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Professional Development Resources for School Librarians

January 31, 2019

School librarians work in a unique environment that requires constant adaptability. Whether adjusting to curriculum changes or new technology, librarians need a wide range of skills to be successful.

Professional development helps keep skills fresh and helps you adapt to changes.  Pursuing professional development can also help you bring your knowledge to classroom teachers. This can aid your integration efforts.  Here are a few resources to help you explore professional development opportunities.

Online courses

Online courses offer great flexibility and are often free. The downside is that they can vary widely in quality.  Professional organizations like the American Association of School Librarians are a great place to start.  They have many archived webinars on a variety of topics.  Many are free or low cost to the non-members, and many more are free if you are already a member.  If you are not a member of a professional organization like AASL, consider joining.  These groups often offer free or low-cost professional development tailored for librarians. They also publish Knowledge Quest bimonthly, with articles on topics affecting school libraries.  School Library Journal also offers free webcasts. edX also provides free classes to teachers, as well as other topics from top universities like Harvard.

Conferences

Conferences can be a great way to accomplish a lot of professional development goals over a few days.  Most conferences will have a slate of speakers who may be big names in education. This can be a great way to keep on top of current trends and new developments. Conferences also give you an opportunity to network and collaborate with other librarians. Often, participants come to large conferences from around the country.  This can give you a vast diversity of ideas, and don't be surprised if you come home with a lot of new ones to try.

The downside to conferences is usually cost.  For school districts with stretched budgets, these can sometimes be difficult.  However, if there is a conference that you really want to participate in, don't give up.  Many conferences offer stipends if you are accepted to present or speak. There are also grants available for some conferences. Also, think outside the box. If there is a local marketing conference in your hometown, maybe it can give you tips on communicating library programs to parents.  Local conferences are often far more affordable than national conferences requiring travel. 

Educational Publishers

Educational publishers often offer professional development courses for teachers. Check with the developers of the programs you are already using.  For example, Capstone offers professional development resources, including online videos and articles from educational experts.  Many publishers also offer professional development programs that incorporate their software or books.  This can be advantageous because these programs will allow you to better implement the tools your district has already purchased. 

Networking with Other Teachers and Librarians

Don't underestimate the value of collaborating with your peers as a source of professional development. Studies have found that librarians who can collaborate with other librarians and teachers, and then reflect on successes and failures, realize greater professional learning.  Consider forming a small professional development group with classroom teachers. Teachers and librarians can support each other and help establish learning goals - both for themselves and students.   Besides supporting your professional development goals, this can help you build relationships.

Start a Teacher-Librarian Program

There is plenty of educational research that supports the idea that when children teach or mentor other children, both students benefit. The same is true for teachers and librarians.  A teacher-librarian program is a form of embedded professional development. This allows you, as a librarian, to work with teachers in a classroom to help raise the rigor of the curriculum and implement best practices.  To facilitate this program, you have to do your homework as well. In this way, not only can you give yourself the incentive to learn, but you will also be benefiting classroom teachers, and ultimately, students. If you are interested in starting this type of program formally or informally, it's a good idea to prepare well in advance. Ask for support from your building administration and start slowly. Consider approaching teachers with whom you already have a good working relationship.

If you are a new school librarian, consider seeking a mentor instead. This can help you learn educational practices from veteran teachers. By observing and learning inside the classroom, you will become a resource for the classroom teacher over time.  Use this time to brainstorm ways that you can effectively integrate library skills into classroom lessons. 

There are many, many ways to learn and develop as a librarian continually.  The important thing is to select resources, classes, and activities that support your goals. Take time to think about what you want to accomplish throughout the year and choose professional development activities that promote those goals.