Continuing Professional Development: Minding Your Own Business


Edward summarises the IFLA Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Guidelines. He highlights important points that should resonate with us – as individual librarians and learners.

This is the first of a two-part series on how we can take control of our own continuing professional development.


IFLA Guidelines for Continuing Professional Development: Principles and Best Practices is an important document (and also a mouthful, so it will be referred to as IFLA CPD Guidelines). It covers the breadth and scope of professional development, and was last updated in 2016. I will walk through the key points raised in the IFLA CPD Guidelines with personal examples.

I was never aware of such a document – until Vivian Lewis (University Librarian at McMaster University) presented during session #185. She shared the summary of the principles and guidelines and evaluated her own professional development, as well as efforts by her organisation, based on the best practices.

“CPD is My Own Business”

Let’s start off with a self-evaluation activity on how your learning journey has been.

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

Assessing your skills

A good way to assess your own skills is to study job descriptions. Now, this does not mean you are looking for a new job in another organisation! This exercise may surprise you when you discover what skills are in demand for job openings.

For example, a recent paper studied job advertisements for data librarians. 70% required an understanding of “proprietary or Open Source statistical software packages (such as R, SPSS, Stata, SAS, Python, NVivo)”. If you are currently a data librarian or aspiring to be one, this is a quick way to find out if your current skills are relevant.

Screenshot: San Jose State University (SJSU) iSchool recently published a slide deck analysing job postings in Spring 2018. It illustrates the career trends which are relevant not only to library school students who are getting into the job market, but also current professionals like ourselves on how we can expand our career options. Source: MLIS Skills At Work, p. 15.

For a regional perspective, iGroup (Asia Pacific) regularly posts job advertisements on LibraryLearningSpace. How about our local scene? LAS has an excellent Jobs Board containing job openings in Singapore starting from January 2013. You could track job openings in a particular field, or for the entire year.

Therefore, keep a lookout for job openings that are similar to your current position. This way, you have a list of skills (and job responsibilities) that you can compare against. This is an effective way to check for blind spots.

Whether you are a marketing and outreach librarian or a subject liaison librarian, there are checklists for your particular role. When I joined the profession as a subject liaison librarian, my then-university librarian sent us a list of questions to evaluate ourselves. Some of these questions are:

  • What are the relevant LC/Dewey classification numbers that cover your subject area?
  • How many users (i.e. students and staff) are studying or doing research in your subject area [within the institution]?
  • Which are the important databases in your subject area? Which are the top 5–10 journals in your subject area?
  • Which are the major professional societies and institutions that users in your subject area are familiar with? Which educational institutions are well known or rated highly in the field of study on your subject?
  • What are the 3–5 ‘hot’ topics and research areas in your subject now? Use them as conversation starters with your users!

Lastly, speak to experienced librarians you know and meet. They will be happy to give you pointers on how they evaluate themselves, and how it can be relevant for you.

Participating in annual performance appraisals

Regular performance review is likely to be pervasive to organisations in Singapore. Resist the temptation to ignore your performance appraisal, or to downgrade it as part of the bureaucratic process in our organisation. Make the most out of your organisation’s performance appraisal cycle. Use it to obtain feedback on how you can work on your professional development.

More importantly, make full use of your one-to-one meetings with your managers (or if you do not have regular one-to-one meetings, start planning for them). Claire Lew, the CEO of Know Your Team, has an excellent template on coming up with a one-to-one meeting agenda. In a nutshell, she proposes this framework to help you make full use of your one-to-one time:

  1. Catching up (5 minutes)
  2. Pick 1–3 topics to cover (30 minutes)
    1. Concerns / issues
    1. Asking for feedback
    1. Career Development
  3. Takeaways / next steps (5 minutes)

Do you struggle with recalling what projects you were working on a few months ago? I suggest using the timeboxing technique. It can help you keep a historical record of your critical work. (Basically, you need to allocate items on your to-do list to a specific time slot in your calendar. More on this technique two sections later.)

Seeking out opportunities to close your competency gaps

Competency lists are rather popular in our profession. They present a list of points that help us to track what we should be equipped with in order to perform our role competently.

The IFLA CPD Guidelines suggests starting with Competency Index for the Library Field (2014) compiled by WebJunction. It presents various specializations within our field.

In addition, NASIG (formerly the North American Serials Interest Group) has published documents on core competencies for electronic resources librarians, print serials management, and scholarly communication librarians. Find one that covers your library department or function.

For example, an interlibrary loan librarian can use the STAR Checklist. It helped me to “review and reflect on the policies and processes” of our interlibrary loan service. It provides an actual score based on a points system. This reflects “the level of engagement in the activities / initiatives / services / policies represented in the Checklist”.

Screenshot: Checklists can appear to be boring, but they can have an impact when used appropriately. In my case, it was a conversation starter on how we could improve our interlibrary loan services to match ‘prevailing standards’. Source: STAR Checklist PDF.

Our local librarians have also contributed to the development of competency frameworks. Recently, Akbar Hakim presented on a ‘knowledge-competence framework’ for the academic business librarian at the ABLD-EBSLG-APBSLG Joint Conference & Meeting in 2016.

Are you a mid-career librarian who is seeking to take on a managerial role at work or display leadership in your field? There’s even a list of foundational leadership and management competencies that can support your development. It was developed by the Library Leadership & Management Association (LLAMA, a division of American Library Association). 

Take note that a competency list cannot be used in isolation. Yes, it is used for self-assessment, but you will benefit more if another qualified party can give you feedback on your gaps in knowledge and skills. You should also speak to peers and mentors in identifying your learning needs.

Developing your personal learning plan

We belong to a highly resourceful and educated profession. Our peers are capable of identifying their learning needs, as well as the options available to ‘level-up’ their skills.

The IFLA CPD Guidelines state that once we have identified the options available that can meet our learning needs, the focus should be on “determining quality” – in short, we need to filter and prioritise.

This can be a difficult task given the “plethora of new learning formats, from mini-tutorials to full-length online courses”.

What should guide us in prioritising which learning to pursue? The IFLA CPD Guidelines state that we, as employees,

should give priority to learning that will improve their current performance and that is supported by the employer. Learning relevant for a new position should, if not supported by the employer, be conducted by the individual using personal time and resources (p. 23).

Focus on what can make you better at projects you have currently. If there are new areas you wish to pursue, and your employer is not agreeable, be prepared to bootstrap and spend personal time.

This is why the IFLA CPD Guidelines hint at how a “personal current awareness system” is crucial. I often hear complaints that employers are not supportive, or unable to support such options. We will need to get creative to explore new learning opportunities or accept the unavailability of certain options.

Seeking the learning needed going forward

The IFLA CPD Guidelines notes that “it is most important to realize that professional development needs to be a part of daily work” (p. 22). Setting aside time for learning is not an urgent task, but crucial in your professional development.

In my first month as an assistant librarian, I met an enlightened colleague who shared her weekly plan with me. This involved setting aside chunks of your time dedicated to professional development. This can be time spent reading journal articles, watching webinars, or writing and publishing. When I struggled with taking on more responsibilities at work, another colleague suggested the same strategy to me.

Most importantly, you need to block out several hours each week on your calendar for professional development. We know how easy it is to procrastinate on these tasks. Again, consider using the timeboxing technique.

Screenshot: This is how timeboxing looks. It will help you keep track of how you are spending your time with your events and projects, as well as set aside time for professional development. Source: My Google Calendar for work.

A personal learning plan does not mean you need to be doing it alone, by yourself! For example, webinars may be of interest not just to you, but also your colleagues. Schedule time in your calendar to watch the webinar together, because this forces you to make time for your professional development. If possible, set aside time to discuss how relevant the learning was to each of you. Remember social learning is a powerful motivator!

Summary: Take responsibility for your professional development

Professional development is more than just attending LAS activities and library conferences. You need to assess your own skills periodically, just like how your organisation does an annual appraisal of your performance. Come up with your personal learning plan, and address gaps in your competencies.

It is in everyone’s interest that we have time for our own professional development. Guard your professional development time zealously, and ensure that it is part of your work schedule. Try not to schedule this outside of work time, because this will disrupt your work-life balance.

Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series of IFLA CPD Guidelines. In the next post, I will focus on the role of your employer, library associations, and even library schools in your professional development. Stay tuned!


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.