Even if you are not a manager or in a management position within your library, there are numerous ways in which you can still be a professional leader. For an individual, becoming involved in leadership activities with library organizations allows you to connect with others in our profession; it opens the door for amazing opportunities; and it enables you to learn and grow from others’ experience in the field. From a professional standpoint, becoming involved in leadership activities strengthens our profession because we need one another and the unique skills we each bring to the table to create strong professional organizations and activities to keep librarianship evolving to meet the needs of our 21st century users.
How can one become involved in leadership activities? There are an array of activities and organizations to choose from. On a local level you could promote your own library, though activities such as social media announcements, creating unique exhibits that highlight your library, or participating in events such as National Library Week – an event that occurs every April in the United States to celebrate the contributions of libraries and librarians and promote the use and support of our libraries. This year it was observed during the week of April 10 – 16 and had the theme of “Libraries Transform”. Most American libraries celebrate it in some fashion, my favorite being #ediblebooks contests held at numerous institutions.
In the United States you can get involved in local chapters of the American Library Association. I belong to the New York Library Association, since my institution is in New York State, however because I have worked in numerous states throughout my career I have found that joining the regional chapter that supports the state in which I work gives me invaluable openings for networking and leadership opportunities. As with the American Library Association (ALA), our national association, the focus of these organizations are advocacy for our profession, information policy and professional leadership and development. Although one pays for membership, the rewards of joining such groups are priceless, and the opportunities for leadership within these organizations are numerous. Additionally, there are specialized organizations, such as the Society of American Archivists that is the preeminent source of professional resources and the principal communication hub for American archivists. I have had the pleasure to not only be a member of these organizations, but also participate in volunteer activities and attend their annual conferences. These conferences have allowed me to glean valuable information from those who present, as well as given me incredible opportunities to network, face-to-face, with others in the field.
When we look at opportunities to be leaders on an international level, the opportunities are vast. As an emerging librarian (still in graduate school) the first one I became aware of was the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) which is the “leading international body for representing the interests of library and information services and their users”. IFLA has over 1500 members in 150 countries. Like the ALA, being a member of IFLA allows you to be active in working groups; help develop standards and guidelines; take part in meetings, seminars and workshops; and have the opportunity to discuss important issues with colleagues from all over the world. There is also the Special Libraries Association (SLA) which serves more than 7,000 members in 75 countries in the information profession, including corporate, academic and government libraries. The SLA is invested in assisting members develop their career and abilities and in making an impact on the library industry. Additionally, most countries or regions of the world have a library association, which can be found doing a quick Google search of “international library associations”. There, one will come across a multitude of organizations, including, but definitely not limited to:
Perhaps three of my favorite leadership organizations I have found in recent years are the International Librarians Network, which I am fortunate enough to be a Content Officer for; Libraries Without Borders, an organization that responds to the vital need for books, culture, and information in developing regions of the world; and Librarians Without Borders, whose vision is to build sustainable libraries and support their custodians and advocates — librarians. All three offer wonderful volunteer opportunities, and allow you to get out from behind the desk and work with other librarians from other countries and cultures. Another amazing association is the International Network of Library Innovators (INELI), which is a project of the Global Libraries initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and provides emerging library leaders with opportunities to connect with one another in order to explore new ideas, experiment with new services and learn from one another. As well as the work they do with librarians in Australia and New Zealand, they have now included seven additional regions: the Middle East and North Africa, India, Sub Sahara Africa, the Balkans, Latin America and the Philippines.
Being a leader in our profession does not mean you have to be a manager of a library or a department. But it does encourage you to explore options, get involved in organizations that may be larger than the library you work for, and share your expertise and ideas with others in our profession, from all corners of the world. There are innumerable ways to participate in librarianship, besides the daily routine of your work. If any of these inspire you, I would encourage you to reach out, find others to share your ideas with, and help our profession grow and thrive through the 21st century and beyond. Not only will your contribution enhance librarianship as a whole, but the personal rewards will be unlimited.
Do you have any further suggestions for development opportunities for librarians in your country? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below or on our Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn pages.
–Molly Brown, ILN Content Officer