22 Feb 2015

Thirty Five Years Later: The role of the LAI in my Professional Development

By Helen Fallon, Deputy University Librarian, NUI Maynooth

This blog post is based on a presentation I gave at the LAI CPD Group “Developing as a Professional” seminar in November 2014.

I first became aware of the LAI in 1981 while working in what is now Maynooth University (MU). I  was preparing for interview for the UCD postgraduate programme in librararianship and  read “An Leabharlann” to get an insight into what was happening in Irish libraries. My recollection - which may be flawed - is that articles were written by senior people, mostly male.

After graduating in 1982, I worked in an American-run medical library in Saudi Arabia. I enjoyed reading “The Bulletin of the American Medical Library Association” and other library journals. These gave me a sense of being part of an international community of practice. I could see the value of professional reading, although the formal concept of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in librarianship didn’t exist at that time.

Back in Ireland in 1984, I joined the LAI, while working with Bord na Mona. I did this to counteract professional isolation and to enhance my CV. In 1986, I joined NIHED (now DCU). In those days quite a number of university library staff were members and the AGM was a significant date in our calendar. In 1988 or ’89  I was pleased to receive a letter telling me that if I submitted a CV, a supporting statement and the relevant fee I could be elected to the register of associates of the LAI. As an early career librarian, I was keen to enhance my C.V. I was possibly more conscious of qualifications than many of my contemporaries, who had completed the postgraduate diploma in librarianship. From working with American librarians in the Middle East, I was aware the first professional qualification for US librarians was the Master Degree. I thought that in the future I might wish to work in the US. At that time it wasn’t possible to upgrade from Diploma to Masters in UCD as it now is. I applied for and was awarded the ALAI.

In 1989 I took a two-year career break and lectured in librarianship at the University of Sierra Leone. I was invited to meetings of the Sierra Leone Library Association in the public library in Freetown. I have a very high regard for those librarians who got together to discuss how best to provide library services in a time when there were no library budgets, salaries were six months in arrears, the country was in a state of economic collapse and on the verge of civil war and one paperback book cost the equivalent of a month’s salary for the average library worker.

Back in Ireland I sometimes thought about my experiences teaching with blackboard and chalk and correcting essays by candlelight. Looking at a farewell card signed by my students I thought: “Some day, I won’t remember the faces to match the signatures. Maybe I should write about it.” I found the early morning was a good time for me: I wrote for an hour or so before getting ready for work. It required discipline as writing still does over twenty years later. While I was nervous sending my work out, I felt that “An Leabharlann” was “my” journal as a member of the LAI and that helped.  The article published in 1994. The editor of a UK journal read it and asked me to review a book about librarianship in developing countries for his journal. One publication frequently leads to other opportunities from my experience.

Copyright: An Leabharlann

Copyright: An Leabharlann
It was through the LAI that I got my first opportunity to speak at a conference. My presentation, on CD ROMs, in libraries was at the conference of what was then the Assistant Librarians section of the LAI. I was asked to write that as a paper for “An Leabharlann” and from that came an invitation to present at a conference in Greece.

I think the importance of the LAI to the academic library community decreased in the 1990’s. This may have been because there were many new avenues for professional development. I completed a part-time Masters in Women’s Studies in 1996; this was one of a number of new modular programmes on offer, which allowed people to maintain full time jobs, while attending lectures in the evening. The University sector established ANLTC in 1996, offering a comprehensive programme of short courses to staff in member libraries. Most Universities developed internal staff development units. The Nineties were also a time when due to deregulation, airfares dropped in price: going to conference and other events in the UK was now feasible. So in less than a decade many of us went from attending two events per year (the AGM of the LAI and the INULS conference) to an environment where there was a large and varied range of professional development offerings.

In 2000 I joined the staff of MU library. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join  the editorial board of “An Leabharlann” about five years ago. Being a peer-reviewer has helped  me develop my writing skills by critically looking at the writing of others.  It’s also useful for my CV, our library annual reports and quality reviews. I was privileged to have the opportunity to interview Professor John Dean, who taught me at UCD for “An Leabharlann” a few years before his death.

A few years ago, over coffee with the editor of “An Leabharlann” I spoke to her about doing “something”. At that point I had discounted doing an MLIS, having completed an MA. Moving towards the final decade of my career, I didn’t want to put the necessary time and energy into doing a doctorate. She asked “Why not do the Fellowship of the LAI?”. Being asked this question was significant. Information on the FLAI was available on the LAI website, but I’d never heard anyone actually talk about the process or read anything any recipient had written on it. I opted to do the Fellowship by professional portfolio, rather than a thesis. Jane Burns, a friend and professional colleague also decided to do the FLAI by portfolio. At that point the formal LAI mentoring process for the awards was not available, so we mentored and motivated each other. We wrote an article and produced a poster on the process, which may be of interest to people considering this. There’s also a very useful blog post on ALAI written by Aoife Lawton, Laura Connaughton and Grace Toland for those interested. I found the process (CV., application form, personal statement and evidence-based portfolio) very useful as a means of reflecting on where I was at in my career and what I wanted to do/learn going forward.

I am now a member of the LAI CPD committee. This committee works actively to promote CPD and in the last year put a lot of focus on the ALAI/FLAI process. We’ve developed a formal mentoring scheme for people applying for the ALAI and FLAI.

The above is very much my personal story of the role of the LAI in my professional development.
Looking at the LAI from my perspective as Deputy Librarian at MU with overall responsibility for staff development in the Library, I see other advantages to membership. These include:
  • reduction in fees for attending LAI events   - This is important as it means that our library staff development budget goes further
  • The LAI CPD group now offers course certificates on completion of a formal application  by LAI and other groups. This demonstrates that the courses have been considered by a panel with expertise in CPD and have met certain criteria; the certificates are also a useful element of a CPD portfolio
  • bursaries and awards are offered by various groups of the LAI – MU library staff have won a number of these, and have benefited from the professional development opportunities as well as having enhanced CV’s.
  • Engagement with various LAI committees, allows librarians gain opportunities in various roles – member, secretary, treasurer, chairperson – that they might not get in their day-to-day work: these are transferable skills. 
  • It’s is useful for meeting and working with colleagues across the sector and demonstrates an engagement with the profession
  • The LAI offers members both Associateship and Fellowship, with a mentoring scheme to support applicants
  • Evidence of engagement with the LAI and other professional bodies and receipt of LAI awards enhance job applications
  • The Library Ireland Job-Swop initiative offers an opportunity to “job-swop” for a day. Read more about it at http://www.libfocus.com/2015/02/library-ireland-week-my-library.html and http://www.libfocus.com/2014/09/library-ireland-week-2014-diary-of.html
  • While it’s not essential to be a member of the LAI to publish in “An Leabharlann” taking out membership supports our professional journal
  • It’s good to be part of a  vibrant community of professional practice
More details about membership of the LAI and application form can be found at https://libraryassociation.ie/membership.

If you have questions about any aspect of the ALAI/FLAI process or wish to register for mentoring (for ALAI/FLAI) or to be a mentor please e-mail cpd[at]libraryassociation.ie.


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