Creating the professional development opportunities you want – part one

On October 19 Megan and I presented ‘Creating the professional development opportunities you want’ at the Worldwide Virtual Library Conference 2.103. The session was recorded and we will publish our presentation here over two blog posts.

In this two part series we’ll share our Heroes Mingle philosophy, the technological tools we use and the lessons we’ve learned in taking control of our own professional development pathway.

Introduction
The predominant model of library professional development in New Zealand favours staff in large metropolitan areas with the financial means to pay for attendance and the capacity to cover staff absences. It also favours staff who need to learn stuff because it is directly related to their job rather than staff who are interested in learning stuff.

Heroes Mingle has turned that model on its head by creating professional development opportunities that are free, online, after hours and of interest to staff working across all library sectors.

It all began in 2011 with a simple question.

A little research can go a long way
I’m the kind of librarian who asks a lot of questions.  I want to know what people think, how they view the world and what we may have in common. After nearly 20 years in the profession I know I have over-stepped the mark when people roll their eyes at me, sigh deeply, or change the subject of a conversation because I have asked too many questions. But I also know that making assumptions can be costly when investments in time and resources don’t produce value. As the saying goes ‘time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’.

In 2011 I wanted to know what challenges New Zealand librarians were facing. Why? Because I wanted to know rather than assume that global challenges were also local challenges. The best way for me to find out was to ask.

Give 32 librarians 30 minutes to discuss the challenges they will face in the next year and what happens? The room ignites and 141 challenges are identified without much thought at all. Ask them to spend the next 30 minutes discussing ideas to overcome just five of these challenges and what happens? The room erupts and 165 ideas are proposed. That was the power of unleashing the expertise of the audience in the Ideas Factory workshop I facilitated at the LIANZA Conference two years ago.

Following a three month period of online voting and comments two challenges emerged above all others: relationship building with stakeholders, and staff development.

Through my blog and the Library Association’s regular newsletter I asked for volunteers to make something happen; volunteers who wanted to address these challenges.

I wrote:

  • I don’t know how it is going to work.
  • I don’t know if it will work.
  • I don’t know how difficult it will be.
  • I don’t know how much time it will take.
  • I don’t know if it will work in your library.
  • I don’t know how much it will cost.
  • I don’t know who else will be involved.
  • I don’t know what LIANZA, APLM or National Library think.
  • I don’t know if it will result in a groovy national initiative that EVERYONE will want to be a part of.
  • I don’t know the answers.

I do know that I want to try.

I do know that I want to at least start.

It’s not going to be perfect. But it will be rapid because these challenges need to be addressed NOW.

Will you help me?

  • You might have experience.
  • You might have community insight.
  • You might know something that will stop us reinventing the wheel.
  • You might have already done some background reading.
  • You might have a solution you’d like to try in your library.
  • You might be interested in testing our potential solutions.
  • You might desperately want to address one or both of these challenges.

Do you have the guts to say ‘Yes’?

This wasn’t a working party, committee or sub-group of the Association; this was just me wanting to work with others on possible solutions. Four people initially volunteered to look at making something happen in the area of staff development, but after the first meeting only one, Megan Ingle, had the guts to say ‘Yes’.

Keep it real
The excitement of a new project with lots of potential can easily get bogged down or side-tracked by detailed discussions of solutions that will fulfil all our dreams but are actually beyond our capability to deliver. Megan and I realised this during our second weekly meeting.

In our first meeting we had discussed several challenges and barriers relating to the complexities of staff development such as the difference between professional development, personal development and staff development, and who was responsible for each. In the second meeting we decided to focus on how we as two individuals could influence others working in New Zealand libraries to undertake their own professional development. We felt this was realistic and achievable.

We thought about the kinds of staff development opportunities that would excite us – free, online, after hours and New Zealand focussed. We wanted to show that something could be done, that it could happen across library sectors, and that cost didn’t have to be prohibiting factor. Making it free, after hours and online meant that we were removing some barriers to existing professional development. People should be able to find time to come along without asking for permission from the boss, without the need for funding or the need to travel.

We also thought about how we could use our current skillsets such as: experience in the profession, strong networks, project management, willingness to experiment, social media presence and communication skills. And we thought about how we could actually bring these things together and offer it to others.

By our third meeting we had a potential solution and by the fourth meeting we were working out the nuts and bolts of what it could look like.

Some people might look at our first four weeks and think ‘no way can I achieve that much in such a short space of time’ but think about this: Megan and I had only met face-to-face at the initial workshop and had not connected online prior to this venture. All our meetings were conducted via teleconference or Skype. We didn’t know each other but we wanted to achieve similar things. Everything flowed when we kept it grounded and realistic.

Dream for possibilities
Heroes Mingle is our collaborative name. It tells a story about two librarians who do more than dream big. Two librarians who want more from the profession than just turning up to work to do a good job. Two librarians who, just like many other heroic characters aren’t going to wait for someone else to solve our problems; who have the guts to say yes, take a leap of faith; and make something happen.

Our first Heroes Mingle venture was called Reality Librarianship: Up Close and Personal and was held in May and June of 2012. This was a series of three free virtual professional development opportunities for library staff across all sectors. Each event was a conversation between a guest, facilitator and participants talking about experiences that they had made happen. We wanted learning to occur through conversations because conversations are where ideas happen and connections are made. Megan and I acknowledged that we weren’t experts and we didn’t have all the answers but we wanted to learn from others and see where the conversations led.

The events were held using the free virtual meeting software Anymeeting.com. We could have undertaken a pre-recorded interview with our guest, and we could have recorded the conversation as it happened. But we didn’t. We didn’t want a passive audience sitting alone at their computers listening to ‘an expert’ at a time that suited them.  We wanted people who were keen to be part of the conversation with our guests and other members of the audience. We wanted people to take responsibility for their professional development and not expect others to do it for them.

When we were in the planning stages of Reality Librarianship we talked about our measures of success. As Megan and I were stepping into new territory we weren’t sure what would happen. So for Up Close and Personal we decided we would be happy if three participants attended each session. We figured that between us we could at least rustle up three people we knew who would come along. Little did we know we should have dreamed a little bigger. Over 50 people turned up for a single event and 185 across all three. We were blown away by the response and slightly panicky. We weren’t expecting to have to worry about virtual crowd control!

There is more than one solution
Buoyed by the success of our first venture Megan and I began planning more professional development opportunities for New Zealand library staff.

We wanted to flip professional development on its head.

In the traditional professional development model material is usually presented via a workshop or presentation with a sage on the stage. In Reality Librarianship we flipped this into a conversation between our guest and audience. When you have a conversation you are levelling the playing field, organisational hierarchies are diminished enabling all voices to be heard. We are all experts in a conversation.

As I’ve already mentioned Reality Librarianship was online so you could be located anywhere in New Zealand and after hours so you could be comfy in front of the fire. We weren’t limited to a physical space and accepted up to 200 participants from across all library sectors. It was also free and to ensure maximum relevance for participants each Reality Librarianship event lasted just 30 minutes.

And, I suppose another flip was that instead of professional development being organised by a library sector, professional association or an organisation like your library, Megan and I organised it ourselves.

In September 2012 we launched an online book discussion group on The Atlas of New Librarianship and were honoured to have R. David Lankes present a free webinar to kick-start the discussion. Run over a period of four weeks we facilitated two groups (with volunteer assistance) each discussing a different conversation thread of the Atlas via Skype. We had 6-8 active participants from all library sectors and I’m sure we boosted the number of Atlas’ purchased in this part of the world.

The Atlas discussion group was probably a bit ahead of its time to be honest. Most of us hadn’t even read it before we met and as it is a very intense book a lot of the discussions were spent trying to get our head around putting the richness of the Atlas into practical terms. We had some great discussions but I don’t think we progressed those discussions as far as Megan and I had hoped. Perhaps these will come into fruition in the future when we’ve had time to digest its content and share our thoughts more widely.

So that was 2012 – exhilarating, nerve-wracking and full of awesome. Roll on 2013.

In June this year we launched the second Reality Librarianship series using the same format as in 2012 but with the theme of Community Partnerships. Megan and I wanted to hear, share and learn from librarians involved in successful partnerships with their communities. We aimed for 30 people attending each session and attracted an average of 29 per event. We were rapt!

Since then we’ve become immersed in online learning in various ways through 23mobilethings, The Atlas of New Librarianship MOOC and The Hyperlinked Library MOOC. We’re exploring new ideas, new thinking and new projects with the same goal we started out with “how we as individuals can influence others working in New Zealand libraries to undertake their own professional development”. We’re not done yet and we’re looking forward to offering new Heroes Mingle ventures in the coming years.

Tomorrow Megan will continue this post by sharing some of the less tangible aspects of Heroes Mingle such as what worked for us and the lessons we’ve learned in taking control of our own professional development pathway.

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2 thoughts on “Creating the professional development opportunities you want – part one

  1. Pingback: Heroes Mingle write about their professional development initiatives | The Room of Infinite Diligence

  2. Pingback: How to reinvent librarians: five top tips from around the world | Public Leaders Network | Guardian Professional | New York Library Club, Inc.

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