Mar 01 2007
What does it mean to be “involved?” The online Oxford English Dictionary defines “involve” as both “to be concerned or associated with” and “to overwhelm and swallow up.” These definitions span most people’s concept of involvement, and I think the latter is what many librarians think of when they think of getting “involved” in the profession.
Many librarians join professional organizations out of a sense of obligation. They pay the dues, receive the magazines or newsletters, and don’t give it another thought. That was my experience up until just a few years ago; I was a member of the Ohio Library Council (OLC) and the American Library Association, but that was as far as it went. However, I eventually began to feel I should be getting more from my dues and actively contributing to my profession.
It’s easy to talk yourself out of being more active in professional organizations, writing for publication, or presenting at conferences. We all have plenty to keep ourselves busy at our regular jobs. Why would we want to take on more work and more responsibility? There are many ways, though, to get “involved.” The trick is to find the niche that feels right - and just a little challenging at first. Start out slowly. This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon.
In June 1998, several months before I graduated with my MLS, a friend and I attended the American Library Association Annual Conference in Washington, DC. This was my first taste of a gathering of professional librarians, and I knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of. It was an overwhelming experience, and one I remember fondly to this day. It was both inspiring and a little daunting. Seeing all the luminaries of the profession and the activity going on, I wondered how I could get involved.
Don’t Let Opportunities Slip Away
The most important step, for me at least, lay in beginning to take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves. Rationalization and procrastination are mainstays of human psychology. It’s all too easy to convince yourself that “I couldn’t possibly do that,” or, “someday, I’m going to do that.” I did this for a long time. However, several years into my career, I had the opportunity to be part of a presentation at the annual statewide library conference - and I took the plunge.
I had successfully added a small foreign language collection to the library at which I was working. This included a substantial number of books in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian (what had previously been known as Serbo-Croatian). It was a challenging but rewarding task that involved grant-writing, ordering directly from a distributor in Belgrade, and transliterating Cyrillic bibliographic information. It just so happened that, around the time that this collection was in place, a call went out for people to be part of a panel discussion on developing foreign language collections to be presented at the OLC annual conference. After some hesitation, I e-mailed the contact, who was very interested in having me join in. The experience was very rewarding and being on a panel gave me a gentle taste of presenting, since the entire production didn’t hinge on my performance.
Make Your Own Opportunities
Since the earth failed to open up and swallow me during my first experience presenting a program, I decided to try one on my own. I have had a lifelong interest in constructed languages, and thought I could do something related to this interest. Constructed languages are those languages that have been “constructed” by individuals, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Quenya and Sindarin in The Lord of the Rings, Anthony Burgess’s Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange, or Marc Okrand’s Klingon, in Star Trek (hence the Klingon article title!).
I submitted a program idea for the OLC annual conference on imaginary languages in literature and movies (and how to create your own). I marketed it as a young adult program and waited to hear the decision of the committee. Lo and behold, the program was accepted! It didn’t attract a large audience; however, the topic generated some buzz at the conference and I was encouraged to write an article on the subject, which is scheduled to be published in VOYA in August 2007. My presentation also resulted in several other related presentations as well as an article in the official journal of the Chartered Institute of Linguists. You never know where opportunities might lead.
Expand Your Comfort Zone
Chances are your peers and supervisors will know, long before you’re ready to admit it to yourself, that you’re ready to take on a larger role in the profession. People will recognize when gradually become the “go-to” person for some aspect of the operation. Be on the lookout for opportunities to stretch your comfort zone.
My opportunity to get involved in the statewide library association came when I was asked if I would be interested in running for a vacant seat on an OLC division’s Action Council. This was what I had thought I had been waiting for, so I accepted the offer. Shortly thereafter, I was asked if I would be interested in running for Assistant Coordinator (and assuming leadership of the division the following year). This was a little more than I had bargained for, but I was reluctant to turn it down. Once again, I accepted. I am very glad I did. Being involved in a leadership role has been wonderful. I have met innumerable interesting and talented people, gotten to work behind-the-scenes in planning workshops for conferences, and had the chance to contribute constructively to my profession.
So, go ahead. Find your niche. Push your envelope. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Nothing ventured; nothing gained, or, as the Klingons say, bIlujlaHbe’chugh bIQaplaHbe’.
*Okrand, Marc. The Klingon Way: A Warrior’s Guide. New York: Pocket Books, 1996: 56.
Don Boozer has been a professional librarian since 1999 and works in the Literature Department at Cleveland (OH) Public Library. He is also currently serving as the Coordinator of the Ohio Library Council’s Reference and Information Services Division. E-mail: email@example.com.