Stepping Up Career Development at Your Library

5 min read

| By Mary Kelly |

Just recently I had an age crisis at work. A young teen girl asked to borrow the phone on my desk. I pushed the desk phone toward her and said “sure, help yourself, dial 8 to get an outside line.” She stared at me and asked for a “real phone” since she didn’t know how to work those desk phones. I actually had to teach someone how to use a regular desktop phone. This was a first for me, as a librarian. This young teen had never used a traditional phone. In her world, the only kind of phone is a smartphone.

As I am chewing on this little fact, I realize that in my library career of nearly 20 years, I have seen an insane amount of change in technology. It really doesn’t seem all that long ago that computers were a “new” tool in libraries. I remember teaching my first computer class for library patrons and we had standing room only. Without a doubt, computers were an integral part of our daily practice as librarians.

Even as late as 2009 and 2010, my partner and I were regularly presenting a program to other librarians called “Tech Support is Reference” through conferences and other library training. The message of this program was that librarians had a duty to assist patrons regardless of what kind of questions they asked. At the time, there was significant resistance in the profession to assist patrons who asked “tech support” type questions. More than one library professional thought computers would ruin library reference service. (Part of me wants to be petty and say “I told you so” to those librarians who all but accused me of ruining the profession. Luckily, this is published on a website and since they hated computers so much, they will probably not notice my remark.)

The modern library professional isn’t going to last long in a library setting if they don’t embrace change in a very real way. Not only must librarians be knowledgeable, but we also must be able to communicate that knowledge through a variety of mediums. The implication is huge.  It is expected that a modern librarian will be knowledgeable about technology and that we be able to fashion that knowledge into usable content for a variety of learning styles. Regular and consistent training on new technologies, emerging topics and other subjects need to be ingrained as a regular part of the job. Combined with limited budgets and time for professional development means that most of us will have to do this without support.

So, it is time to be your own library patron.

Resources for learning new technologies and skills are more available than ever.  Someone has developed some type of tool in a variety of media to teach a people how to do everything from change a flat tire to complex mathematics. However, some of the more serious skills that I need to keep current and engaged require a bit more organization and structure. Gale Courses is my go-to option for keeping my skills in top shape, especially when it comes to technology-related topics.

Even though I have taught Excel long before I was in libraries, I still take Excel classes on Gale Courses fairly regularly. These courses force me into a regular routine of reviewing my material for teaching.  Since the scope of something like Excel is vast, you will never be done learning all the ins and outs. And of course, as soon as I feel comfortable, new features are added, changing everything I had felt competent about. Reviewing these concepts regularly keeps me current. I have created a curriculum plan for myself so I am as up to date as I can be. I am not necessarily trying to become an expert, but I am trying to make sure that I am not left behind because of technological changes.

Beyond career and skill building, there are also courses that are strictly personal growth or simply just interesting. Gale Courses is a wonderful tool to offer to patrons when addressing a specific need beyond a reference desk interaction. I have suggested courses in photography, ESL, creative writing, and gardening. Patron response has been enthusiastic for people looking for a more supportive and structured learning situation. Gale Courses are 6 weeks long and have about 2 lessons per week. There is an actual instructor and even classmates that provide a level of interaction that pushes these courses beyond tutorials and videos.

Keeping current in one’s job is not only part of a librarian’s career development, but also for our patrons. Improving our own skills helps keep our patrons current and relevant for their own jobs and interests. As any employer will understand, training staff is expensive and time-consuming. Offering options for our patrons through Gale Courses will improve their careers just as it does our own.

New updates! Gale Courses has a new interface and now offers foreign forgeign languages courses. The enhanced interface includes a mobile-responsive design, modern, intuitve featrures, and more options to engage with content. Italian, French, Japanese, and Spanish instructor-led language courses now available, as well as English as a second language.

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Holly Hibner Mary Kelly

Mary is an Adult Services Librarian at the Plymouth District Library in Plymouth, MI. She, too, is obsessed with collection quality, and has taken it up a notch with never ending shelf lists, spreadsheets, and inventory. Mary has a special knack for linking books to readers of all ages.

Together Mary and Holly are the authors of “Making a Collection Count: a holistic approach to library collection management. They also tweet at @awfullibbooks and blog at


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