The professional development of small community librarians in Texas: a qualitative study of the female experience

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Boon, Belinda

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The purpose of this study is to explore elements in educational events, personal experiences, or job circumstances that a selected group of library directors without master’s in library and information science (MLS) degrees working in small Texas communities believed to be significant in contributing to their professional development. The study may aid continuing education providers to develop training programs that better meet the needs of small community librarians, and may help promote understanding and collegiality between MLS and non-MLS librarians. A qualitative inquiry was conducted with 14 female library directors working in Texas communities of 25,000 or less with at least one participant from each of the ten Texas regional library systems. None of the librarians in the study have MLS degrees, and so are not considered by the field to be professional librarians. Study participants were selected using a random stratified sampling technique. Face-to-face interviews lasting between 30 and 60 minutes were conducted using open-ended questions, and interviews were recorded and vii transcribed for later analysis. Four archetype-like roles for librarians were identified from the interview data: the Mother/Caregiver, the Researcher/Detective, the Visionary Leader, and the New Professional. Four broad areas with sub-themes relating to the professionalization of non-MLS library directors also were identified from the data: job satisfaction (library work as spiritual salvation, librarianship and the ethic of caring, making a difference in the community, and pride in professional identity), professional development (hiring narratives, continuing education and lifelong learning, mentoring and professional development, and the importance of the MLS degree), challenges facing small community library directors (gender-based discrimination, resistance from local governing officials, and geographic isolation), and guidelines for success (understanding the community, becoming part of the community, making the library the heart of the community, business and managerial skills, and people and customer service skills). Conclusions relating to each finding are summarized and outlined in the final chapter. General conclusions are: (1) small community library directors approach their jobs as archetypal-like roles; (2) caring relationships and a need to make a difference both drive and inspire small community library directors; (3) continuing education and mentoring are essential to the professional development of small community library directors; and (4) many non-MLS library directors working in small communities exhibit traits associated with professional librarians, including knowledge of information sources and tools, research skills, business and management skills, and customer service skills. The study concludes with recommendations for practice and for further research in the area of small community librarianship.