Things I Never Learned in Library School: The Backside of Being Involved
Librarians are unique in that they get to their degrees in a variety of different ways. Not everyone steps to their master’s right after undergrad- I know I didn’t, and I wasn’t the only one in my courses who took a roundabout path, either. That Guy and I married right after our undergrad graduation, and we moved to Texas for his job, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I was able to enroll into a MLS program. I was on a commuter schedule, and so were all of my MLS classmates- we didn’t stay on campus, we all drove, so there wasn’t that band of activities that I had had during undergrad and I missed it. There were study groups, and groups of friends that got together, and we had our GLISA (Graduate Library and Information Studies Association- our student chapter of the ALA), but that was it. And I had been a student member of ALA, and a member of our state association, and going to the state conferences for the library job I was in all during my master’s degree, but none of this membership or attendance was really active.
I have to credit my library’s administrator with getting me involved in ALA. He sent out an email to people detailing information about The Amelia Bloomer Project, and I cleared it with him and my manager at the time, and with their OK I sent in my resume and information. Lo and behold, I was accepted, and served on that committee for a number of years. Since then, I’ve been on a variety of committees for YALSA (including the Midwinter Institute in San Diego, and will be serving on Teen Tech Week), I’ve co-chaired The Amelia Bloomer Project, and I am chair this year for The Rainbow Project. But I wouldn’t have even known where to start within the professional organizations without their help.
Getting involved with committee work has been incredibly rewarding to me. I’ve made a ton of friends, some family, and a lot of connections that I would never have made otherwise. It has brought me out of my shell, and made me a better librarian and manager because of it. Do I think I would be where I am now if I hadn’t gotten involved in committee work? Possibly. However, I know that I wouldn’t have had a number of opportunities to meet and form personal relationships with authors and other librarians around the country if I had just attended conferences.
Getting involved is important because we *can* and *do* make a difference. There are ways to get involved that fit any budget, large or small or non-existent (trust me, I’ve been there).
The first thing to do is to take a look at yourself- really know what it is that you want to do, and what your limitations are within yourself and within your position.
- Do you have the commitment to read an insane amount of a specific type of books over the year, and talk about them fully without getting your feelings hurt? Book committees, no matter what the type, can get personal without people ever meaning to.
- Do you have the backing of your boss and your administration? Will they honor the commitments that you have to make to attend conferences? If not, investigate virtual committees.
- Do you have the personal time to devote to a committee? We don’t know about family emergencies, but will your significant other / family get upset if there’s a chat every Wednesday night or you *have* to read and comment on a certain number of books before Halloween, or you have no sleep a certain week of the year due to a presentation or a lost author contact?
- Can you keep yourself organized and your work life, personal life, and professional life separate?
- Do you have the finances to keep up with your commitment? If you’re thinking about an ALA committee, you’re not only looking at the ALA dues and the section dues; if you have to go to conferences you have the registration, travel, food, and housing as well. If you’re thinking about a state committee, the cost can be the same or higher. Does your position allow you to get paid back for any of it, or is it all coming out of your pocket?
- Do you think you want to blog? Do you have access to a computer, and to books/materials that you want to blog about? Do you have a thick skin? Things can get pretty nasty at times with comments and criticism.
- Have you thought about doing something outside of your current wheelhouse? We know we all love teens, but if you’re feeling punchy look for things in other areas that might interest you- Office of Intellectual Freedom, Social Responsibilities Round Table, GLBT-RT.
Ready to get involved?
- YALSA does theirs in two groups: virtual process groups are appointed in the spring, while selection committees are appointed in the fall, so if you’re interested in selection (book committee) work, NOW is the time to get your info in.
- ALSC has nearly 60 committees that need volunteers, split into seven different groups.
- GLBT-RT has two book committees taking applications for fall appointments (The Rainbow Project and The Stonewall Awards), as well as other committees that have spring appointments.
- SRRT has a number of committees, including the Amelia Bloomer Project. To learn more about the committees, contact one of the leaders or attend a meeting and join in.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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