The Cost of Professional Development

Illustration of individuals conversing in a professional development setting.

Professional development for librarians is a crucial investment in the ever-evolving landscape of information management and services. As technology advances and societal needs change, librarians must stay abreast of new skills, tools, and methodologies to provide effective and relevant services to their communities. However, the cost of professional development for librarians can be a significant challenge. The conversation around this cost is not a new one. The monetary costs have loomed large in prior discussions and are considered here as well, but this post digs deeper into the other costs of professional development for librarians: the opportunity costs—essentially, what librarians are giving up to buy into professional development.

Monetary Costs

There is an obvious financial cost to engaging in professional development, such as fees for conferences, memberships, and training. Many librarians cannot afford these monetary costs due to low wages, lack of institutional funding, student loan debt, and inflation, among other factors. As a result, a “service ceiling” perpetuates homogeneity and limits diversity within the profession. There is thus a need for structural changes to make professional development more accessible and equitable for academic librarians. And yet, many of our institutions engage in reimbursement culture, which puts the burden on librarians to pay for professional development costs upfront and then be reimbursed later. This can often lead people to rely on credit cards, to forgo paying a bill or even to borrow money to attend a workshop, conference, or training. 

Opportunity Costs

Beyond the monetary strain, library workers also face significant opportunity costs when investing in professional development, particularly when attending in-person conferences. For those on the tenure track, adhering to tenure guidelines emphasizing professional involvement, such as presenting at conferences or serving on committees, often means sacrificing free time to engage in research or other scholarly pursuits. Additionally, traveling presents trade-offs as it entails being separated from loved ones or pets unless one can bring them along. COVID-19 has heightened concerns, particularly regarding increased risks of illness transmission in crowded spaces, disproportionately affecting individuals with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Furthermore, there must be nuanced consideration of the emotional toll of social interaction, particularly for introverts or neurodivergent individuals, for whom extended periods of engagement with others can be emotionally draining. Thus, while professional development holds immense value, it is crucial to acknowledge and mitigate these various costs and challenges for library workers.

Solutions

Providing solutions is important since professional development is vital. Below are some free options. By actively pursuing these free avenues for professional development, librarians can enrich their expertise and contribute effectively to their communities.

  • Attending webinars (including many offered by TIE/Choice!)
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Following librarian blogs
  • Connecting through social media platforms

While investment in training, conferences, and memberships is essential for advancing in one’s career and staying abreast of professional trends, it often comes at a price. Library workers grapple with financial constraints, including low wages, institutional funding limitations, and personal expenses, alongside sacrificing valuable time spent on research, scholarly pursuits, or professional commitments. Moreover, factors such as COVID-19 transmission, familial responsibilities, and individual differences in social interaction preferences further complicate the equation. Thus, addressing the financial and opportunity costs of professional development for librarians requires systemic changes, equity, and thoughtful consideration of individual circumstances to ensure a diverse and inclusive profession moving forward.

Headshot of Jamia Williams

About the author:

Jamia Williams(she/her) is the Consumer Health Program Specialist with the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) Training Office. She is also the co-creator and co-host of the podcast LibVoices and the founder of The Diversity Fellow’s blog.

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