Getting involved outside of school

Now that I’ve finished my first year of library school at the Catholic University of America in D.C., and after reading excellent posts from Desiree on Personal and Professional Development and activism,  Kristina’s post about serving with intention, and Kendra’s two cents on participating in student organizations, it made me wonder: can I get through another year of library school without being involved? The short answer is no. The long answer follows…

While busily applying for scholarships, I found that showing dedication to the library profession is often a desired– or required– element. While I’ve worked in libraries for a long time, a lot of scholarship panels (and employers!) want to see what you’ve done outside of work hours to improve yourself and the library world around you. Following are a couple of the ways I’ve started to branch out and get involved.

Join a listserv, or subscribe to an email newsletter. One of the easiest ways to keep apprised of new opportunities is to join a listserv. I subscribe to my program’s listserv, which is full of information about student organizations, jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities. These tend to be local, since area museums, libraries and archives look to the university for graduate students to help them with projects. This is the gateway to getting you those years of experience so desired on job applications, and will give you some great connections to local institutions.

I also joined my state library association listserv, as well as some of  ALA’s Divisions and Round Tables. This is great because you will get exposure to library issues and events on a larger scale. There is also a greater variety, so you can join only those that interest you. These can lead to becoming part of a committee or a subcommittee, which is great experience and will look great on a resume. This is actually how I got onto a Virginia Library Association subcommittee to sponsor a library license plate! Don’t rule out special library or archival associations either – if you are interested in a career in one of these areas join join join!

The advantage of a listserv, however, is also its disadvantage: you will get a LOT of irrelevant information. Use your email filters liberally to make sure what goes to your inbox is only what is important to you. If you would rather not fuss with all the extra messages, find institutions you are interested in keeping up with and subscribe to their email newsletter instead. Or, if you are very adventurous, you can (GASP!) go there and talk to someone, or reach out with an email or phone call. It never hurts to ask if they have opportunities for an up-and-coming librarian such as yourself.

Look for opportunities in your current workplace. Already work in a library, archive or museum? See if there are any committees that are seeking new members. Or, if you have an initiative you are passionate about, and you think you might have support, seek out starting one of your own. Even if it fails, you still gained valuable experience by seeking out support, forming a committee, and researching and presenting options to the powers-that-be.

Work in a public library? They often need extra help when summer reading programs are in full swing. What about academic libraries? They may need help with special projects during the summer when they don’t have time for them during the year. And don’t forget about distance opportunities! Some organizations have e-newsletters or need content managers for their website, which you may not have to do on site.

Getting involved with outside school may seem intimidating at first, but starting small makes the mountain seem more surmountable. The added benefit of getting involved before you graduate helps you pad your CV before you are ready to start searching for jobs in earnest.

Image from oklanica on flickr, used unaltered under Creative Commons License 2.0.

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