Continuing Professional Development (CPD): Whose Business Is It?

The first post in this 2-part series, Continuing Professional Development: Minding Your Own Business, described how we can take responsibility for our professional development.

In this second post, Edward will talk about how our employers are responsible for our professional development, as well as the role of our library association. He also suggests ways we can partner our library school for more win-win collaborations.

“CPD is My Manager/Organisation’s Business”

But is that really true? As employees of an organisation, we tend to place a large responsibility for how our human resource department or library should provide us with professional development opportunities. You can start a conversation with the relevant colleagues at your organisation, and do a (gentle) evaluation of how well your organisation fares in engaging all staff in ongoing learning. You can try doing so with the table below:

Suggested rating scale: Excellent = ☑☑☑☑☑ Very Good = ☑☑☑☑
Okay = ☑☑☑ Needs Improvement = ☑☑ Yet to Start = ☑  
Image: checkmark by Kevin from the Noun Project.

The Competency Index for the Library Field is pertinent enough that it is cited multiple times within and appears as part of the appendix in the IFLA CPD Guidelines. According to the Guidelines, “it presents an excellent model that libraries should strive to follow”. This is applicable to small libraries as well, where the administrator or manager can use this long list of competencies as a way to track their own organisation’s emphasis on staff training and development.

Screenshot: Old but gold – Anyone can use this long list of competencies as a way to track your organisation’s emphasis on staff training and development. Source: WebJunction’s Competency Index for the Library Field (2014; p. 45 of PDF).

Overseer for staff development

It is rare to work in a library that has a person dedicated to staff development. It is unrealistic especially in smaller libraries, to have a professional solely focused on staff development. The argument here is to be clear about responsibilities relating to staff development. It is okay if this role is taken up by an administrator who has other duties.

The IFLA CPD Guidelines note that it is useful for this overseer to have adult education qualifications. It adds that “continuity in [this] position” is crucial. Is there such a person at your library taking up the role of an overseer for staff development? If yes, think about how you can help him or her to promote the best practices outlined in the IFLA CPD Guidelines.

If no, why not volunteer to take on such responsibilities? It can be part of your professional development learning plan!

Learning opportunities

Let us examine an example of good practice. A good illustration of providing a broad range of learning opportunities (in terms of formats & levels) is Edmonton Public Libraries, Canada. They emphasize a great deal on foundational training, which includes orienting new employees.

Screenshot: This slide states the different types of professional development that is happening at the Edmonton Public Library. Source: Tina Thomas shared an overview EPL’s approach to learning and development at this IFLA session.

Then there are ad-hoc sessions, which may sound familiar to some of you if they are practised at your organisation. For example, “Learn Grow Share” is a toolkit that allows staff to learn from each other. At my library, we call it “Lunch and Learn” because it is also a time when we have lunch together as a department.

The concept of “job exchanges” can be foreign for us. The goal is to exchange or swap jobs for a period of time. It can be seen as a method of cross-training, in order to increase employee’s understanding of how other departments operate. Tina Thomas shared that at Edmonton Public Library, branch managers spend up to 8 weeks at other branches.

Something similar started in Singapore some years called, known as “A Day in The Life Of …”. This allowed librarians from various academic institutions to visit another (as a small group) for a whole day. Topics covered in the programme were organic and developed by the participants themselves. This meant that participants could immerse themselves in topics and challenges that were of relevance and interest to them.

During the LAS Remaining Relevant webinar, Wu Jingjing presented on professional development opportunities that are available online. Her slides present an updated snapshot of what’s available on the World Wide Web, covering both fee-based and free courses. This can be handy for librarians who are unable to travel or would like to pick up new knowledge and skills from the comfort of their office.

A budget for staff development

We like to compare the types and levels of professional travel support we receive from our organisation among peers. However, these are anecdotal evidence. It is difficult to get data for comparison among libraries in Singapore.

Thankfully, Steve Cramer has compiled an excellent summary of travel support policies. He received this information from liaison librarians from 30 different libraries. The dollar amount stated in his summary may not be applicable to us locally, but the types of policies listed provide a clearer picture of how different libraries support their staff travel needs. They involve:

  • Specific dollar amount per librarian per year
    • With variations in who gets how much
    • Quirks, such as unspent money allowed to roll over for use in the following year, conference registration fees being excluded, and redistribution of unspent travel money close in the second half of fiscal year
  • Funding each staff for one conference a year (subject to budget)
  • A maximum spending per conference – up to X amount funded per conference
  • Variable percentage contributions for each conference – librarians get X% of costs covered
  • Additional funding which librarians can apply for (i.e. research support committee, organisation-wide professional development funds)

Gain clarity on your organisation or library’s budget when it comes to staff development. There should be clear documentation on what staff expenses your organisation will cover. The IFLA CPD Guidelines has recommended 2% of the personnel budget set aside for staff development if there is no clarity on your staff development policy.

Work time for learning

The IFLA CPD Guidelines does not prescribe a number in terms of how many work hours should be allocated to pursue learning. Ultimately, “learning” includes a broad range of activities, from informal projects to professional association work, and even writing and publishing. However, it is clear that “time for learning should be allowed within paid work hours”.

Many of us face this challenge of being unable to attend or volunteer for a LAS event due to work exigencies. Some may indicate conflicting schedules – “I have another meeting I need to attend at that time”.

Others may suggest discomfort seeking permission to be out of office from their supervisor – “Sorry, I think I need to be in the office…”.

This is a challenging situation because your employer is ultimately paying you for your time. You will need to find a persuasive way to convince your manager and colleagues.

Professional development is more than just attending LAS activities and library conferences. I want to introduce another activity that is crucial for learning: reflecting on one’s learning. Phoebe Lim (Chair, LAS Publications) advocated that we need to set aside time for reflection during her closing remarks at the LAS Remaining Relevant webinar.

For a useful guide, you can use the framework found in the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) Professional Development Scheme. Consider using their framework to evaluate your training experiences, to think about the relevance of your professional practice, and to link what you’ve learnt to what you know. Note down your findings, and also consider sharing them – for example, you can write a blog post here about your learning reflection. Writing a blog post like this can be an output of reflecting and building on what you’ve learnt!

Periodic evaluation of the staff development programme

Our HR office (whether within the Library or part of the organisation) plays an important role in ensuring that your professional development needs are adequately met, whether in providing learning opportunities or setting aside an appropriate budget for staff development. But the buck doesn’t stop there! You, too, have a role to play in providing feedback to your HR unit as to how best they can meet your professional development needs.

“CPD is LAS’ Business”

Other than the individual and the employee, there are two other parties that play an important role in advancing our profession: our library association, as well our library school (who is responsible for Library/Information Science (LIS) degree-granting programmes).

We can, and should, expect our library association to perform the following duties:

Screenshot: We have varying expectations of our library associations. I think IFLA provides a good set of parameters for any type of library association to measure their performance against. Source: IFLA CPD Guidelines, pp. 10-11.

Guidelines and recognition

In terms of guidelines, LAS has the LAS Professional Development Scheme, or PDS in short. This is our library association’s attempt to help us structure and undertake our personal learning objectives, and keep to the minimum number of learning activities for each cycle – every two years. The goal is to get us to document our professional development activities.

Similarly, ALIA also has a Professional Development Scheme. Each learning activity requires a (minimum) 50-word reflection in order to qualify for the points over a three-year period. It includes a Proficiency Recognition Program which recognises basic proficiencies for colleagues who are non-LIS qualified, including library support staff.

Learning needs & Coordination of efforts

LAS has always collaborated with various libraries in Singapore in hosting LAS activities and events. For example, the last few Training & Development events took place at Kwa Geok Choo Law Library in Singapore Management University, National University of Singapore, and the National Library Building.

In addition, the Council of Chief Librarians (CCL) set up a Staff Development working committee in 2018 to look into the learning needs of librarians going forward, known as ‘Librarian 4.0’. It documented the skills needed by today’s librarians, as well as created learning roadmaps. We can look forward to new initiatives being rolled out as a result of this assessment.

I am also convinced that we should align the LAS Training & Development committee closely with what the IFLA CPD Guidelines have established. Perhaps as a symbol of our commitment, we should change our committee’s name to Continuing Professional Development, or CPD for short! This will better reflect the role of the team within our library association.

Photograph of current (2017-2019) LAS Council members. Are you familiar with the office-bearers and Committee Chairs, who volunteer their time to serve LAS?

From left to right: Mr Yuan Ye (Chair, Business Development), Ms Krist Chan (Chair, Programmes & Social), Ms Jami So (Hon. Treasurer), Ms Valerie Siew (Hon. Secretary), Ms Samantha Ang (President), Ms Tan Chui Peng (Vice-President), Ms Low Jiaxin (Chair, Training & Development), Ms Melody Chin (Hon. Asst. Secretary, and Chair, Membership), Ms Phoebe Lim (Chair, Publications), Mr Jacky Wong (Chair, Website / IT). Source: LAS website.

Sponsorship of learning resources

Don’t forget that LAS has four types of awards that calls for applications every year. These could be awards that require your employer to recognise your efforts and to nominate you (e.g. LAS Professional Service Award, LAS Passion Award, LAS Outstanding Newcomer Award). The LAS Overseas Professional Development Sponsorship supports your conference participation, which you can use in conjunction with support from your employer.

For paraprofessionals who are considering graduate studies in library science (i.e. MLS or M.Sc Information Studies), there’s the LAS Library School Scholarship that can partially cover your tuition.

“CPD is the Library School’s Business”

Let’s turn out attention to the only library school in Singapore: Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has been offering the MSc in Information Studies for many years, providing one of the main avenues for many of our local librarians to achieve their library science qualifications.

Screenshot: The MSc in Information Studies curriculum offered at Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information – it has evolved over the years since the beginning in 1993! Source: Image from their curriculum webpage.

The elephant in the room: lack of accreditation

A common criticism is that our local MSc Information Studies offered by NTU is not accredited. The innuendo is that the programme does not adequately prepare their graduates for a career in libraries and archives. This is inaccurate.

Currently, the American Library Association (ALA) “accredits library programs on the master’s level within North America”. If you look at an ALA-accredited program, it can only be found at universities in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico.

If an exception is made, then the local programme would be at the front of the queue! The MSc (Information Studies) programme in NTU is listed as one of the recognised international degrees in LIS on ALA’s webpage. It even goes on to state that having a degree from NTU is “considered acceptable for employment in the United States.” If you have goals of working overseas, rest assured that your MSc Information Studies from NTU will not hinder you.

Perhaps a list of alumni who have worked overseas will persuade potential students and existing alumni that there is no disadvantage from being the only library school in Singapore. I know of at least a handful of such individuals, other than myself.

Are you still keen on an ALA-accredited program, but do not wish to relocate to North America? There is a long list of institutions that offer 100% online programs in ALA’s directory of ALA-accredited programs. Write in and ask them if they have had alumni who were based in Singapore when doing their distance learning.

Motivating students whilst pursuing continuing education

Let’s take a look at what some other library schools are doing as well. At the San Jose State University (SJSU) iSchool, they encourage their students to be involved with professional organisations. They walk the talk by giving a complimentary one-year membership in a professional association.

All MLIS students enrolled in their INFO 200 class at SJSU can pick one of these professional associations to join:

These associations all have an iSchool Student Chapter within.

Photograph of Dr Sandy Hirsh (Director, SJSU School of Information) presenting the “Library School / iSchool Perspective” and how they support the CPD Guidelines, during session #185. Source: Photograph taken by the author.

Here’s my suggestion for Singapore: Can our library school partner with LAS to provide a complimentary membership throughout their MSc in Information Studies, especially the year after graduation? Currently, full-time students of library and information science courses who wish to join LAS can do so under the associate membership type with an annual fee of $50.

This would provide many further opportunities and added value for MSc students on the Library Science categorisation. LAS could also expand their mentoring initiatives to include our library school graduates.

Encouraging LIS school involvement in continuing education

Another role of the library school is to provide vocational education not just to aspiring students, but also to provide continuing education for practising professionals. Are you familiar with the Executive Library Management Programme (ELMP)?

This is a collaboration between various instructors at our library school with LAS, to conduct a series of training classes for selected library professionals. These are meant for those who have experience working in libraries (or related), and those who already hold a higher degree qualification (e.g. Master, or PhD). They are nominated and recommended by their organisations to undergo this intensive programme.

CPD is Everyone’s Business

Congratulations for reading up to this point! I have covered the points I feel are relevant to local librarians in Singapore from the 83-page IFLA CPD Guidelines report. At the end of the day, everyone working in libraries has to take responsibility for their own continuing professional development. At the same time, this hopefully helps you to see how you can leverage on your employer and our library association.

This piece of writing was inspired after attending IFLA Congress 2018, session (#185) “Investing in the Library Workforce: Case Studies in the Effective Use of the 2016 IFLA Guidelines for Continuing Professional Development – Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning”. If you are interested to learn more, Monica Ertel has compiled the reports on what were discussed at the various table topics.

In the same session (#185), Karin Linder presented how the Swedish Library Association has implemented the CPD Guidelines in the Swedish context. She added that they were inspired from what they heard at a similar session (#109) at IFLA back in 2016 in Columbus, Ohio, U.S.

I am similarly inspired by what we can achieve in Singapore from implementing the IFLA CPD Guidelines, and I hope to be able to share what our library association has done at the IFLA Congress in 2020, happening in Auckland, New Zealand.

Photograph: From left: myself, Jami So (National Library Board, Singapore), Dr. Sandra Hirsh (San Jose State University, U.S.A.), Amarjeet K Gill, and Dr. Gina De Alwis (Singapore Institute of Management, Singapore), at Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning (CPDWL) Business Meeting (Session #240). Source: personal photograph.


A sincere thank you to Zhai Ye and Vincent Wong for their diligent proofreading and constructive criticism of this article. I would like to express sincere gratitude to my employer, New York University Shanghai, and WLIC Grant from LAS, for sponsoring the conference trip on which this article is based.

Contributed by:
Edward Lim
Reference and Research Services Librarian for Business
NYU Shanghai Library

Edward Lim is the recipient of the LAS-WLIC Grant 2018 and serves on the Training and Development committee of LAS. He is the Reference and Research Services Librarian for Business at New York University Shanghai. Follow @BarbarianEd on Twitter and ask him anything.