Does your organization only pay for conference if you have a committee assignment? Do you want to join the ranks of those saying mysteriously “I have a conflict”? How do you get started, anyway?
* Join up! First things first. You do need to be a member of ALA to be on an ALA committee (and of the division or round table where you’re seeking an appointment). So be sure your membership dues are current!
* Bone up! Take some time to learn about the Association. Dip into the ALA Handbook of Organization, either online or in paper. The 2007-2008 edition was just published, and it will be mailed to everyone listed in it. Or surf through the various pages currently found off the “Our Association” button on the ALA home page. Spend some time with the web pages from the division or round table that interest you to see what kinds of projects are underway.
If possible, talk with a current (or recent) member of the committee to get a sense of the type of work involved. Some committees do most of their work face-to-face at the conferences; others work extensively between conferences, using e-mail, online communities, wikis, etc.
* Listen up! If you can get to an Annual Conference or a Midwinter Meeting, sit in on a meeting of the committee that interests you. By policy, all meetings of ALA are open, unless there is a matter of personal privacy being discussed—which mostly means that juries/award selection committees or nominating committees are the exception and are closed to observers.
At the end of the meeting, introduce yourself to the chair of the committee. Offer to assist with a task proposed during the meeting. Leave your business card.
* Step up! Complete the volunteer form, either for ALA, or for your division or round table. Do this in addition to volunteering in person. Indicate specifically which committees interest you and why. And don’t be afraid to volunteer for a “process” committee—Organization and Bylaws, Budget, etc. These can provide an inside understanding of how ALA or your part of it works. OTOH, while you may be interested in the premier committee in your division, don’t expect to get an appointment for it right away. Most committees are limited in size, and if half the committee have appointments continuing to next year, and the other half is mostly being reappointed, there may only be one, maybe two, spaces for new members—and probably a long list of volunteers.
Some committees establish task forces or subcommittees chaired by a member of the committee, but staffed by volunteers who may not be. Working on a task force is a good way to get to know people and contribute your skills in a meaningful way. My first appointment was to a subcommittee of a division section committee (in other words, about as far down the hierarchy as possible), but we did some significant work, and it remains one of the most satisfying bits of work I’ve done for ALA.
Also, look outside your home division. The “type of activity” divisions (LAMA, LITA, ALCTS, RUSA, YALSA, ALSC, ALTA) often seek out members interested in their work, but representative of different types of libraries.
But … be honest with yourself when you volunteer. Think about what you can realistically commit to. It’s easy, really easy, to volunteer in the heat of the moment at a conference … and then get back to the office and the cold light of day on your to do list! Here’s a vignette to have in mind: As I was starting my first professional position, I was talking with F. Bernice Field, my supervisor and a past president of the division then known as RTSD—and an enormously long list of other achievements. I asked her how she got to do all of those things. She said, “Simple really. I volunteered, and then, by golly, I did what I was asked.”
If you can’t go to conference, try for a virtual membership on a committee.
Join an Interest or Discussion Group. These work differently in each of the divisions that have them. In some, it’s pretty easy to become a discussion group leader, with the primary responsibility of organizing the next meeting. In others, the interest groups have no limit to the number of members.
Contribute in other ways. Post frequently on division email lists, blogs or wikis to get your name noticed.
A few words about the appointment calendar. The presidents-elect (those we elected in the balloting last spring, and who will take office at the end of the 2008 Annual Conference) have just had their orientation to their leadership roles and are now beginning the process of shaping the committees which will be working during their presidencies, 2008-2009. In some divisions, and at the ALA level, the slate of proposed committee members is reviewed during the Midwinter Meeting. Letters of appointment begin to go out shortly after the Midwinter Meeting, and acceptances are due back in the late spring. This is why there is a December deadline for the ALA form—and it’s a time frame to keep in mind for all divisions and round tables, as well. But know that there may be vacancies at other times–or some committees may still have vacancies after the first round of appointments are made.
Where to find the volunteer forms or specific information on volunteering With apologies for the “alphabet soup” – see the ALA Acronyms list, if you need to!
Round Tables also have committees; start at the main “Round Tables” page to explore these. I found volunteer forms or other significant information for the following:
Finally, don’t just take my word for it. Check out these other blog posts with tips and links related to the committee appointment process— for example, these two: