Career Strategies for Librarians
Involvement in Professional or Community Associations
(an excerpt from Jump Start Your Career in Library & Information Science)
by Priscilla Shontz
"Getting involved with one of the professional organizations is probably the most significant contribution
you can make to your own career," wrote Sheila Pantry and Peter Griffiths in their book, Your Successful
LIS Career: Planning Your Career, CVs, Interviews and Self-Promotion.
How do you get involved in a professional organization?
Join an organization so that you'll receive their publications. Reading professional literature will help you
learn the terminology and key players in the field, and keep up with current trends. Scope out the various
organizations by talking with friends and colleagues and reading the association's publications. Which
ones will help you learn skills and meet people in the type of work you want to do? Which organization is
the right "fit" for you? Table 4.1 [not included here] lists a few guides to various library organizations.
Nesbeitt and Gordon’s book, The Information Professional’s Guide to Career Development Online,
includes a detailed list of many professional associations.
Once you are a member of an organization, volunteer for involvement in committees. If you are
wondering how to start becoming involved in professional organizations, you might consider the
American Library Association New Members Round Table. ALA NMRT guarantees a committee
appointment to all volunteers in order to provide leadership development opportunities and a welcoming
introduction to association involvement. Several state library associations also have an NMRT. Often, it's
easier to get involved in a regional, state or more specialized group initially, as those groups are smaller
than national associations. Many people try several organizations to find the one that best fits their
interests and needs. Also, your interests will change over time, so it may be quite helpful to make
contacts in various organizations so that you meet a wide variety of people. It may take longer to break in
to large organizations, but keep applying. Attend committee or business meetings, programs and social
activities to become better known, and you will be remembered when officers make committee
Jim Walther (Reference Librarian, Brian Cave LLP) said, " If you want to be known at the local level, get
involved in local level groups or be instrumental in city groups, which may not be library focused.
Sometimes local chapters may be named the same as the national organizations, but sometimes there
are local groups that are unofficial. First, get involved in your local or state organizations and then look to
one or two national organizations. Some informal organizations don't even have a name - for example, in
Washington, DC there is an informal group called the Franklin Square group, which is comprised of law
librarians in a specific section of the city. These groups are often topical groups or social groups that
attract others based on where you live or work. Depending on the city, these groups have an informal,
social, topical focus, and allow you to share information with others. Local chapters or informal groups
can give you excellent leadership and organizational opportunities for involvement."
When you're put on a committee, find out what is expected of you and do it. People who "come through"
are noticed, remembered, and recommended to others. People who don't respond to e-mail or don't do
what they're asked are also remembered. Take your committee responsibilities seriously; if you can't
commit the time, explain your situation to the committee chair or your supervisor, and if necessary,
resign from the committee. You don't want to be "dead weight" on the committee. However, do
remember that everyone is as busy as you are, and others do understand that you are volunteering your
time to help on this committee. Talk with your committee chair or supervising officer if you have concerns
about the time you can devote to the committee - sometimes their expectations are much lower than
yours! Find the level of activity and the balance of commitment that works best for you.
Use committee involvement - professional, community, workplace, institutional, and so on - to help you
gain skills you wouldn't gain on the job. For instance, if you would like some budgeting experience, try to
get on a committee that manages a budget for a program or project. If you're good with money, volunteer
to be the treasurer of a local or professional group. If you enjoy writing or want to gain writing or
publishing experience, look for committees that publish newsletters or other publications. Consider
submitting an article to your group's newsletter. If you want to gain supervisory experience, volunteer to
chair a committee or run for an office. Diversify your skills by participating in activities you can't perform
on your daily job.
Fran Wilkinson commented, "Perhaps the best thing I ever did professionally was get involved with
NASIG. I learned conference planning skills, expanded my organizational skills (which helps me every
day), developed ideas for research and publication. Most importantly, I developed professional
colleagues and friends who have inspired me, given me advice and new ideas for all aspects of my
work, written letters of support for my tenure and promotion, let me bounce ideas off of them, and sought
my advice, which forced me to think in new and different ways."
Ask questions. Learn. Correspond with the chair or supervisor and other committee members.
Contribute ideas. Do what you're asked to do. That's how your name gets remembered.
Julie Ann McDaniel (Librarian, Community Hospital of Springfield) wrote, "I think one of the best pieces of
advice I ever got came from Rosemary DuMont, then Dean of the School of Library Science at Kent State
University. She said that to get started in professional associations you should volunteer on the
committees/interest groups/sections that no one else wants to be on. She suggested some social
issues groups or groups associated with small user populations -- prison libraries; disabled services;
home bound services; etc.; or new groups that are just trying to get organized in a larger group. She
pointed out that in most organizations it is much easier to "move up" within these smaller sections. It
was easier (and faster) to get to a leadership position where you could move into a section of the
organization that more closely met your interests. She also indicated that if you worked in a large
organization, you were more likely to be able to get time off to attend meetings of the smaller group. If you
tried to get active in a larger group, you might find that many of your co-workers wanted time off to attend
the same meetings. By being active in a smaller group, you were less likely to have competition to be
away from work to attend meetings.
"It was advice that worked for me. I volunteered in the Ohio Library Association Disabled Services
Interest Group, a group of about six active people. Within two years, I was Chair of the Interest Group. (On
my job, I had no connection with or responsibility for anything related to patrons with disabilities). I was
able to write an article for Ohio Libraries about library services for the disabled. I ran for the next higher
level of office in OLA and was defeated. At about the same time, I was active in the just forming
Bibliographic Instruction Interest Group of the Academic Library Association of Ohio. Again, this was a
group of about 10 active people. I was coordinator of BI at Kent State at the time, so it meshed well with
my job. Because of my work in OLA and my job responsibilities, I was invited to two OLA conferences to
talk about BI. I was nominated for treasurer of ALAO and won and then nominated for president and won.
I attribute all of this to the suggestion to start small where no one else wanted to be. Had I started in the
reference section of OLA, where I wanted to be (and my job responsibilities made sense for me to be), I
would have been an ‘extra’ for a long time and would not have been able to move up in two organizations.
"I have found professional association work to be very rewarding personally,” continued McDaniel, “and
beneficial to my patrons. My patrons are impressed when I can say, ‘I think XYZ library can help us with
that. Let me call their librarian and see.’ It is even better when I can send my patron to XYZ library and tell
them to ask for ‘June Smith.’ I wouldn't know about the strengths of XYZ library or June Smith, the
librarian, without my exposure to them through professional organizations."
Don't discount experience or contacts gained at community or social activities or organizations.
Sometimes these people can steer you toward job opportunities or can help you gain skills you want.
Not only can you gain diverse experience, you may also gain friends who provide support, balance and a
different perspective than you may receive at your workplace.
About the Author:
Priscilla K. Shontz is a web designer and freelance writer and has worked in university, community
college, medical and public libraries. She is author of Jump Start Your Career in Library & Information
Science and is a past president of the ALA New Members Round Table.
Article submitted Mar 2002
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.