Professional Development: Beyond the Conference

By Laura Birkenhauer

When thinking about professional development, we most likely think of attending webinars, workshops, classes, and conferences, or reading trade and professional publications. But the options for professional learning extend far beyond these choices.

The NMRT Online Discussion Forum Committee asked NMRT members to share how they’re engaging in professional development, with a focus on unconventional approaches (Birkenhauer, 2023). Members shared virtual, internal and DIY options — both formal and informal — for growing as a professional.

Virtual Options

While a select number of opportunities for wider audiences have historically included virtual attendance options — for example, the ACRL ULS Academic Outreach Committee’s online roundtable discussions — more and more professional development offerings have been made available in hybrid and online formats in recent years. While online professional development options are hardly novel post-2020, NMRT members shared some intriguing possibilities you’ll want to consider for yourself.


NMRT member Clarissa Ihssen detailed their experience with the Great Lakes Science Boot Camp for Librarians and the flexibility afforded due to the fact it took place virtually. “I was able to have a couple days for professional development because they took place over the summer and were virtual, so my boss had no problem giving me that time. If you’re a science librarian (or looking at becoming a science librarian) I highly recommend trying to attend one!” (Ihssen, 2023).


Online options can also make casual professional conversations accommodating and budget-friendly. “I have really enjoyed the shift to virtual for some PD activities. It grants so much flexibility. I was recently invited to join a bi-monthly, informal, virtual discussion with other Student Success Librarians in the state of Ohio. What a terrific chance to network and learn from others – without having to pay anything for gas money” (Birkenhauer, 2023).

Internal Opportunities

Internal opportunities will vary by institution. May these suggestions inspire you to suggest, expand or lead something brand new at your organization.


As a method for encouraging professional development, libraries can maintain an online guide dedicated to professional development. “The Professional Development LibGuide for my organization recently began to list memberships for many of our librarians and staff in order to facilitate questions […] For example, you may see in the LibGuide list that a fellow librarian is a member of an ALA roundtable on a topic you’re interested in. You can then reach out and get more information directly from that individual” (Birkenhauer, 2023).


“Coffee hour” conversations on subjects of interest may be a draw to those looking to learn and connect with colleagues. These may look like a casual discussion over a caffeinated beverage, a presentation with slides, a hands-on workshop… or something else altogether!

DIY Professional Development

Another outside the box approach: do-it-yourself (DIY) professional development. This self-led strategy puts you in charge of your professional learning.


NMRT member Bithiah Brown engages in proactive cross-training. After first requesting permission from their manager, Brown shares “I have started to reach out to other areas in my department to request anything to enhance my skills. An example would be our social media department[.] I wanted hands-on experience in creating videos or reels. I was allowed to create a video with [the] Tiktok app and researched how to improve it. They liked it and shared it on our official account” (2023).


Social media is another avenue to explore for self-guided professional development. For example, an ALSC blog post by Chelsey Roos details the learning that can happen on TikTok (2023). Instagram is another platform that NMRT members may think of as a primarily personal tool, but accounts like @lifeoflibrarians share tools, techniques, experiences and insight from librarians in all areas of the field.


Birkenhauer, Laura. (2023, March 8). Online Discussion Forum March 2023 Topic: Professional Development. Message posted to

Brown, Bithiah. (2023, March 4). Re: Online Discussion Forum March 2023 Topic: Professional Development. Message posted to

Ihssen, Clarissa. (2023, March 8). Re: Online Discussion Forum March 2023 Topic: Professional Development. Message posted to

Roos, C. (2023, February 16). I Learned It on TikTok: Professional Development from an Unlikely Source. ALSC Blog.

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