|Sculpture at the University of Alberta, Spring 2014|
This points to a very significant problem. While education remains a popular concept in library and information studies, the role it plays in the lives of practitioners is not always clear. Certainly, it is easy to infer that taking courses from accredited institutions, attending workshops and conferences are forms of continuing education. However, these are not necessarily the places and moments when significant learning occurs. Indeed, within some of these structures it would be more accurate to say that they present opportunities for training.
A number of recent articles regarding education for library workers reveals a tendency to focus on training, with discussion limited to a focus on skill development for the purpose of creating efficient organizations and employees (e.g. Certification, 2014; La Chapelle, 2014; Leong, 2014; Lopuszynski, 2014l; See & Teetor, 2014) . Using "training" and "education" interchangeably, obfuscates their individual meanings and, ultimately, their roles in the lives of library employees. This is not to say that training is not important or, even, critical to the work that is performed in this field. Training is limited in that it enables us to perform our jobs as they evolve but it cannot inspire us to confront our fears. It cannot empower us to speak up and it cannot act as the key that unlocks our passion to do better.
For a profession that prides itself on a service ethic to empower others to realize their potential, library personnel struggle to access this same support for themselves. If an increasing number of staff are part of the precarious workforce, whether due to poor pay or contingent work, their ability to exercise empowerment (in the ways we hope for our broader communities) will increasingly elude them. Not only does this reflect a deep hypocrisy within our profession's core values, it also jeopardizes our ability to navigate our way into a successful future as a profession. How can libraries support engaged, highly participatory and informed communities if those who work in libraries are not engaged?
Many of the most poorly paid staff in libraries are also the ones who interface most closely with the public. Representing the "face" of the library, these front-line employees are frequently the least able to advance their education in order to grapple with the changing expectations of their communities (I have seen this first hand with my own students, who are often already working in libraries). Not only do these individuals often have limited financial means, they also have little or no political and social capital within their organizations. This hampers their ability to contribute through creative problem solving and innovative practice that jeopardizes the way the entire organization is perceived and, therefore valued, by its community.
There is a troubling trend in libraries (and in many other organizations, for that matter) to only support continuing education if the endeavor directly informs a position or role. While the reasons for this relate back to the need to demonstrate accountability and rationality, this approach undermines the prevailing assumption that libraries support life-long learning. In such cases, learning opportunities are constrained by employer values and needs. This is problematic for libraries because they are organizations that, in the very first instance, exist to serve "a learning society". ALA has codified our responsibility as a profession in its Core Values by stating:
We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the professionAlthough there are many examples of free or inexpensive training and development options for library staff, most represent short-term skills acquisition. These resources fulfill only a partial role in the educative process. The complex problems that library professionals face are not easily fixed or managed through one-off experiences because they do not invite the learner to challenge the status quo in order to reimagine the future.
Significant learning offers us a way of seeing education as something that incorporates individual experience and change. "For learning to occur, there has to be some kind of change in the learner" (Fink, 2003, p. 30). Such change requires sustained introspection, discussion, and exploration. This form of education takes a turn away from training to become something more lasting and, ultimately more impactful. Continuing education "helps develop an understanding of our society and the world ... and it helps develop the personal, social, and human competencies" (Schejbal & Wilson, 2008, p. 32).
** I would like to thank the members of LTAS for their invitation to speak and the opportunity to reflect on how it may be possible to "lead from below".The democratic faith in human equality is belief that every human being, independent of the quantity or range of his personal endowment, has the right to equal opportunity with every other person for development of whatever gifts he has (1976, p. 226)
Certification for Public Library Personnel. (2013). Public Libraries, 52(2), 13-21.
Dewey, J. (1976). Creative democracy: The task before us. In J. Boydston (Ed.), John Dewey: The later works, 1925-1953, volume 14 (pp. 224-230). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Fink, D. (2003). A taxonomy of significant learning. In Creating significant learning experiences. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lopuszynski, C., Ramirez, P., Rosenthal, L., & Zukowski, J. (2013). Staff Training: Day In, Day Out. ILA Reporter, 31(1), 22-24.
Schejbal, D. & Wilson, D. (2008). The value of continuing education. Continuing Higher Education Review, 72, p.32-43.
. See, A., & Teetor, T. (2014). Effective e-Training: Using a Course Management System and e-Learning Tools to Train Library Employees. Journal Of Access Services, 11(2), 66-90. doi:10.1080/15367967.2014.896217