NMRT panel discussion on joining organizations

I also spoke as part of a panel with Jade Alburo and Nancy Faget during the NMRT President’s Program, on the topic of “Seizing Opportunities to Serve”.  My notes are below. They don’t reflect precisely what I said — they are the notes, after all — but they form the core of what I said in New Orleans.

Basic bio: MLS 2001, 1st job 2001, 2nd job 2003, director 2009.  Note fast career progression, tie that to broad experiences outside my workplaces.

My organization experiences are largely regional or affinity organizations.

  • NILS on cataloging and leadership committees,
  • NNYLN professional development grant committee
  • NYSHEI delegate
  • SUNYLA treasurer and local arrangements work
  • SCLD comprehensive sector convener

All experiences made me a stronger candidate for each career progression, and gave me the skills I needed to move on. No librarian job, particularly entry level ones, give you all the skills you need or desire to further your career, so you have to seek those elsewhere.  I am currently trying to decide where to serve on national level, because the most important thing for me is to find an organization that welcomes me and doesn’t make me feel like I’m ramming my face into a brick wall.

Why serve: Understand the organization

  • No organization fully makes sense until you see it from the inside
  • You – and your library – cannot fully benefit from being a member unless you  understand it.
  • You cannot enact change from the outside.

Why serve: Understand the profession

  • Your library is not representative of all libraries.
  • You are not representative of all librarians.
  • Both good and bad!
  • Orgs can open the door to learning about people who are not like you, and linking you to people who are like you.

Why serve: Develop your skills

  • I’m asked (endlessly) how I got where I am so fast : I built my skills.
  • Leadership skills? Volunteer to run something for your org.
  • Communication skills? Take on outreach for your org.
  • Facilitation skills? Use your voice and influence on a committee.
  • Project Management skills? Do ANYTHING for an org.

Why serve: build a network

  • People to lean on
  • Ideas to propel you and your library forward
  • Allies and advocates
  • Partners in crime
  • Mentors and heroes

In short, service is good for volunteer organizations: They need you. And it’s good for you, too, in ways that are vital to building, sustaining, and enjoying a career in librarianship.  But not if the org makes you feel like you’re ramming your face into a brick wall.


  1. Well said, Jennica.
    For many years my advice to students and colleagues on associatons/orgs has been:
    find one where you can see yourself getting involved, and then dive in. Not only will you serve the profession, but it will be one of the best professional development activities you will ever undertake for yourself. Where else will you have a chance to stretch your skills in a supportive environment where others want you to succeed?

    Orgs have to be welcoming; and too true, some have become a bit moribund, perhaps a sense of entitlement simply becaue of their history. But the association/organization isn’t the profession, as you’ve so amply shown by the list of orgs on your radar.

    Librarianship is stronger for the diversity of it’s professionals and its associations (although our fissiparous nature may need to be checked;-) and we need opportunities to learn from each other.

    Great post. Keep it up!


  2. Thanks, Robyn. I think that’s the key — “a supportive environment where others want you to succeed”. That’s what I’ve gotten from the organizations that have meant the most to me. That’s a great distillation of something I hadn’t pinned down.


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