Five Steps to a Successful Portfolio

Step 1: Identify what you already know and don’t know about the competencies in a competency set.

Step 2: Gather Your Documentation

Step 3: Document Each Competency in a Competency Set

Step 4: Create Your Personal Learning Statement

Step 5: Evaluation of your portfolio for each competency set

Step 1: Identify what you already know and don’t know about the competencies in a competency set.

Look at the individual competencies in a competency set and select those in which you can demonstrate your knowledge and skills. Determine what kind primary and secondary documentation you have. The Portfolio Planning Tools (PPT) are downloadable forms that can help you with each of the competency sets. These worksheets will NOT be included in your Portfolio or your CAR. They are only for you to use to help plan and create your Portfolio. Using the PPTs is optional.

You can use the PPTs to plan your approach to each competency set. After reading the explanations below, jot down notes in the PPT to help you determine what documentation you have for each competency in a competency set. This may help you decide if you should enroll in an approved course instead of preparing a portfolio.

The PPT has spaces for you to make notes about specific evidence/files/documents you might use or resources you might have to demonstrate your understanding of each competency in a competency set:

  • Primary documentation (see above to review what this is)
  • Secondary documentation (see above to review what this is)
  • Portfolio Development Suggestions
  • Other ways you might demonstrate your knowledge and skill

Use the following questions about each individual competency within a competency set and complete your Portfolio Planning Tool. Addressing these questions will help you organize and complete a Portfolio. This PPT worksheet can guide your work and progress; you can go back and make changes at any time before you request evaluation of your Portfolio.

A. Is this a competency that you can demonstrate through your experience? If the answer is yes, look at the questions below. If the answer is no, go to #B

  • What experience do you have that is relevant to this particular competency? (You may have more than one volunteer or work experience that is relevant to a competency.)
  • How is your experience relevant to a competency? How does your experience specifically demonstrate your skills and knowledge?
  • How can you document your achievement so others can recognize it? List the primary and secondary documentation that you have.
  • Have you completed courses or workshops that helped you achieve this competency? How can you document what you have learned and why it is relevant to the competencies? Did you work on any projects for the course? Did completing the course change some aspect of your work that you can document?

B. If this is not a competency that you can demonstrate through experience, what options for new learning do you want to consider?

  • Is there a PDS that you can complete? Look at the PDS for each competency and determine if is realistic for you to accomplish.
  • Is there an unapproved course, workshop or webinar you can complete that will help you achieve this competency? When can you enroll? (If you take the course or workshop, remember to save papers, projects, or other activities from the course that demonstrate your learning so you can include them in your Portfolio.)
  • Are there teams at your library that are planning programs, projects, or activities that you can join that will help you achieve this competency? What kinds of documentation might you collect along the way to demonstrate your achievement?
  • Are there opportunities to volunteer outside of your library that will help you achieve the competency? (Remember to save documentation that will help you demonstrate your achievements.)
  • Is there a library project or program for your library you can design and document even if you do not have the opportunity to put it into practice immediately? How can you document what you have designed for your Portfolio?
  • Are you interested in researching a competency topic and writing an essay? Remember to include a bibliography of outside resources used for your essay.

IMPORTANT: Remember these are ideas and questions to get you started. You may have other ideas about how to pursue learning or how to demonstrate prior learning. Each candidate’s Portfolio will be unique.

Here is an example of the Portfolio Planning Tool that you can use to summarize your answers to the questions above. We have used two of the Youth Services competencies as examples.

Youth Services Competency Set

Competency My Existing primary documentation My Existing secondary documentation I can use PDS I will do Other new learning I will complete
A general understanding of the stages of childhood…. PDS #1
Resources for youth…. I created a Bibliography on award children’s award winning books Letter from supervisor expressing her appreciation of the bibliography. Research other classic titles and describe why they are classic.
Complete a workshop offered by my library association.

Once you complete your PPT for a competency set, you might review this with your supervisors and co-workers to confirm your ability to document your knowledge and skills.

Please use the Portfolio Planning Tools (PPT) below to help you prepare and organize your portfolio:


Electives (choose any three)

Step 2: Gather Your Documentation

After you have considered how you want to demonstrate your competency in each area, gather the documentation you need for each individual competency. The notes you take on the worksheet for each individual competency will help you complete this step.

Pat Wagner has identified Eight Tasks that can help you gather documentation for your portfolio. These tasks will help you determine what primary and secondary documentation you have or need to collect.

A. Organize your portfolio office to include all of the information you will need for a portfolio.

Two of the most common problems candidates encounter while creating their portfolios:

  • Lost materials: Certificates, letters of recommendation, artwork, brochures, and examples of one-of-a-kind-projects may disappear when you are on deadline. Both paper and electronic copies vanish. The heartbreak is when these are items that can’t be replaced. Now is the time to put aside a file drawer or box, make copies of originals, scan documents, and make sure everything is filed and backed-up.
  • Lost steps: The day before you are supposed to turn in your final portfolio work you discover you overlooked two competencies. Or, you forgot to e-mail your former supervisor for a letter describing the big cataloging project you successfully completed five years ago, and she left for a cruise.

Now is the time to create personal checklists, with deadlines to ensure nothing falls between the cracks.

B. Acquire subject mentors

The LSSC Program plans to provide mentors for candidates preparing portfolios; however, the mentoring program is not yet established. In the meantime, you can find mentors of your own. Look for at least two people whom you can ask for advice about the content of the competency sets of interest to you. Having mentors who can provide advice and insights can help you create a portfolio that best represents your abilities and knowledge. One of the most important elements of developing a successful portfolio is to ask for help and/or another viewpoint on what you are including.

These mentors could be librarians or colleagues at your own library or librarians you have met professionally elsewhere. State libraries or state library associations might also organize mentoring programs for candidates.

C. Create your workplace history

Busy working adults tend to forget what they have done and what they know how to do. A workplace history is a simple chart or table that documents your work story by periods of time. It summarizes your experience, abilities, and accomplishments. By writing down a history of your work experience, you are more likely to document information that will help your portfolio garner the credit you deserve.

A workplace history is like a resume, but remember, this document is just for you to help plan your portfolios. There is no one right way create a workplace history. One way is to create six columns:

  • Year
  • Where you worked (location)
  • Your job title (position)
  • What you did
  • What skills and knowledge you gained
  • Your accomplishments or what you did that had an impact in the library

The information you capture might apply to more than one set of competencies. Depending how many years you have been in the workplace and how many jobs you have had, you might use years or multi-year periods. Some people prefer to work backwards, starting with the most recent job first. The key thing is to do it by time period rather than job or activity. Remember you are trying to fill in the blanks!

Here is a sample workplace history based on years, showing what happened in two library workplaces over a fourteen-year period.

Sample Workplace History Worksheet
(Workplace History Worksheet, Word doc)

Year Location Position Activities Skills and Knowledge Accomplishments
1994 Smith Public Library (SPL) Access Services Clerk Shelving, Circulation, Office Filing Attention to detail,
quality customer service
Suggestions on improving circulation procedures were accepted by my supervisor,
Received Employee of the Month for customer service.
Received positive letters from library users.
1995 SPL Tech Services Clerk I Processing Books: Unpacking, shipping returns, bar codes, and simple repairs Attention to detail,
Enhanced book repair skills. Teamwork
Cleaned up processing backlog.
Found mistake from vendor, brought to supervisor’s attention, saved hundreds of dollars. Team leader for new bar code project.
1995-1997 SPL Processing Super-visor Copy cataloging and some original cataloging with head cataloger. Supervised two clerks. Original cataloging
Supervision and
Recommended clerk evaluations to supervisor. Wrote first draft of job description for new clerks. Developed a new method of processing books to save hours of cataloging time.
Single-handedly cleaned up a three-month backlog of unprocessed books.
1997-2001 Jones College Library (JPL) Processing Super-visor Copy cataloging and refined original cataloging skills. Supervised four clerks. Learned new acquisition and cataloging
Learned how to plan for and make changes.
Cataloged gift of 2,000 music and art books. Commendation from supervisor.
Devised new method for processing books got books on shelf quicker.
1998-2010 JCL Assistant to the Head of Technical Services Was given opportunity to learn original cataloging and create custom records. Supervised eight clerks. Learned how to represent department at library meetings. Learned how to communicate difficult information to staff and library users. Managed transition of copy cataloging functions into new IMS and received letter of commendation from Library Dean. Awarded employee of the year in 2008. Elected chair of the LSS Division in the Library Association.

D. Contact former workplaces, supervisors and co-workers.

The workplace history above shows that proof of your knowledge and skill will involve contacting some of your former supervisors or co-workers. A few years ago assembling portfolio meant calling directory assistance in the town you lived in 15 years ago, and hoping your former director had not married again and changed her last name. Now, it is relatively easy to find people who knew you when and ask them for letters to corroborate your statements about what you did, and how well you did it.

You might want to tell them about the LSSC Program, the sets of competencies you are applying for, and what you need from them. Remind them of the accomplishments you listed in your workplace history. Ask them to be specific and detailed about your duties and accomplishments, as well as their assessment of your abilities. One way is to ask them if they thought you were a beginner, intermediate, or expert, and explain why. Provide any evidence that might help them remember, such as your job description, performance reviews, newsletters or posters announcing projects you completed. The more specific, the better for your portfolio’s success.

If they turn you down, ask them why. They might have misunderstood what you are asking for, for example, or think that they have to elaborate on everything in the set of competencies.

E. Make copies of documents and scan them into the computer.

There can be a lot of office work attached to creating a successful portfolio. Now is the time to start locating and making physical and electronic copies of everything you need.

Where is:

  • that brochure you wrote for the programming series?
  • the grant application that funded the new teen center?
  • your evaluation of the collection development policy?

Is the document on your computer? The library’s computer? In a personnel file? In someone else’s file cabinet? Start looking now!

Remember: Every original that you can’t replace needs to be copied with care and attention. Those copies are what you use to create the online version of the portfolio, while the originals go back in their safe file or deposit box.

You may not be able to use your library’s resources to scan documents. You may have to find a friend with a printer that scans or use a scanner in a commercial facility or even purchase an inexpensive printer/scanner for your home office. Many documents will need to be scanned into your LiveText CAR.

Once you have electronic versions of your documents, it is time to begin using the LiveText website. Store your documents on LiveText and on your own computer as back-up.

F. Review the literature regarding your competencies.

Depending on which set of competencies you are planning to “portfolio” first, it will not hurt to look at what recognized authorities in the library world have to say about the competencies. You can also find new ways to talk about the things you know how to do and validate what you know with expert advice.

You can find information on the web sites of library graduate schools, library associations, and larger libraries, including course outlines, reading lists, as well as links to free webinars and slide shows. You can also use databases to find articles, and look in your own collection and use ILL to find books from ALA Editions and other library publishers.

You may want to do this particularly for the competencies where you intend to do a Portfolio Development Suggestion or design your own learning task.

G. Find a friend who can interview you.

One approach is to ask a friend to interview you about what you are planning to create in your portfolio. This can be a profitable experience where you will learn more about what you know about a topic in response to questions from an interested party.

Find a friend who is good at listening and ask them for an hour of their time. In a quiet place without interruptions, ask them to interview you about one of the competency sets you are researching. At first it might be awkward, but it is a proven technique for working a different part of your brain, and extracting a different set of memories and ideas about your abilities than you get from writing about them.

You can record the conversation for future review or make quick notes to jog your memory later. After the conversation, you can write what you learned on your Portfolio Planning Tool and begin to make a distinction between your primary and secondary documentation.

You can also use the LSSC electronic discussion group to find others working on a portfolio in the same competency set and discuss ideas. LiveText also has a community function where people can communicate about what they are doing.

Step 3: Document Each Competency in a Competency Set

You must address each competency in a competency set. For each competency, upload your primary or secondary documentation. While secondary documentation is important, greater emphasis is placed on the proof of your actual accomplishments through primary documentation and through your explanation of the documentation.

For each competency in a set, you will write a brief statement that explains the documentation you have included and how it demonstrates that you have achieved that specific competency. If you do not have documentation, you may want to write an essay or record an oral statement that demonstrates your understanding of that competency. The essay itself becomes your documentation. This essay should be no longer than three double-spaced pages. The brief statements, recordings, and essays should be saved as files and uploaded to the competency in LiveText as a file attachment.

For some of the individual competencies, you may already have the documentation. For others, you may need to request letters, get copies of job descriptions, and/or complete new learning projects or Portfolio Development Suggestions. You can upload documentation to the portfolio section of the CAR for each individual competency as it is ready. You will have time to edit, add documents, and move documents BEFORE you request evaluation of that section.

Some documentation you assemble through your workplace timeline and workplace autobiography may be used to demonstrate your knowledge and skills for more than one competency. For example, you might write a description of how you created a library-related Facebook profile for the Technology competency 8 and use it to deliver short training tips to the five people who “friend” you, which is competency 9. You would provide the description for both competency 8 and 9.

Remember, no one will have access to your portfolio until you request an evaluation of that particular competency set.

After you have gathered, organized, and uploaded the documents for each competency (including the short statement that briefly summarizes your documentation) you will write a personal learning statement about the entire competency set.

Here is an example from Access Services Competency 4:
Copyright issues pertaining to access functions such as routine circulation of library materials, course reserves, document delivery and interlibrary loan.

I designed this flyer to alert library customers about how much they can copy from a book before it becomes an illegal act. Students and the public use our library and sometimes they try to copy the whole book or article if they can’t take it out because they have too many fines. I used our library policy and what I learned from the Interlibrary Loan librarian to figure out the most important points for the flyer. It was posted above every copier.

Step 4: Create Your Personal Learning Statement

After you’ve thought through your work experiences and collected and organized your documentation, you will have a better idea of how you can best write Your Personal Learning Statements for each competency set. Remember, a Personal Learning Statement is not necessary if you have passed an Approved Course.

Your personal learning statement should:

  • Include an overview of how you understand the importance the competency set to your current or possible future work as a Library Support Staff, or how the competency set relates to your position, or how you better understand the jobs and people who work in that area;
  • Include a summary of your skills and knowledge; and
  • Not exceed 3 double-spaced pages.

Your Personal Learning Statement is an overview of your learning and is an opportunity for you to share your own reflections about a specific competency set. Your documentation and the statements that go with that documentation will provide the evaluators with the details of your learning and achievements.

Since this statement is a personal reflection, and not a research paper, there is no set required length. However, a statement longer than three double-spaced pages is not recommended. Communication skills are important in library service. Portfolio evaluators will review how well you communicate your ideas, and will pay attention to your spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Step 5: Evaluation of your portfolio for each competency set

Your portfolio is complete when you have addressed all of the competencies in a competency set and prepared your Personal Learning Statement.

When you determine your portfolio is complete, you may want to ask a mentor or a librarian to review it to give feedback on whether you have effectively demonstrated the required knowledge and skills.

Once you are ready, follow the directions in your CAR to request an evaluation of your portfolio. During the evaluation, you cannot edit or add additional documentation to your portfolio.

Portfolio evaluators will assess your portfolio based on the documents for each competency and your personal statement. They will determine to what extent you have achieved the specific competencies within the competency set.

Portfolio evaluators may:

  • approve your portfolio;
  • ask for additional information or documentation; or
  • determine that your portfolio does not demonstrate satisfactory achievement of the competency set and suggest that you take an approved LSSC course

The ALA-APA office will notify you of the result and provide you with evaluator feedback.

For more information, review the Portfolio Evaluation Policies and Procedures section on the LSSC website.

Here are some typical mistakes that people make in preparing a portfolio.

  • You do not relate what you have learned from a particular experience. Your primary evidence may need a brief paragraph that explicitly states your learning from your accomplishments.
  • You may not realize how much time it takes to gather your documentation or prepare the statements or to complete a PDS.
  • Your writing may be too vague or general. Specifics are important to convey your accomplishments.
  • Your writing may have errors in spelling or grammar that distract from your accomplishments.