By: Joy Dubose
Service and volunteering are a great way to become involved in any profession, and library science is no different. Whether you are interested in volunteering at a state, regional or national level, it can be a good experience and provide you with a unique perspective. However, it can be confusing to know just how to get involved in committees, how to get involved in leadership, and to know which committees are best for new members.
Committees of all types are necessary for the effective functioning of library associations. The American Library Association (ALA) is one of the largest associations for library professionals. ALA incorporates smaller regional associations and even smaller state associations. By researching these different associations, it is possible to explore many of the current committees. Committees from these different associations, allow for different opportunities. By serving on a state committee, it is possible to be more aware of certain professional problems of your state, like libraries not having enough catalogers. Serving on a national committee allows you to see problems around the country and see solutions others might have developed for problems that you may encounter.
The best way to get involved in any committees is to first decide which ones you are interested in. Then, contact the chair or current members to see when the committee is open for new members. Some committees are annual and renew every year with new members, and some are standing committees that people can join at any time. If you do not see a committee that you might be interested in and have an idea for one, do not be afraid to reach out to the association with the idea. They may point you to a committee you missed, or eventually create one if there is sufficient need.
ALA and its subsidiaries are not the only library associations. There are plenty of others. It is also important to talk to your co-workers. They may be involved in associations and committees that you might not be aware of. There are also plenty of email listservs for library professionals to join. Post your question on a listserv, and a peer may be able to point you to a committee that interests you.
Once you get involved in a committee, you may be interested in serving in a leadership role, such as its chair or vice-chair. Many committees will have “volunteer” calls and ask people if they are interested in serving as a chair or vice-chair. However, these generally happen only once a year. While some have these open calls for volunteers, many other committees have elections and will call for nominations. These may happen once a year, but some may happen every few years. Again, it is important to research the committee and see what the leadership process is. Larger positions, like heads of the association, will be voted on. A nomination committee may be in charge of its election process. It is possible to contact that committee and find out when elections are for positions like secretary or treasurer.
For those that are new to the profession, all of this can be quite daunting. However, there is help at hand. Most associations have a New Members Round Table group, NMRT. This can be just one committee or a group of committees. For ALA there are several committees that fall under the NMRT umbrella. Also, you can only be involved in NMRT for a certain amount of time and then you are graduated out. This allows newcomers to the profession to meet others and learn and express ideas. If a national association seems too foreboding, many regional and state associations have new member committees. The NMRT allows newcomers to get to know the profession better and hopefully have some mentoring/mentored moments with others within the association.
While getting involved in professional associations can seem daunting and confusing, it can also be greatly rewarding. Serving in committees allows people to grow, come to new ideas, and meet people from different backgrounds. While committees vary and do require hard work, the rewards certainly outweigh the cost.