As library students, we are not required to create a professional portfolio to graduate, but we should be. That’s a crazy thing to say, especially when there are so many requirements we already have: Homework. Assignments. Families. Jobs. Internships. Life. Why add one more to the mix?

Developing a professional portfolio is a worthwhile investment. It’s a way of organizing and sharing your educational and professional accomplishments. It is also a valuable tools that may help you secure an interview for a library job, get your name out in the library world, and be the 24/7 example of your expertise, experience, and dedication to the library profession. Beyond that, a professional portfolio is a well-organized kudos file to help you reflect on previous accomplishments and brainstorm new and exciting ideas.

What is a professional portfolio?

This seems like a stupid question to ask – we’re librarians: there are no stupid questions! – but it is important to define exactly what a professional portfolio is. In short, it is an online archive of your accomplishments both at school and in the field, highlighting your skills, knowledge, interests, and qualifications.

What goes in a portfolio?

Everything from your research papers to infographics should be included. Along with details on events or projects you’ve managed, shareable instructions for classes you’ve run, pictures of you in actions, video projects you’ve completed, etc. If it’s relevant to your current or future career as a librarian, it belongs in your portfolio.

Of course, I’m not just talking about library-only experiences. For example: 

  • Were you on the board of a nonprofit or school organization?
  • Did you help your church/friends/business organize a fundraiser?
  • Were you the founder/leader of a book club?
  • Do you make your own beer?
  • Do you have a YouTube channel where you review movies, music, books?

You may not think there is value to including anecdotal or outside hobbies to your portfolio, but what people are looking for when they see your site is a person. Not a stereotype of the “perfect” librarian, but YOU, an awesome human being who also happens to be a librarian.

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What doesn’t go in a portfolio?

I am just going to present you with my personal list of things not to include in your online portfolio. This is by no means comprehensive:

  • Very personal stories: like what you did on your 21st birthday. 
  • Super sad anecdotes: like when your hamster ran away.
  • Really old content: that paper you wrote on imperialism in high school? Not relevant.
  • Other people’s information: unless you have their permission and it’s relevant.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? You are or will be a librarian. What you add to your portfolio should be relevant to that. You can make it fun, add the touch of personal; quotes you like, book reviews, reading lists, pictures. Just be sure it reflects who you are and what you bring to the profession.

How do I begin?

I believe it was Don Draper from Mad Men who said “make it simple, but significant.” When it comes starting your professional portfolio, that’s exactly what you should aim for.

How to begin:

  • Google Librarian Portfolios. See what other people have made. Get an sense of how you’d like your own site to look. Try drawing it out on paper. Once you have a good sense of what you want you can start building your own.
  • Pick a website service. A place where you can create a site for free or cheap that allows you enough freedom to make something nice, but doesn’t require you to be a coder — unless you want to. Here are a few free ones I’ve used in the past… 
  • Get your resume in ship-shape to add to your portfolio.
  • Gather together the most important and relevant work you’ve done to date
  • Start posting. You can organize it any way you like. (I just blog about the stuff I do and categorize it for easy retrieval.)
  • Share you page with friends and colleagues for honest feedback.
  • Add a link to your portfolio to your resume, LinkedIn, business card, Twitter profile, etc.

Final thoughts

The purpose of a portfolio is not just for job searching or professional enhancement. It’s also a way for you to keep a record of everything you’ve done through school and into your professional life. Sometimes we are so focused on what needs to get done now that we lose track of what we’ve already accomplished. Don’t get hung up on the need for super-shiny perfectionism. Let your site develop naturally throughout the rest of your library school experience. By the time you graduate, you will have a kick-ass showcase of your kick-ass self.

Still have questions about professional portfolios? Already have an one you want to share? Post them both in the comments below!