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When a graduate student completes the formal coursework and requirements
for the master's degree in library and information studies, he
or she is simply not aware of the value of professional associations. The
student has listened to comments about professional associations, but the
comments are more theoretical than meaningful. Context and perspective
When the librarian assumes the responsibilities of his or her first
professional position, the realities of professional associations are still
somewhat mysterious. What is a professional association? Is it necessary
to become involved? If so, in what associations and at what levels since
there are local, state, regional, national, and international associations?
These are some of the questions entry-level librarians ask. The author of
this article started in an academic library in which participation was optional.
Soon, he realized that the degree and necessity of participation
varied from one library to another. Like other entry-level librarians, he
Participating in the activities of professional associations can contribute
positively to a librarian's professional development. Active participation
is likely to facilitate professional success in one's job and career.
This article discusses the impact of participation. As the literature
of professional associations is not extensive, several focus groups were
also conducted by this author to provide additional information and perspective.
PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS AS RELEVANT SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Information professionals need relevant information to be effective
in their positions. In her article on the role of professional associations,
Virgo (1991) states that associations are a "body of people who collectively
have a tremendous wealth of experiences to draw upon in a common
field" (p. 189). This collection of experiences underscores the value
of professional associations for the librarian.
The librarian's expertise and experiences are initially influenced by
the professional associations that participate in the accreditation of
graduate schools. The curricula and core competencies of the various schools
of library and information studies are influenced and monitored by professional
associations, most obviously the American Library Association
(ALA). Academic courses studied by graduate students are shaped by a
professional association. Before librarians assume their first professional
position, they have been influenced significantly by associations such as
ALA (Curry, 1992).
Practical up-to-date information is readily available and openly shared
at conferences conducted or sponsored by professional associations.
Formal programs, for example, provide numerous opportunities to obtain
information. Participants or speakers with special expertise are recruited
to discuss issues and provide various perspectives. A speaker or
panel of experts will not only provide information but also stimulate the
creation of ideas. Good speakers challenge the audience, providing opportunities
for positive discussions in which information is shared and
ideas are generated.
In addition to formal programs at conferences, discussion groups
and other less formal options, such as interest groups, are ideal forums
for information sharing. At the American Library Association conferences,
for example, the discussion group has become an essential vehicle
for the stimulation of ideas on current topics. Examples of discussion
groups include the Middle Management Discussion Group and the Interlibrary
Loan Discussion Group. Interest group examples include the Geographic
Information Systems Interest Group and the Internet Resources
Interest Group. These are special opportunities to learn and to keep up
to date on issues, patterns, and trends in librarianship. Members of the
focus groups emphasized the importance of the informality in discussion
and interest groups, indicating that informal conditions facilitate learning
and idea stimulation (Frank, 1997).
Active participation on committees in professional associations is a
particularly effective option for obtaining relevant information. Librarians
occasionally de-emphasize or deride the value of committees in libraries
and in professional associations. It is popular to do so, especially
in the relatively large associations such as ALA or the Special Libraries
Association (SLA). Most professionals realize, nonetheless, that committees
are important, and that effectively run committees are fundamental
to the success of the associations. Committees and task forces have specific
charges or responsibilities. Those who participate become familiar
with the committee's responsibilities as well as the rationale for the
existence of the committee. They also become involved in the collection and
synthesis of data or information, in various planning processes, and in
the implementation of recommendations. These are valuable experiences.
Becoming familiar and experienced with collegial processes in
professional associations contributes to success "at home" in libraries.
Working effectively in groups to examine issues critically and to attain a
positive consensus in decisions is a collegial skill that is valued in
libraries. Members of the focus groups reiterated the utility of these skills
Vendors or exhibitors that populate the …