‘An Integral Part of My Professional Responsibility’

Do you budget for your annual vacation? Of course you do. Vacations renew your body, mind and spirit and give you a fresh perspective on your life, so you set aside money to make sure you get the most from them.

Do you budget for the SLA Annual Conference, Leadership Summit, Click University programs, or even SLA membership dues? These and other professional development activities expand your skill set and help advance your career, yet many information professionals expect their employers to fund them.

In the coming months, several SLA members will explain why they feel compelled, even driven, to take personal financial responsibility for their professional development. These monthly posts will serve as reminders to set aside money to attend SLA 2014 and participate in other professional development opportunities. Tom Rink, an instructor in library services at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, explains his motivations below.

Tom Rink making presentationEarly in my career, I learned the importance of taking charge of my professional development. I was employed in an industry (law enforcement) where libraries were not the norm, and I was at the bottom of the organization. Although I was being asked to build a library, it was not my primary responsibility—it was something I had been tasked with accomplishing in my “spare time.” All of my in-service training and professional development was related to law enforcement. In my employer’s eyes, I was a police officer, not a librarian.

As I began to seek out ways to get the professional development I needed, joining SLA was my first step. It didn’t take long for me to discover (and become grateful for) the many opportunities that were available through SLA: Click University, the Innovation Laboratory, certificate programs, Webinars, the annual conference, continuing education courses, and the Leadership Summit, to name just some.

Much of the content was free or available at minimal cost, but some of these opportunities, notably the annual conferences and Leadership Summits, often came with hefty price tags (especially after factoring in registration expenses, travel expenses, hotel accommodations, and meals). Although my employer was willing to pay part of the expense on occasion, I was more than willing to pay—and frequently did pay—my expenses in their entirety to ensure I could take advantage of these opportunities to better myself professionally.

Investing in myself and in my future (which is what this is really all about) is important enough to me that I now incorporate my professional development expenses into my personal budget. I see this as an integral part of my responsibility as a professional. I know the approximate cost of attending, say, the Leadership Summit well in advance, so I just have to save that amount in advance. It’s really no different than saving for a vacation!

As I look beyond the financial investment, it’s easy to see how the benefits far exceed the costs. The very first SLA continuing education course I ever took (while attending my very first SLA Annual Conference) was about how to manage a solo library. As a newly minted solo librarian tasked with creating a library from scratch, the content in this course was invaluable, both to me and to my organization. Several years ago, when SLA launched “23 Things,” I was not very up to date on any of the Web 2.0 tools, but this self-paced (and free) professional development program allowed me to stay relevant in our rapidly changing technological world. I’ve been blogging and tweeting (@coplibrarian) ever since.

In addition, attending conferences and meetings and networking with colleagues from diverse backgrounds and specialties has given me access to my very own “database of experts.” I can tap into this database at any time to seek guidance and help on practically any topic.

When it comes to MY professional development, I take charge. I do not rely on anyone else to ensure that it happens. Sure, it would be nice to have an employer pick up the entire tab, but this is an unrealistic expectation, especially in our current economic climate. Yes, it may cost me a few dollars, but I know this up front and can prepare for the expense in advance. And I’m worth it—I’m worth every penny!

— Tom Rink

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One response to “‘An Integral Part of My Professional Responsibility’”

  1. Dennie Heye says:

    Tom,

    thank you very much for sharing this. I like the key phrase at the end: “When it comes to MY professional development, I take charge”.

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