Perspectives on Professional Development “from home”

Hello, and welcome to my first contribution to the ORRB. Having joined the Library’s Research Engagement Team at the beginning of March I had scarcely 2 weeks in the office before locking down, a strange way to start any job. This is particularly true as a Librarian, when your sense of identity is attached so strongly to the building you work in. What you could say is that I’m a working from home native, so in a perfect position to write about some of the challenges of this new practice. My focus here is going to be on professional development in this environment, and in particular the perspective of an early career librarian.

Luckily for us in Research Engagement, our roles have overall adapted well to the current crisis. We’ve still been logging on every day to update our repository, delve into bibliometrics, and as always, promoting Open Research . What we have been missing is the connection with the rest of our library colleagues and the wider university community. Not only is the library building a great place to work, but it’s a home of many different perspectives on our role[1]. As well as the usual mix of people in the staff room, weekly Staff Development Hours have given us a chance to share these. For us to learn more and connect back to a wider range of library services, and also to talk about what’s happening in repository land. Indeed, as a new member of staff the last session I got to attend was , tracing the University’s progress in our own particular area since 2016.

The Research Engagement Team on Teams

So, what options are available for professional development, and to connect with others across the sector while working from home? Here, I present some of my personal insights on and I hope to dig a little deeper with other members of the Team later this month.

The first thing you learn is that there’s absolutely no shortage of content available, across a variety of formats, so you need to get good at filtering. One resource I’ve found particularly useful is the digest available in the regular EARLL newsletter, which is a great resource for early career librarians.  Webinars frequently offer a great chance to hear different perspectives outside of academic librarianship. Panel discussions are particularly good, a recent favourite being “Preprints are changing the landscape” delivered by UKSG (you can watch the recording here).

In Research Engagement this is also an opportunity to connect with the more values-driven side of our role, and to connect with the broader Open Research community. Last week members of the team had the chance to attend sessions from both the Kent Digital Accessibility Conference (a particular highlight was a talk from Paralympic medallist Millie Knight) and the King’s Open Research Conference. This was a great chance for me to immerse myself in Open Research and hear from some of the leaders in the movement, especially given my own background in Science and Technology Studies. It’s brilliant to hear progress being made towards disincentivising questionable research practices, especially Anne Scheel’s session on Registered Reports. The ease of access that online formats offer is also a great point in their favour, with time zones becoming the main restriction on attendance. Even though there is no substitute for the networking opportunities at conferences, this is an area where the use of Twitter really shines through, facilitating discussions with other attendees. Improvements in automatic subtitling are also an opportunity for improving accessibility, and webinar platforms need to make sure to implement this. Bearing these factors in mind I hope that we’ll see more hybrid online/offline conferences going .

What about the temptation of working in the background during a webinar? All you have to do is forget to close Outlook before the video starts and flicking over when you hear the first ‘bing’ can be hard to resist. Personally, my multitasking isn’t really up to this, so I try to decide early on whether I’m going to stick it through to the end of a webinar or presentation. If something doesn’t engage you, online you really can leave five minutes in.

One point of caution for those engaging in Professional Development online are the numerous courses available from the commercial sector, intended to “teach” you about their particular product. While undertaking these can be easy to justify, especially if the service is something you might use regularly, webinars like these are often padded out with promotional material. What these providers do often demonstrate are very high standards of delivery. This can be a good way to learn about best practices in using online teaching to promote your own services, particularly through MOOCsAs we plan on providing short video tutorials instructing users on how to make CentAUR deposits this will prove particularly .

The real area where MOOCs shine (you can find a huge variety on the edX platform) is building more specific skills. For me this has been a route into coding, an interest of mine which I’m hoping to bring more to my work with the Team. I’m currently working myself through the resources provided by Library Carpentry, getting a sense of how I can apply and develop my skills specifically in relation to librarianship. For those interested, a huge number of resources are available in this area. It’s even possible to chain enough free courses together to learn much of what’s provided in a formal computer science degree. Whilst doing this would be a huge time investment for anyone, and eat up your evenings and weekends, a great taster can be found in Harvard’s free CS50 course. This not only gives a rigorous and engaging introduction to computer science, but also ideas around computational thinking and ways to approach problems which are particularly applicable to librarianship.

As an early career librarian, one of the most valuable parts of joining the Research Engagement Team has been learning to think of myself as part of a growing culture around Open Research. Webinars and online learning offer a valuable opportunity for expanding your areas of knowledge beyond your role, learning new skills, and for me immersing myself in a growing movement.

[1] Something the Head of the Library, Stuart Hunt, has been encouraging us to think about more in our ongoing strategy exercise.

[2] Massive Open Online courses. Getting a certificate to download on completion is often a nice touch.

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