This spring the Young Adult Library Services Association (better know as YALSA) received funding to develop a virtual badge program for professional development (ht Janice). A grant for this project is provided by three big badging proponents: HASTAC, the Mozilla Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.
The goal is to provide badges for librarians and library staff as they gain skills needed to meet the needs of 21st century teens, as described by YALSA's Competencies for Serving Youth in Libraries. A writer on the YALSA blog explains the idea behind this innovative approach to continuing education:
We are all aware that because of the rapidly changing nature of how information is created and delivered, librarians must constantly learn new skills to be effective in our daily work. In addition, we know that in today’s world, learning happens everywhere, and YALSA wants to help librarians and library workers get recognition for the skills they are acquiring outside traditional settings.
Librarians love lifelong learning more than any other profession I know. While earning badges may or may not offer any intrinsic motivation for continuing education, virtual badges certainly would provide librarians with recognition for learning new skills. I can already imagine the future of our resumes, Facebook (& co.) profiles, blogs, and other virtual spaces, tricked out with cool badges representing our learning. It's definitely going to be colorful.
Of course, the usual question comes to mind: Does this actually contribute anything to the future of learning? And I find myself skeptical. Badging seems like a good system for giving learners something to show for their continuing education, it's just hard to see what it will change about the way people already learn. Young adult librarians have been learning for a long time. It seems silly to pay too much attention to the badges themselves. The heart of continuing learning experiences should be on creating excellent educational content and providing real opportunities for learners to apply new skills.
Many thoughtful people who are much smarter than me have spent a long time discussing badging, and it's complicated to balance these opposing perspectives. In the end, I think any innovative idea is certainly worth exploring, and we won't really be able to predict the impact until it happens. In the meantime, for better or worse, I think we'll probably start adapting to the badging ecosystem without even realizing it.
One final thought: I think that badging could be a cool way for librarians to showcase their skills to library users, especially to teens. From my limited exposure to the conversation, it seems like there is too much focus put on the role of badging to find employment, rather than as a functional way to share knowledge at the workplace. What if the library website had a page of the collected badges of all staff? Teens could click on a badge (e.g. creating a website, video editing, writing poetry, etc.) to contact the person who can help them with their question. Maybe we'll even make analog badges to wear around the library.