Professional Life

Get Involved and Reap the Benefits: Advantages of Professional Library Membership

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Sara Kelso.

This is the post where I convince you to get involved, if you aren’t already, with professional organizations as a library or information professional.  “But I don’t have time!” you say.  “But it’s expensive!” you protest.  “And what do they ever do for me anyways?  I mean, it’s great to have conferences, but those are expensive too!” you lament.

Dear reader, I hear you.  But I’m here to tell you that there are enormous advantages to professional organization membership and involvement that you may not have yet discovered.  Fellow MLIS students, I’m particularly talking to you.

Early on in my life in the library world a few years ago, when I landed my first student position, I made it a point to shell out the hundred or so bucks to get that ALA and local OLA membership.  I wasn’t making much, and this felt like a lot of money to give to an organization I knew nothing about, but I am so grateful I joined.  I have reaped so many benefits from it, I can’t imagine how my life as a library professional would look without these experiences.  Thus, this is my call to all of you to get involved and to do it now.  Organizations like the Oregon Library Association are working hard to represent and to connect library professionals on a regional and a state level, and despite all the amazing work being done and the fantastic developments that have emerged even just this year, like a mentoring program and the Passport program, membership is suffering and round tables, committees and task forces need more heads and hands to help out.

At my first ever retreat, I got a chance to see the big picture and to better understand my role in the organization, how others depend on me, how I depend on them, and how all the puzzle pieces fit together to make a group dedicated to helping libraries all over the state, and even form partnerships with other states.  It was the most supportive, collaborative, open-minded, and focused professional experience I have ever had.  It gave me the opportunity to see just how dedicated people are to the library profession, how much it really means to them and how generous people are in this profession.

Why is it important to get in there and get involved with library associations at the national, state, and local level?  Allow me to enumerate the myriad of benefits, as I had the opportunity to discover by joining the all-volunteer Oregon Library Association team:

  1. Library professionals want you to succeed.  They want to share information with their colleagues, and they want students to be informed, to have good resources, good mentors, and good experiences.
  2. You have nothing to lose and so much potential to gain.  In all of my work with seasoned librarians from all backgrounds, I’ve never once been told no.  Ask a librarian for an informational interview, ask if you can volunteer, ask if you can support a committee, a round table, a leadership or lower level role, regardless, they will inevitably say yes.  Case in point: last year, as I was perusing the Oregon Library Association website, I saw a call for an editor for the Oregon Library Association Quarterly journal.  This journal is published four times a year and represents current interests, research, and issues in the library field, from an Oregon perspective.  Having a background in technical writing, I figured I had nothing to lose by throwing my hat in the ring, volunteering to help with the publication.  All I had to do was ask.  Now I’m involved with an integral part of the organization and it has opened numerous doors for me professionally.
  3. You will meet new people and do the networking that you can’t get anywhere else.  Being a part of a professional organization brings people together for some common causes across a broad spectrum of backgrounds.  You’ll meet people from all over the state, from all types of libraries.  More than you’ll ever meet at work, more than at school.  Plus, if you’re the typical shy librarian type, this will force you out of your shell.  Librarians are surprisingly social people, despite the pervasive stereotypes.
  4. Long-term relationships and the associated benefits.  More than likely, you’ll meet a future boss, a potential mentor, and other people who will sing your praises when you need the references of someone with a great reputation and a wealth of experience.
  5. You can discover what it looks like “behind the curtain” in a variety of positions.  Interested in becoming a school librarian?  You can bet that at a conference, a board meeting, a retreat, a webinar, or a happy hour get together that someone in the school librarian realm will be there, and will be willing to tell you what it’s really like.
  6. It keeps you current.  Being in an active membership role, you get to help shape the decisions and events that bring library professionals together, and you’re at the forefront of important issues, new programs, and other developments as they happen.  If this doesn’t give you an edge in competing for those scarce library openings, nothing will.
  7. You get to give back to the library world in a very tangible way, and it’s a whole different kind of volunteer work, much of which can be done from home, on your own time and schedule.
  8. You might get scholarships!  I have so far been given the chance to attend a two-state joint conference for free and was offered a small academic scholarship for my MLIS studies because of my membership and involvement with the library association.  If I hadn’t been a member, I might never have known about these financial benefits and opportunities.

If even one of these resonates with you, sign up now.  You owe it to yourself as a library professional to get this real world experience and to meet people.  It will change the way you see the profession and the way you navigate your journey.  It has certainly been eye opening for me, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities I’ve had because of my involvement as an active member.

Sara Kelso is a second-year MLIS student with San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science, living in Portland, Oregon.  She currently works as a reference assistant at a local library and as the managing editor for the SJSU student research journal, SRJ.  She is the Oregon Library Association Quarterly editor and volunteers for Oregon’s statewide virtual reference chat service, Answerland.  She is hoping to work as a librarian in a public library setting after graduation.

7 thoughts on “Get Involved and Reap the Benefits: Advantages of Professional Library Membership

  1. Great post, Sara.

    I’d suggest that students err on the side of joining more specific and/or regional professional associations, as the scope of large, generalist groups like ALA can be both intimidating and less useful in terms of making contacts in a particular career area.

    During my first year in my most recent library position (Science Data Management Librarian), I found my involvement in the Research Data Access & Preservation Summit community to be much more worthwhile in terms of community building than my more general involvement in ASIS&T (its sponsoring org).

    >> You will meet new people and do the networking that you can’t get anywhere else. <<

    +1 — though you have to attend conferences occasionally to get the most out of this. (Online networking will only get you so far!)

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  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    This was a great article on the perks and opportunities you have when joining an association. Also, they usually have membership discounts for students.

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  3. @skonkiel: Thanks for the response! I agree, after spending some time in the world of professional membership that local/state organizations often tend to have more tangible benefits. It’s funny how getting to know people at these board and committee meetings gets you involved in areas you might never have known about! I have enjoyed attending some regional conferences but have yet to make the leap to a national ALA conference. Thank you for your suggestions on how to maximize those networking opportunities and how to get involved with the most beneficial groups!

    @Lisa Chen: Thanks for reminding readers that we starving college students get the incentive of joining library organizations with a needed discount!

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  4. Nice post, Sara! I agree! Getting involved in ALA has been even better than I expected! ALA committee work has been really rewarding as a library student. I haven’t gotten very involved in my state organization yet (other than paying the student membership rate, what a deal!), but that’s on my to-do list for after I finish library school.

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  5. Pingback: The Beginner’s Guide to the Professional Book Review | Hack Library School

  6. I too have seen the many benefits of joining professional organizations (I am currently an ALA and Illinois Library Association member). Based on my own experiences I 100% agree with skonkiel about especially making connections with state and regional orgs. From online networking in ILA I have now had 2 interviews where the interviewers were both also members in the same forum I participated in. There are also a lot more in-person networking events on a regional level where I will be running into the same people whose library jobs I am applying for!

    Even so, ALA has been a great experience but mainly because I am involved in my student chapter as well. Opportunities like Student to Staff is absolutely amazing, but this would not have been possible without my student chapter. Steve wrote a little bit about this in a previous HLS post: https://hacklibschool.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/student-leadership-time-to-get-on-board/

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  7. Pingback: Librarians I Most Admire | Hack Library School

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