Career Strategies for Librarians
How Library Association Committee Work Has Made Me a Better Librarian
by Ann Snoeyenbos
I believe I am a better librarian in general thanks to the work I’ve done on library association
committees. I also think I’m better at my day job because of the experience I’ve gained doing committee
work at the state and national level. The benefits I’ve enjoyed have come from my work in the American
Library Association (ALA) and the New York Library Association (NYLA) but I believe that similar
associations will provide similar benefits, whether your association of choice be SLA, NASIG, ARLIS, or
any of the other large or small associations—provided the membership includes people from libraries
other than your own.
Committee work has given me an opportunity to explore work activities not directly related to my job, such
as party planning, newsletter editing, and the discussion of the values we deem essential to
librarianship. These variations from my daily work have been good for me because they have helped me
prepare me for changing responsibilities in my own institution. If I were to start looking for a new job
these skills could make me a more appealing candidate for certain positions, and if nothing else, having
done that type of volunteer work demonstrates that I believe in “giving back” to the profession, and and
that I know how to do so. Also, the experience I gain outside my library building helps me prepare for
change inside my building, because I’ve learned about other ways to conduct business. Committee
work can be an inexpensive and relatively painless way to gain news skills and competencies that you
would otherwise have to go to a continuing education provider to get. In committee work I can be a
leader, a facilitator, and a boss, even though I remain pretty low on the organizational chart at my home
institution. I can pursue different types of job without actually leaving my current one.
Committee work has provided opportunities for me to do things that are directly related to my job.
Committee work has exposed me to activities that I am familiar with, but at a higher or more complex
level than I already knew. This helps me stay on top of trends and anticipate changes coming down the
pike. The work that I’ve done has helped me understand the relationships underlying specific actions
(how does x committee work with z committee, and why is it that way?), and this new knowledge has
helped me come up with new applications for specific techniques. On days when you’re fed up with a
knotty problem or a troublesome situation at work it can be nice to have other projects to turn to, like your
committee work. For me, switching gears in this way usually recharges my interest in library work and
make it easier to go back to the tough stuff with a positive attitude. Serving on award committees allows
you to read resumes and application materials that will expose you to new worlds of opportunity. Seeing
so many different examples of resume layout and self-description is useful when you write your own
applications. Serving on grant committees teaches you to write better grant applications because you
will be trained to evaluate applications on many different levels.
Committee work has given me the opportunity to learn things that are useful in my private life. How often
do you get the chance to plan a party for 500 people without spending your own money? I’ve gained the
confidence to contact vendors and library administrators to ask for help, for services, for funding, and for
favors. Somehow these things are less scary when you do them on behalf of a beneficent group. The
things I’ve learned about creating a budget and sticking to it, and working with different kinds of bank
accounts and investments has changed the way I handle my personal finances.
The real beauty in all these opportunities is that this learning and experimentation is done away from my
supervisors, which means I feel freer to make mistakes. This in turn means that I am more creative and
tend to make fewer errors, because I am not so afraid of getting a mediocre outcome. Things tend to
move at a slower pace in association work because the meetings are spaced far apart on the calendar.
Most committee chairs are mindful that the work is being done by volunteers, without whom none of the
work would be completed. This gives me more time to ask questions, gather opinions, or do additional
research, without the time pressures we experience in our day jobs. Frequently, in my day job the
pleasure of learning new skills is taken away by the need to learn those skills quickly and absolutely. All
in all I’ve enjoyed my committee work very much because it is similar to the work I do in my regular job,
yet different enough to be interesting from start to finish.
About the Author:
Ann Snoeyenbos is the reference and collection development librarian for West European Social
Science at New York University. In 10 years as a librarian Ann has served on approximately 40 different
committees at the local, state, and national level.
Article submitted Apr 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.