Tuesday, September 29, 2015

You've got to go and get for yourself

Last week, I wrote about whether MOOCs are viable tool for building skills. And, while I think it's an interesting question, I think it speaks to a bigger question: What does professional development look like in the DIY age?

DIY, or do it yourself, is making or doing something without the help of someone who is considered an expert in the field. In a 2011 article titled "Understanding the do-it-yourself consumer: DIY motivations and outcomes," Marco Wolf and Shaun McQuitty define DIY as:
Activities in which individuals engage raw and semi-raw materials and component parts to produce, transform, or reconstruct material possessions, including those drawn from the natural environment (e.g., landscaping).
If you're curious about traditional DIY skills, Lifehacker has this great list of ten essential DIY skills that includes things like coding and working with electronics.

This self-sufficiency has lead to the DIY ethic which essentially says that people don't need the help of experts to make or do things. This way of thinking suggests that people can (and should) acquire the skills and knowledge they need to complete a task and, by doing so, they become experts in a particular field.

We've seen the DIY ethic become a more mainstream way of thinking and acting with the rise of urban homesteading, the growing interest in MOOCs, and the more widespread adoption of crowdfunding as a way of financing artistic endeavors.

There is, I think, a certain tension between the DIY ethic and the expectation that librarians engage in professional development. I wrote last week about how the longer I am a librarian, the less relevant my skills become and the more I'm required to build my skills to remain relevant. Librarianship seems to give more legitimacy to certain forms of skills building (e.g., conferences, workshops, and classes) than others (e.g., MOOCs, self-taught coding courses, and unconferences). But as the DIY ethic becomes more mainstream, librarianship will have to examine the biases that make that true.

In spite of (or, perhaps, because of) this tendency to prefer certain types of skill building over others, certain pockets of librarianship are embracing DIY skill building and the DIY ethic. Twitter chats have grown in popularity over time with chats like #critlib, #libchat, and #mashcat serving as vehicles for communication and acting as matchmakers for research and writing projects.

But it's not just Twitter chats. #critlib has held two unconferences and #mashcat is scheduling an unconference for 2016. This unstructured nature of the unconference means that each attendee is equally responsible for developing content and participating in the conversation to the best of their ability. In short, the unconference format suggests that everyone is an expert about something.

Librarianship is obsessed with the idea of professionalism. We believe that we have to carry ourselves in a certain way and develop our skills in a certain way in order to be taken seriously in the world. And part of this obsession with professionalism is using the words "professional development" to describe they way in which we develop our skills. Inherent in the idea of professional development, I think, is the notion that someone else will always be better at something than we are and that the only way for us to get better is to take a class or attend a conference.

I'm as guilty of it as anyone at buying into this notion of professionalism and professional development. I use the words "professional development" all the time when what I really mean is building my skills in a particular area. What would it mean if I changed how I thought (and talked) about this? What would it look like if I took pride in the Twitter chats in which I've participated and the self-directed coding classes I've taken? What if I took a MOOC and listed it on my CV? What if I gave a lightening talk at an unconference and didn't think of it as something I did in my spare time?

I think we, as librarians, need to build our skills in an intentional way in order to change ourselves in step with the ways in which librarianship is changing. But I think we learn can accept DIY methods of skill building as legitimate means of developing our skills alongside the more traditional forms like conferences and workshops. And I think it's worth considering what it means to be a professional and why we, as librarians, are so obsessed with it.

Stay positive,

Wolf, Marco and Shaun McQuitty. "Understanding the do-it-yourself consumer: DIY motivations and outcomes." AMS Review 1:3 (Dec. 2011): 154-170. Online.

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