1. An opportunity to say “yes” to your career
AzLA was brought to me during my first librarian job. A fellow librarian (Melissa Samora) saw my enthusiasm for the field and asked if I would be interested in being the 2014 Public Librarian Division Conference Representative. Clueless as to what any of those words meant, I marched right into my supervisor’s office, got approval, and replied, “Yes.” I had not had this opportunity thus far in my career (my previous position frowned upon outside work) so I wasn’t about to turn this offer down. Over the next couple of years, I continued saying yes: “Can you manage the conference webpage?” Yes! “Can you participate in planning and budget discussions?” Yes! “Can you manage the conference marketing?” Yes! “Can you be the 2015 Conference Co-Chair?” Uuuuhhhh *looks around squeamishly in a state of panic* Yes! I was climbing my way up the yes mountain, and while it was scary, and I was sweaty, thirsty, and tired, I knew that each time I cleared a new learning curve on the path, there was also a summit to be conquered.
2. Letting go of your impostor syndrome
The hesitation I felt when taking on these new responsibilities was harbored in a little demon called Fear – my own personal bully to remind me how unqualified, unprepared, and unknowledgeable I am. “What do you know about running a conference? You’ve never even done event planning!” it scoffed. Yet I plowed through the voices and comforted myself in the mantra of my own character: “You’re an inquisitive, tenacious, perfectionist. You’ll ask the right questions. You’ll figure it out.”
I’m glad I won this war with Fear, because I was able to prove to myself and hundreds of my Arizona peers that I can dive into that ocean of unknowns and emerge, perhaps choking and gasping for air, but ultimately gripping that shiny pearl.
3. Bonding with the conference team
I’ve heard complaints that being a member of AzLA can feel uneventful. “What am I really getting out of this?” Professional association membership only gives back what you put in. Attending an occasional Go-To-Meeting will not help you network or achieve lasting relationships with your peers. Surviving the horrors of a full year of conference planning, however, will make you look back to your Conference Leadership Committee team with a knowing bond that only true PTSD can create. I know my Co-Chair, Jasper Halt, and my fellow committee members exceedingly well now. Additionally, I know we’ve seen enough of each other’s work ethic to be reliable references for one another should the occasion arise. The gratitude I feel towards my boss during that time, Denise Keller, and all those who mentored me, will last forever. These are the type of relationships that build professional association bonds and lead to large scale changes for career fields over time.
4. Networking, networking, networking
In addition to the close working relationships I developed with conference leadership, I also gained a network of colleagues larger than I ever could have dreamed of before. Soliciting for programs, volunteers, exhibitors, and general help resulted in what is probably thousands of emails, phone calls, and meetings with librarians all across the state. I feel that more often than not now when someone mentions a librarian anywhere in Arizona, in the very least I know their name. I never would have had such levels of contact without direct conference planning participation. Will this prove valuable later in my career? Only time will tell, but so far it’s proved invaluable in increasing my awareness of librarianship in Arizona as a whole.
5. Getting an insider’s view
Attending an occasional meeting or conference can only give you a taste of what a professional association can really offer. It can be enlightening to pull back the curtain of Oz and reveal the hidden workings of board meetings, initiatives, advocacy, relationships, history, and all the glorious perspective and context that comes with being an insider. Shaping the course of the profession and the association from the inside can not only feel satisfying, but it can also provide you with a sense of control over your career that you’ve never had before. Pull over the car and demand to sit in the driver’s seat this time around.
6. Hobnobbing with famous people
Not only did I get front row tickets to all board meetings and access to discuss all issues with the Association President and leadership, I also got the privilege to recruit conference speakers. It was quite surreal at first to realize I was interviewing leaders in the field to approve them to be a speaker at my conference. But who was I? I took detailed notes of what I would say on the phone to these big-wigs just to not reveal my newb-ness. Later, however, I began to realize they were simply librarians and professionals like me, just ones that worked really hard and have been around the block a bit more. These encounters and change in perspective gave me hope for my own career.
7. Becoming an event and program planning expert
I’m sure if my co-workers had to drop a quarter in a bucket each time I said the phrase, “Well when I was planning the conference I….” they would have stopped adding quarters and just strangled me by now. My first job after planning the conference was a Programming Librarian position in which I do hours of event and program planning. How perfect that I went through a year of what amounted to event planning bootcamp with the AzLA Conference. I learned everything, from how to solicit sponsors, vendors, and programs to how to plan a timeline, budget, and marketing. I learned more through this real world experience than I ever could have learned through an MLS course.
8.Working with a budget
If you’re seeing some patterns here, you’ll recognize that conference work can not only grant you real world experience, but experiences you may not have had the opportunity for otherwise. I’ve never had the opportunity to manage budgets in my librarian positions. Managing the large sums that come with conference planning and delegating how best to spend those funds was a great way to be able to gain confidence in that area.
9. Awards and recognition
The AzLA President who served during my term as Conference Co-Chair, Dan Stanton, was generous enough to pull some of his peers together and nominate me for an AzLA Emerging Leader Award. I’ll be forever grateful for that acknowledgement and that addition to my resume. Serving as Conference Co-Chair or any working committee position within AzLA allows you to demonstrate your strengths to those who matter. Let yourself shine and you just may very well be rewarded.
10. Getting a glimpse of the big picture
Lastly, serving on the Conference Committee forced me to take a step back and look at my profession on the macro-level. What is the objective of AzLA; this conference? How can we become united as a profession in this state? What are the commonalities between library types, or the differences? What is lacking and truly needed? I asked myself all these questions and more as I gave my input on how best to spend the conference budget, how to select programs, or choose speakers. I know from experience how easy it is to get wrapped up in the day-to-day drama of desk shifts, staff meetings, and hosting programs. It can be restorative to reflect on the meaning behind it all: the big picture; and this reflection will definitely reveal itself in the quality of your work.
Ann Leonard is on the AzLA Conference/Web Committee and is Librarian, Adult Programming, Tempe Public Library.