Shelling out cash on career development is a tricky issue.
It can be tricky to raise the cash in the first place; I don’t know about you, but me and my wife pretty much spend or put into savings everything we have, each month, no matter what we’re earning. It seems the outgoings expand to fill the vacuum of any wage increase – so making money available for professional development essentially means taking it away from something else.
It can be tricky to decide what to spend it on. Is a course more useful than a workshop? Is attending two local conferences better than one massive national one which costs a lot to get to? Should I be spending my money and time on something directly related to my current 9-to-5 role, or on something that might benefit my general development and later career?
Most of all, it can be tricky to get a tangible sense of whether or not it is worth it. Will you earn back what you spend? Will the next job you get on better pay have anything to do with that conference you went to, really? Is the fact that something is fun and interesting of itself, and may not actually lead anywhere career-wise, worth stumping up cash for? Etc.
I have various professional outgoings, on an annual basis. CILIP membership: £184. Website hosting + domain name registration plus upgraded wordpress package to allow for more storage / formats etc: £100. Business cards with the nice wikiman logo on the front and a horrific picture of me on the back: £20. A combination of all this stuff plugging me in to the wider profession and meaning librarianship has gone from a job to a vocation for me: priceless! But it is a lot of money all told, and there has to be a limit to what I can spend – I’d love to be a member of SLA-Europe but have so far not quite been able to make that happen (even though I’m 99.9% sure it’d be worth it). And this isn’t taking into account money spent on conferences or training, or indeed the Annual Leave it costs me to do all the things I like doing – the extra-curricular Information Professional activities.
I’m very fortunate in two ways: firstly I work for an employer that invests in training opportunities and takes developing its employees seriously, so for all stuff directly relevant to my job I get sent off on training all the time. Secondly, by the time this blog is two years old this time next year, I think I will have attended more than 10 fantastic events for free (and with train fares paid), that I would otherwise have paid to attend myself as a delegate, because I’m either speaking at them or helping organise them. It sounds outrageously cynical / glib to say it’s worth submitting a paper for an event you really want to go to, but it really is worth bearing in mind! You’ll get more out of the day anyway, and you’ll save a lot of money. Same goes for volunteering to help run things – hard work, but free attendance For The Win.
I still pay for stuff myself where necessary though, and that doesn’t always end well. I once booked last minute train tickets and a place on a (rather disappointing, and quite expensive) copyright course in London in order to fill a gap in my CV for a job application, and subsequently didn’t even get interviewed for the post! We moved heaven and earth to make that happen, savaged the bank-account, took leave to attend, and the result was: fail. But generally speaking, I think it is worth taking a punt and spending money on career development. I didn’t get to see Woodsiegirl’s talk at the New Professionals Conference, but I understand she said something along similar lines.
What strikes me is that most of us who are in this for the long term end up doing a library Masters. This costs a fortune – thousands of pounds, and I couldn’t have afforded mine without help from my incredibly supportive parents. You spend several grand on a piece of paper that allows you to earn more in the future – and of course you might learn some interesting stuff along the way, but remember it will be outmoded in just two years. Two years! It used to be that the information you learned would be useful for five years after graduation, but the library world moves so fast that you only get 24 months nowadays. (I think the experience of being exposed to and immersed in lots of different aspects of the profession is more valuable than the specific stuff you learn, but that’s a different debate.) Not only that, but because so many professionals have the qualification these days, it doesn't mark you out at all - it just gets the door open in the first place, rather than getting you through it. As a result, your learning can’t stop when you have a Masters – it’s only by going to conferences, training, courses and events that you can continue to stay ahead of (or even just try and keep up with) the game.
So next time I'm wondering whether to hand out £50 or whatever for attending a conference - I'll remember all the sacrifices made to afford library school, and how astronomically much more that cost than the conference will, and how you have to keep making financial sacrifices in order to move your career along, and that eventually I probably will earn it back if attending this event is part of a rounded programme of professional development, and take a deep breath: then invest in my career.
Cheers to TheatreGrad and FieldVole whose blog post and comment respectively made my mind up on writing this post!
P.S. Talking of spending money on library-related things, the New Spice video (in response to the Old Spice man vids that are going viral at the moment) really is absolutely outstanding - here it is in case you've missed it so far:
I'm a big fan of the guy who has apparently been attacked by a plant, at 0:19 - they say libraries are boring, but clearly they dicier places than many imagine...