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to check it out.

      I understand that access to some opportunities would be limited if you aren’t employed, but you seem to be really motivated and working hard on your development. Good on you!

      I wish you all the best!

  6. Dear Ms Davis, Your write up has led me to ponder over the thought as to how much time I had devoted myself towards profesional development since I completed my PhD. Except for a few research papers prepared for national and international seminars and occassional writeups for chapters in edited books, I have’nt done much. The responsibility of PD lies totally on us and only responsibility of the employer is to motivate us and create opportunities for his staff. In order to gain knowledge and skill I try to lay my hands outside my allotted work. Working 5 days a week for 7 to 8 hours eachday besides managing a busy household leaves very less time for myself. On top of that I spent 2 hrs volunteer service in a small public library in my weekends.But ILN programme helps in motivating and act as a driving force towards career development. This is the reason I joined the programme once again and may be I am waiting for the right opportunity which I can grab for my PD.Only dreaming doesnot help, realising the dreams and following those dreams is what helps.

    • I know it’s really hard to fit it all in. I struggle with the balance, and I don’t know what the answer is. Or rather, I think the answer is different for all of us. But it does sound to me like you are progressing your development. We just have to keep moving forward, even if sometimes it’s slow going.

  7. Pingback: Professional Development: Practical strategies for looking after your PD | International Librarians Network

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