It’s better to give than to receive.
We’ve all heard that one before. But during my service on the American Association of School Librarian’s Board of Directors as the Director of Region 1, I’ve received much, much more than I was able to give.
I was nominated to run for this national position after serving on the NHSLMA board for several years and volunteering for different committees at the national level. In order to be elected, I had to speak at the AASL Candidate Forum during the ALA Midwinter conference. If you have not yet attended an ALA conference you will one day find that the AASL events are filled with familiar and friendly faces. The speech was nerve-wracking - but fun.
The national election was held after the conference. in AASL, every member casts their vote for every elected position. If you have interest in running for a national position, good starting points include writing book reviews, blogging, serving at the state level or on AASL committees, or sharing ideas on social media so school librarians from other states will be familiar with your name. I was grateful to win the election - especially because nobody was running against me!
One of the first duties of a newly-elected board member is to attend ALA Annual. During each ALA conference the board meets three times. At the first board meeting, new members are assigned mentors and learn the board's policies and procedures. We took online quizzes in order understand all of the ALA and AASL policies and then received our first 100-page agenda. It was a bit overwhelming but helped new members keep up with the fast-paced meeting.
The meetings were interesting, as we were asked to consider updating long-standing policies, review budgets, and vote on the future of the organization. It was a thrilling time to be involved on the board as AASL was in the process of creating new national standards - and the ESSA legislation was being passed into law. We spent one meeting defining what an effective school library program means and that definition has since been added to the new legislation nationwide.
In addition to attending both ALA Annual and Midwinter each year (which does require some financial and logistical investments), I was also invited to attend many conferences and events at the state and regional levels. I was able to share information about ESSA and the new AASL standards with school librarians all over the region. Giving these presentations provided me with an opportunity to comprehensively understand the information I was presenting - and to meet school librarians all over New England.
You're probably already considering reasons why you can't volunteer: potential costs of travel, impacts on your personal and professional time, or the constant notifications of an inbox that's already overflowing. These demands are real, but I encourage you to consider the many benefits to volunteering. I believe school leaders are driven by an altruistic desire to help - whether that be their schools, their communities, or their profession.
The time I spent in building relationships, learning new skills, studying materials, and meeting school librarians from all over the country was an investment in myself. Here are some examples that may resonate with you.
Thinking about getting more involved? A great first step is to start working at the state level. Contact Donna Zecha, Rachel Hopkins or Caitlin Bennett and let them know your interest in serving in some capacity at the state level. We're always looking for librarians to write for the NHSLMA blog, NH representatives to send to the Affiliate Assemblies at ALA conferences each year, and volunteers to help with planning events and conferences.
- I strengthened my leadership skills - and being a better leader made me a better school librarian and teacher.
- My position on the board encouraged me to dream beyond my own region and embrace a global mindset - which empowered me to travel more and bring new perspectives back to my own school.
- Working with a dynamic group of accomplished librarians helped me to increase my capacity for understanding by working to build something bigger than myself.
- Serving for a local or national professional organization is a great resume builder. Administrators want to see the connections you made, the lessons you learned, as well as your dedication to a career rather than a job.
In the words of Winston Churchill, "we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." Serving school librarians at both the state and national level has helped me to make a joyful and satisfying life.
Program Coordinator, Library Media and Technology Education Programs
Faculty Member, Department of Educational Leadership, Learning and Curriculum
Plymouth State University