An ongoing conversation about the changing landscape of public libraries.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Continuing Education

That’s right, I said it. The term that strikes fear in the hearts of lazy librarians everywhere! But there really is something intimidating about continuing education, isn’t there? Like when you’re graded on participation in school. Most people are perfectly willing to participate in a conversation, but now that their participation is being graded, the whole class is stressed out! Suddenly Suzie won’t shut her mouth and Steve is paralyzed with fear.

Does this have any relevance to continuing education? I don’t know. Maybe.

In 2002, Peter F. Drucker predicted the importance of continuing education for knowledge workers in our increasingly information-based society.

For most of human history a skilled worker had learned what he needed to learn by the time his apprenticeship was finished at 18 or 19. Not so with the modern knowledge-worker. Physicians, medical technicians in the pathology lab, computer-repair people, lawyers and human resource managers can scarcely keep up with developments in their fields. (Managing in the Next Society, St. Martin’s Press)

Our world is changing fast and continuing education is more important than ever. But what exactly is continuing education?

I think one problem is that most people (particularly, employers) think of continuing education in very narrow terms. Remember that week-long workshop in Syracuse that you attended partly to improve your job performance, but mostly to escape your job? Sure, that was continuing education, but there are other activities that help you become more knowledgeable and better at doing your job. Go into work tomorrow and tell your boss you want CE credits for watching TV. Not buying it? Try telling her about the PBS Frontline special Growing Up Online (2008) that documents the current experiences of teenagers with computers and the Internet. Is that a better argument?

Here are some other activities I would argue as continuing education:
  • Reading newspapers, professional journals, popular magazines, books. It's all good - everything from The New York Times to The Onion.
  • Listening to podcasts, CDs, and the radio. Try the new Jay-Z album that your YA librarian just bought 4 copies of. 
  • Watching television and movies. There is so much out there: anime, documentaries, foreign films, local news, etc. Substantive, popular, who cares! It’s all about variety.
  • Playing video games. You don’t have to master it, just give it a try.
  • Talking to colleagues. Inside your field, outside your field, doesn’t matter! People with a completely different perspective often have the most insight. For example, the best advice I receive about librarianship often comes not from my fellow librarians, but a friend who works in real estate.
  • Shopping. Seriously! Next time you’re in Barnes and Noble or a Virgin Megastore pay attention – is there anything public libraries can learn from these places?

If you work in a public library and you’re not doing all of these activities, then I urge you to start! If you are, then keep doing it, and feel good about it. It should be less about updating our resumes and keeping our supervisors at bay, and more about learning new things every single day and continuing to grow as people and professionals.

Image credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection.

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