Career Strategies for Librarians
Online Portfolios, or “WOW! Look at Everything I’ve Done!”
by Kim Moody
Do you have trouble recalling the many and varied experiences you’ve had as a library student or library
professional? Feel like you’re learning things at a rate of knots, but when you’re actually asked, in a job
application, to demonstrate your skills, you can’t think of anything concrete to write? One solution is to
create an online professional portfolio.
What is a portfolio?
A portfolio, as you may well be aware, is a collection of examples of your work, organised in an
accessible way. Traditionally associated with the visual arts, portfolios can in fact be used to showcase
a variety of different skill sets, and are becoming popular in the library sphere. The benefits of creating a
professional portfolio include:
The creation process enables you to organise in your own mind how the specific skills you have attained
relate to each other, to specific selection criteria, and to your role as an LIS professional.
Looking back over your portfolio periodically provides intellectual fuel for reflection, helping you to attain a
sense of progress and insight into your own abilities.
The portfolio, containing examples of your best work across a number of skill sets, streamlines the
preparation of job applications – your portfolio is your own personal one-stop reference resource about
The portfolio can be presented to prospective employers, providing concrete examples of your expertise.
Thanks to the interactive capacities of html, the benefits of creating your portfolio electronically (either on
floppy, CD or online) enhance the process even more. In addition to saving acres of trees and piles
money by avoiding the need for paper, electronic portfolios also ease organisation of your work
examples, as the same piece of work can be easily linked to from different sections of the portfolio,
which is helpful when one piece of work demonstrates more than one skill. For example, a research
paper you have prepared and are particularly proud of demonstrates not only your ability to research, but
also your skills at written communication. Thus, this piece can be linked to from both your ‘Research
Skills’ section, and your ‘Written Communication’ section.
Uploading your portfolio to the internet provides the even greater advantage of promoting your skills in a
way which is accessible to prospective employers from their computer desktop. When applying for jobs,
providing the URL (web address) of your portfolio website enables interested employers to browse your
work, without overloading them with half a rainforest worth of paper with it all printed out! If you are
applying for the position electronically, a link to your web site can be provided in your application or
covering email – one click and they’re there! Given the preponderance of ‘visual’ learners in Western
culture, a website provides a very visual, and therefore effective, way to present your skills and
personality even before you get to interview stage.
What should I include?
When preparing a professional portfolio, it is useful to think of it as two resources rolled into one. Firstly,
it is a way of charting your career and study history. For this purpose, you will want to include details of
your professional progress. This would include, for example, Continuing Professional Development
(CPD) activities you have participated in, details of the subjects you completed in your formal studies,
any work you have had published, and so on. CPD activities include events such as conferences and
courses you’ve attended, any professional reading that has stood out for you, etc. I find preparing a
paragraph or two of reflections after participating in such activities to be a useful way of capturing what
exactly was good about each event, as well as any inspirations you had as a result. Including these
reflections in your portfolio is fine. They provide proof of your attendance, and also proof that you are a
reflective, insightful individual.
Secondly, your portfolio is ‘the face you show the world’. For this purpose, you want to ensure that
everything in your portfolio is of a high standard, and professionally presented. Include only your best
pieces of work, and ensure that everything in there is relevant. It’s a good idea to also include a sentence
or two on why you have included each piece of work. For example, “This paper was prepared and
presented as an assessment piece for my Postgraduate Diploma in Library and Information Systems. I
am particularly proud of this piece of work, as I believe it demonstrates my capacity for identifying new
perspectives on traditional topics, and to discuss complex issues impacting on the library profession.”
This will clarify for yourself and the reader what is good about the included item.
What exactly you include in your portfolio is of course up to you. As a portfolio is a portrait of an individual,
clearly each one should be as unique as the individual it promotes. However, some of the items you
could think about including would be:
Your curriculum vitae/ resume (it’s a good idea to include a printable version of this – eg. a Word or PDF
Examples of high-quality reports, research papers, assignments, evaluations, policies or policy
proposals you have written, either in your studies or your workplace*.
Reflections you have written about CPD activities you have participated in.
Any articles or papers you have had published, including the publication details.
Any other contributions you have made to the profession.
A blog, or entries from your professional journal, for example on topical issues in the LIS profession.
Your contact details.
You should indicate on each page the last time that it was updated, so viewers are aware of how current
the information is.
Ensure you keep your website up-to-date. Adding one or two items as you prepare them is much easier
than trying to do a catch up once every six months! It also ensures that your website is always current.
It is important to put time and thought into the design aspects of your website. You can have all the best
content in the world, but if no-one can find what’s there, or it’s unattractive or difficult to look at, the whole
thing is futile. (More design tips below).
*Note: When using items you have prepared for your employer, or a previous employer, and also with
articles which have been professionally published, ensure you are not breaching any copyright or privacy
rules by including this work on your website. Often, work you have prepared for an employer is
considered the property of the employer, not the author, so you will have to check out your individual
circumstances before including those pieces.
What to watch out for
If your portfolio is going online, it is important to remember that absolutely anyone in the world with an
internet connection may stumble across your page. It is important therefore to consider very carefully
what personal information you put on there. I would advise the following guidelines at a minimum:
NEVER include your home address (postal address is probably OK, but email address is better).
Ensure you regularly check the email address you have displayed on your site – if someone is
considering you for a job, they won’t be impressed if you don’t reply to their emails!
NEVER include your personal phone numbers.
It is also good to remember that not everyone who looks at your website will be living in the same country
as you, so it is a good idea to mention what country, state or county you are living in if you are using the
site to attract employment.
But how do I build an online portfolio?
In order to build an online portfolio, you will need either to be able to operate a web-authoring tool, or be
able to write HTML code. Personally, I learned HTML basics from watching a university friend build a
small website, and the rest I have taught myself, using books and instructional websites. HTML is easy if
you have ‘that’ sort of mind. If not, try a web-authoring tool (eg. Dreamweaver).
There are literally thousands (maybe millions?) of personal websites out there, most of them built by
people with no formal HTML or design training at all. And you can tell. It is not generally the technical side
of these sites which gives amateurs away however; it’s the design. Poor design gives the impression
that the creator doesn’t know what they are doing – not the impression you want to give to prospective
employers and colleagues! You don’t have to study design to do it well if you have a natural ability. For
those who don’t, here are a few tips.
Less is more. This applies to colours, font styles, font sizes and images. Choose a colour scheme at
the start and stick to it. Two to three basic colours, font styles and sizes are enough. If you want to use
images, one per page is probably enough. More than that, and your site starts to look amateurish and
gets difficult to read. Lots of graphics also means long download times – and trust me, people often don’
t bother to wait!
Bear in mind not all people viewing the site will have 20/20 vision. Avoid very small fonts, fonts which are
difficult to read (such as some cursive fonts), and ensure that the background colour and the font colour
contrast sufficiently to make reading easy.
Avoid animations. These take too long to download, distract the eye from the content, which is what you
actually want them to be looking at, and become REALLY annoying in a very short space of time.
Where you have an image, put in an ALT tag which describes the image – this is useful for people
whose browsers have difficulty downloading images, and for vision impaired people who are using
interpretive software (Interpretive software reads aloud to the viewer what is on the screen – it can’t read
the image, so it reads the ALT tag).
Ensure you have no ‘orphan’ pages – that is, ensure each page contains a general heading (ie.
“Professional Portfolio of Ms/Mr Legendary Librarian”) and a link back to at least the home page. If a web
surfer arrives accidentally on the page which contains your article on the joys of reference work, it won’t
make much sense to them unless there is a heading to show that this in fact is the professional portfolio
site of a librarian!
Ensure all your links work. Broken links are VERY frustrating and unprofessional.
Provide at least one menu bar, in the same position of every page – preferably either across the top of
each page (under your heading), or in a column on the left or right of each page. This is where viewers
will look for navigation, so don’t disappoint them!
Read through the guidelines on making web sites accessible for people with disabilities. While too
technical to cover here, they are useful to bear in mind both in design and functionality.
Finally, spelling and punctuation are still important in cyberspace!
In summary, an online professional portfolio is an excellent way to track your professional development,
and to organise and display your skills to the world. Once established, an online portfolio takes little time
and effort to maintain. Get to it!
About the Author:
Kim Moody has recently commenced work as a Reference Librarian at the Queensland University of
Technology (QUT) Library in Brisbane, Australia. She will graduate with a Post Graduate Diploma in
Library and Information Systems from QUT in June 2004.While she has worked in a number of
employment sectors, it is Kim’s commitment to social justice which compelled her to enter the library
and information sector. She possesses a strong belief in the importance of intellectual freedom and of
the role libraries can play in supporting social justice and the democratic process. Other professional
interest areas are web design, digital preservation and cataloguing which enhances information
Article published June 2004
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.