Self-directed Study for Professional Development When Teleworking

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

July 14, 2020

Developing a self-directed, continuing professional development plan is key to staying fresh, engaged, and alert while working from home, while teleworking, and most especially for happiness within your special library career.

Let’s face it, it’s easy for special librarians to fall into the routine of doing our work, of answering queries using the same sources again and again. After a while, the routine becomes dull and boring, the queries become so routine that you dread the next one. It doesn’t take too long to become weary of the work, the pace, and the lack of intellectual challenge and stimulation.

Establishing a self-directed, continuing professional development plan is a challenge. It requires thinking about the routine work you do and making it interesting. It encourages exploring the theory behind how information is arranged or displayed or even accumulated. It requires a step back to look at the bigger picture and see patterns. 

Developing the plan

The first step, the most difficult step, is overcoming inertia. Take small bites and make adjustments as you go along.

Develop your continuing professional development plan by picking a topic. Examine the professional literature and select one or two journals, blogs, or newsletters to follow and commit to reading them routinely. Don’t let the literature sit in a pile or remain unread in your e-mail box. 

  • Designate a time to read it within the week—not months or years later. 
  • Read professional literature when it is fresh, when it is the bleeding, leading edge of the profession’s philosophy and perspective. Is the most interesting professional literature online? In a blog or a series of webinars? Read professional literature where you find it.

Actively commit to learning and refreshing your knowledge of the subject you decide to explore.

Establish a routine for learning

Set aside time each week to focus your attention on that new topic, to read, explore, or even meet with others to discuss the new materials you are encountering. Active reading isn’t enough. You need to explore that new knowledge, test databases, dig through new resources and research materials, and latch onto an aspect of the topic you want to explore. The exchange of information, views, and attitudes, as well as experiences, will embed new concepts in your brain and encourage you to try new techniques and approaches for answering queries. 

Follow advances in the information profession. Learn new technology. Mastering new software and hardware is just as important as reading about it. Maybe there’s a software program you’ve always wanted to learn. Now is the time to take a webinar or an online course and learn it. 

Be an active learner, don’t just sit and listen to the instructor. Try the product by exploring all its facets. Practice a new search technique while taking a webinar or immediately afterwards. For a one-hour webinar, schedule two hours of exploration and learning. Want to learn in smaller bites or challenge your research skills? Subscribe to Dan Russell’s SearchReSearch and hone your online reference techniques. 

Learning actively or purposeful learning means you stay ahead of the curve and on top of changes in the profession.

Staying motivated

It’s easy to get sidetracked when you have to motivate yourself, when you start a project or a self-directed continuing education plan. It’s very easy to do it once or twice and then put the endeavor aside. Here are some tricks to staying motivated that require some discipline.

Establish a virtual study group of two or three people. A group of like-minded and/or self-motivated individuals is perfect for a study group. Meet regularly (ideally every two weeks) to keep yourself on track. Set reasonable, achievable goals that promote accountability or at least the accomplishment of those small goals. Keep the goals small, one step, one nugget at a time. Ideally, the study group creates an artificial form of accountability and reinforces your motivation to complete the bi-weekly task.

Reflect regularly on what you accomplish each day or week each time you engage in self-determined professional development. Keep a journal on paper or even put notes into your calendar for each study session. Recognize that you’ve accomplished something every day or every week. Look back periodically at your journal to see what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown. This form of reflection allows you to recognize your accomplishments. If you find it difficult to keep a journal, jot down a few notes about what you did each week and talk about them in your study group. 

Reward yourself when you finish an article, a book, or a segment of your self-directed educational project. Rewards might be Ice cream, an hour with a trashy novel, a walk in the park, or a good movie. A reward might even be a chat with a friend. Rewards are the opposite of delayed gratification. Delayed gratification is actually hoarding without enjoying what you were “rewarding” yourself with. Don’t put off your rewards, you’ll be too old to enjoy them!

Motivation is wrapped up in self-care. It’s a combination of mind-body balance. Motivations include challenges and rewards mixed with reflection. Studying with a group is a great way to stay motivated while you share what you’ve learned.

Summing it up

Forget the “shouda, woulda, coulda,” and just DO IT. All of us who are teleworking have to create our own professional structure. Part of working is self-directed continuing professional education and creating time for ourselves to enrich our professional lives.

Ultimately, a professional development plan makes you a valuable asset to your organization and the profession. It provides opportunities to learn something new, to delve into tangential information and materials, and best of all, to grow as an information professional. 

My next post will include resources for engaging in self-education and professional development.

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam B. Kahn, MLS, PhD provides education and consulting for libraries, archives, corporations, and individuals. See Miriam’s pieces for Lucidea covering library technology and skills and strategies for special librarians. Refresh your knowledge of Lucidea’s flagship ILS, SydneyEnterprise, here.

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