Committee Work: Not So Scary After All

Here at Hack Library School we talk a lot about ways to further our LIS educations outside of the classroom, including pursuing part-time work, completing internships and practicums, joining student and professional organizations, and attending conferences. These kinds of experience are essential for shaping professional interests and developing skills. Throughout my time in library school I’ve tried to consider new opportunities to learn and grow as a librarian-in-training, and I want to share an option that I hadn’t thought about until more recently: joining a committee.

Initially, the idea of joining a committee sounded a little scary to me. Up until a few months ago, I had a fairly formal mental image of committees; I imagined intense, stately people talking about intense, stately things (when I thought about committees at all, which wasn’t too often). I hadn’t really considered the possibility of taking part in a committee as a student, so when one of my supervisors suggested that I join the conference planning committee for the librarians’ association at UNC, I was a little taken aback. But, not wanting to turn down an opportunity, I decided to give committee work a try.

My experience on the conference planning committee has been really great so far, and certainly not the intimidating endeavor I might have imagined. During our first meeting I realized that a committee can be as simple as a group of people trying to figure something out and get something done. Not scary, right? Too often I imagine that the professional librarians around me have everything together and know exactly what they’re doing all the time. Serving on a committee has been a good reminder for me that even the most brilliant librarians are constantly figuring things out. We all experience new challenges and problems to solve all the time and I think that’s a good thing.

Getting involved on a committee is also a great opportunity to work with people you might not meet otherwise. Committee members often hail from a variety of departments and bring lots of different experiences and perspectives to the table. I think that we, as students, have valuable ideas to add to that mix.

If you’re interested in committee work, but not sure where to start, here are some questions to explore:

Are there any committees to join within your LIS program? Your school probably has committees for faculty review and hiring. Check in with your program/school administrator for more information.

Does your campus library system have a student advisory committee? Perhaps they would take another grad student next semester.

Is there local librarians’ association for your campus, consortium, or region? The Librarians’ Association at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, has multiple committees, including a program committee, conference committee, and professional development committee.

Are you a member of a state, regional, or national professional organization? They have lots of committees and, as long as you’re a member, I believe many are open to students. Check out the ALA Committees and information for students to find out how you can get more involved in ALA.

The possibilities for committee work are very broad: take part in a project, help plan an event, contribute your thoughts to solving an issue, or serve as a liaison between students and professionals or faculty. Librarians do a lot of problem solving, decision making, and planning by committee, so I think it is an important opportunity to consider while still in school. Have you ever been on a committee? What was it like? Let us know in the comments.

9 replies

  1. I agree with this post, Julia. I’m currently serving on my first committee (for hiring a faculty historian), and it’s been a fantastic experience to interview and evaluate candidates and then to hammer out a consensus afterward with my colleagues. The drawback with being a student on a faculty-dominated committee is that students may be added sometimes as a way for faculty to validate their plans by pointing out that they have the support of a representative of the student body (you). Also, your voice may not have the same weight as a faculty member’s would. And that’s just fine! You’re a student, you’re just starting out, and it’s a huge honor, as a student, to serve on a committee with faculty. Regardless of obstacles, it’s important for students to have a voice in such processes.

    Plus, committee work looks fantastic on your CV! You can add a whole CV section on professional service after a few such activities. Committee work demonstrates serious professional engagement and trust, which is something for which academic librarians are definitely looking. Embrace opportunities to serve on a committee, is my advice.

    Thanks for writing this!


    • Thanks Michael! Great points about the positives and negatives of serving on a committee with faculty. I’m glad to hear that you’re having a good experience!


  2. ALA loves to have student committee members! Last year I got two divisional committee appointments; this year I’m on three. It’s a great way to get involved and meet people, whether you can travel or not. A lot of ALA committees allow virtual members, and most award juries do all their work virtually.

    When I attended a new-to-me-committee meeting at Midwinter, they asked me to write a chapter for their book when they learned I was a library student (i.e. still in paper-writing mode). Boy, was I surprised! 🙂


  3. I can confirm Lesley’s experience. I was appointed to an ALA committee (OITP Advisory Committee) just after the last annual and my first meeting was at the last Midwinter in Philadelphia. We had a few tele-meetings before then on various topics and I felt like I could reasonably contribute and be heard.


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