I’m a big proponent not only of professional association membership, but of being active in your association of choice. I’ve never worked anywhere that requires professional membership, but I have worked few places that have supported it monetarily. Regardless, I see it as a basic tenet of Being a Professional. I feel I’ve gotten just as much back, if not more, than what I’ve put into my association work.
Here are some examples of what I’ve gotten out of my membership in state and national associations over the last eight years:
- Networking: This is the most common thing you hear about being involved in library associations, and I’m living proof it can work. I’ve created deep relationships with other library employees, and I know where I can go for help on all sorts of topics. I’ve been headhunted or referred for multiple positions, including the one I have now. I also know people who I can refer to others for open positions, volunteer work, and more.
- Management Skills: I started in associations before I became a manager, but it’s where I learned so many of my management skills. I know how to run an efficient and effective meeting, organize people who are located all over North America, assign clear duties, and require follow up. Some of these things I do now in my day-to-day work, but really I learned them from my association colleagues.
- Concrete Accomplishments: I “did things” in associations, and sometimes they feel more tangible than my work accomplishments. I was part of a team that drafted (and helped pass) an entirely new state association structure. I created a sustainable continuing education webinar program which has been a consistent source of revenue. I’ve yet to have a chance to restructure an entire library system or start a service from scratch in my traditional library work.
Association membership isn’t a one-way street, though. Professional associations also owe something to their member volunteers and leaders. Members need to see value in what they do, and their talents shouldn’t be wasted on busy work. There’s nothing worse to see than a failing committee that doesn’t deliver for its members or its association.
If you want to get active in your association of choice, find out what’s required to volunteer. This might be a web form, or it could be a short email to a committee chair. Be explicit with your interest and skills. With larger associations, you might not get your first choice of assignments, but you could receive an appointment that is still quite valuable to you and the association. You might also look at interest groups as an avenue to participation. Many leaders start out as an interest group co-chair, and continue due to its flexibility and smaller time commitment. Once you’ve received an appointment, show up, volunteer for assignments, and follow through. Just doing those simple things will put you at the front of the pack of association leadership.
Sure, all of my experiences above are achievable without a professional association. The internet and social networking have broken down so many barriers, and library staff from far-away locations are collaborating and colluding on projects, articles, and un-conferences as I write this. Personally, I felt more comfortable starting from within the structure of an association and making my contributions there.
Sometimes I feel like I’m at the end of the generation that will interact with associations in the “traditional” way. There are many barriers to participation in associations, including funding, access to technology, and institutional support. Many of us are puzzling this through, and there are no easy answers when so many new professionals can’t get a job in our field and don’t have an income to support membership dues and conference attendance. But I also hope I get to witness the renaissance of association membership with new ideas for methods of engagement.
I know so many librarians who work behind the scenes to make the Big Things happen in associations and at their home bases, and their contribution matters. Until there are awards for “Best Revision of By-Laws,” “Most Complete Interest Group Review,” or “Outstanding Meeting Agenda,” you won’t see all of those names in print. But those who work side-by-side with them know who they are, value their work beyond measure, and will always go the extra mile to support them.
Keri Cascio is the Director of Innovative Technologies and Library Resource Management at the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology in Kansas City, MO. Her claims to fame are purposeful meetings and the ability to run a darn good webinar. She currently serves on the ALCTS Board, and was a member of the inaugural ALA Emerging Leaders cohort in 2007. You can find her on Twitter at @keribrary.