Lifelong Learning and Competencies: Antidotes to Change

By Susan DiMattia, MLS

This sidebar appears in the November-December 2017 issue of Information Outlook. The accompanying article is here.

The reality of change and the application of core competencies as information environments evolve continue to be key elements of professional conversations at all levels. The success of individual information professionals relies on the development of a strong understanding of the personal responsibility to continuously upgrade and evaluate competencies while creating a strategic career plan to reach each person’s definition of success.

All major professional library associations, including some with very specialized memberships, have a history of producing and circulating documents intended to outline and explain the competencies they have identified as requirements for achieving success in their fields. In most cases, these documents do not include methods of gauging progress and success in attaining the competencies. In addition, there is little to no anecdotal evidence of how, or even if, graduate schools and continuing education programs are incorporating the competencies guidelines into their course development. (The exceptions are the American Association of Law Librarians and the Medical Library Association, where instructors are required to highlight the competencies that will result from the completion of their professional development programs.)

All too often, graduate students in library and information science, confronting for the first time any one of the statements of professional skills and competencies, panic and declare loudly, “I can’t do/be all of these.” Such an introduction to competencies can be a formidable encounter. My advice to students has always been, “Pick three competencies and master those. When you feel comfortable, pick three more and begin the process again.”

This “baby steps” approach seems to have a calming influence, at least for an initial period. But if professional success is your ultimate goal, you must stretch beyond your comfort zone.

Why is it valuable to create a personal career strategic plan? It may move you away from an unsatisfactory job, or it may breathe new life into your commitment to your chosen profession by opening new doors and providing new opportunities for learning and advancing.

So, how do you recognize when it is time to create a strategy for your career? There are numerous reasons why it might be time to consider taking a critical look at your professional life. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have there been changes in your personal life?
  • Is there a downward trend in the stability of your type of library or your specific job?
  • Do you recognize that it’s time for some continuing education, but you’re unsure which avenue will be most productive and satisfying?
  • Are you in the fairly common position of working for an impossible boss or on a team that does not share your goals and values?
  • Are you in need of new skills to add value to your life and work?

Continuing education (lifelong learning) is an essential commitment by every professional in search of success. Mastering professional skills and competencies is integral to that commitment. Keep the following considerations in mind when pondering how to integrate the competencies and lifelong learning into your professional development:

  • Not everyone will need to be proficient in all of the competencies prescribed by professional associations. Select those that meet your needs and are compatible with your goals.
  • Competencies do not necessarily need to be acquired/ strengthened only in a traditional academic setting.
  • Create a personal career strategic plan as your “roadmap” on the quest for success.
  • Explore new fields to gain insights into ideas that transfer to your goals.

Susan DiMattia, SLA’s 1999-2000 president, is a consultant and educator who has taught on the faculties of four library schools, with emphases on special library management, marketing, leadership and management, and communication skills for information professionals. This sidebar is excerpted from her chapter, “Education for Success: Multiple Avenues and Options,” in The Emerald Handbook of Modern Information Management, published in December 2017. She can be reached at

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