Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Take your passion (and make it happen)

Being the change you want to see isn't just about the change you affect in your own library. It's also about finding ways to contribute to librarianship. There are a lot of organizations, professional associations, and causes that need people to care deeply about them and you're only one person with a day job and a life to manage. If you're a passionate person, it can be easy to over-extend yourself by committing to too many things.

Tenure can make the waters of being an active professional even murkier. Being on the tenure track means you have to balance your passion with the kind of service that your institution values. It's also possible that your institution values other things (like publications or presentations) over service.

I thought about trying to give some advice on how to choose where to get involved, but thought better of it. Ultimately, being professionally active looks different for everyone. Ideally, it should be guided by the issues and ideas about which you feel passionately. Practically, it should make the best uses of your energy, resources, and talent. So I came up with four questions for you to ask yourself. You know yourself better than I know you, so let those answers be your guide.

Four questions to help you decide where to direct your professional efforts:

1. How many of your resources are you willing to part with?
When I say "resources," I mean: time, energy, and money. Some activities have rigid participation requirements that ask you to contribute a significant amount of time. Some activities require you to attend conferences, a task that your library may not be able to support financially. How much of your own dime are you comfortably able to part with and how much time can you comfortably give? Tailor your activities to that, and know that it's okay to choose not to be active in ways that require a lot from you.

2. Are you okay with giving your time to a large, bureaucratic professional association?
Even the smallest professional association is often a bureaucracy. If you choose to volunteer in one of these associations, you will probably be placed on a committee. Most of these committees do rewarding work, but some of them do work that doesn't provide an immediate payoff. And some of these committees do work that doesn't really feel rewarding at all. It's also worth noting that these associations often require that volunteers pay dues before joining committees, which may also serve as a barrier to your getting involved.

3. Do you prefer to act locally?
There are probably organizations in your community that could use your help and you have quite a few skills as a librarian that can help them. Volunteering at a school or for an on-campus organization is just as worthy an activity as being on a committee buried deep within the organizational structure of a professional association. Your efforts are often more immediately felt and helping people accomplish things they couldn't do without you is unbelievably rewarding. And not having to attend conferences or pay dues means that these acts of service are easier for people to do. It's also possible that you can find other areas of your library beyond your own department in which to be active. If you're in cataloging, consider doing reference hours or teaching a class.

4. What are you most passionate about?
In the end, the ideas and issues you love are where you should give your time, talent, and resources. Are you passionate about information literacy? Great! Are you passionate about library website usability? Right on! Are you passionate about making libraries inclusive spaces? Awesome! Identify what matters most to you and figure out where the people who also value that thing are. Often, that's where you should be, too.

A final thought:
This post presumes that you have the time and/or money to be professionally active. The truth is that some people don't have the luxury of giving away their time or their money. If you're lucky enough to have the time or money to spare, don't be a judge-y jerk about what other people are (or aren't) doing to be active in librarianship. Instead, direct that energy into finding ways to remove the barriers to entry for professional activities for other people who want to be active but can't.

Stay positive,

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