Don’t Just Join–Engage!

I have been a member of the Nebraska School Librarians Association (NSLA) since the beginning of my school library career (and even before that as I joined as a grad student). A few years later, a mentor of mine asked me if I would be interested in running for a board member at large position in NSLA. I really had no idea what that meant at the time but knew she rarely steered me wrong, so I took the leap. It is because of that nudge that I made connections and have friends today that I probably would not have otherwise. 

So, this is me, giving you a nudge. Don’t just join your state’s school library association, get involved!

Since my initial two-year commitment as board member at large, I have also served three years in the presidency capacity as president elect, president, and past president. When that role ended, I applied for the position of AASL liaison to be the chapter rep for our state’s association and am also currently the chair of the professional development committee. All of these positions have different responsibilities and have allowed me to gain insight and grow my professional practice.

Why get involved?

  1. Learning from and with school librarians from across my state (and the country). Being involved on the board and in committees has connected me with school librarians outside of my district and who teach in environments different than my own, which has allowed me to expand my toolbox and widen my perspectives on school librarianship. Hearing voices from other experiences has helped me stretch my thinking about what is possible in my own school/district and inspired me to try things I may never have thought of on my own.
  2. Network of support. By attending events led by the organization, I was able to meet a wide range of people in my state. By being involved in the process of planning the events, I was able to learn what each presenter excels at and build a connection with them. I know who to contact if I need inspiration for displays. I can reach out to my tech gurus when I am trying to learn a new tool. When I need a book recommendation, I know who reads widely and habitually. I also became acquainted with state and national level educators and presenters on a deeper level through the event planning process than if I had simply attended one of their sessions. 
  3. Make changes. By engaging more directly with the association, you can influence change. This could be change within the association, but it could also be change in the way your state views school librarians. There are state school library associations across the country who are working incredibly hard at advocating for their school librarians, who are offering professional learning opportunities that may not be available to school librarians otherwise, and/or who are compiling resources for school librarians to use to enhance their skills. If you would like to see changes within your association, step up and let your voice be heard. Don’t just hope for change. Influence it.
  4. Inspire and influence. Not only will you gain and grow through active engagement, but your association will do the same. While we all have general school library skills, you have a very unique set of skills that you have honed over time. Your talents and knowledge could make a significant difference to the association in general or to specific groups or individuals. What you bring to the table could be a game changer.
  5. Friendships. I have truly made friends with some of the fabulous board members I’ve been lucky enough to serve with over the last few years. Because we connect frequently, I have gotten to know them on a personal level. We support each other when we face hard times or celebrate accomplishments like new jobs. We ask about each other’s families or how it’s going with the move to a new town. I wouldn’t have these people in my life the way I do if I (or they) hadn’t decided to be a board or committee member.

Ways to get involved:

  1. Join a committee. There are many advantages to being a committee member. One is that you don’t actually have to be elected. You just say you’re willing to help, and they say “YEAH! We would love your help!” Each association has a variety of committees available to choose from with a range of time commitments. For example, our scholarships and awards committee really is only active a few times a year during awards deadlines. The PD committee meets more frequently as there are events year round. Look over the descriptions of the committees or reach out to a board member to learn more, and then pick the one that fits best with your availability and skills.
  2. Run for a board position. If you are interested in deeper engagement, check and see what the responsibilities are for board positions. While these are not full-time positions, they can require a bit more time than some of the committee work. Look to see when elections are held and when you need to have your submission to run turned in. Campaign if you want to! If you are genuinely interested in serving in a board position, let people know you are running. Explain why you want to be a board member and what you hope to bring to the organization and its members. Then, if elected, take that commitment seriously. Don’t just sit back and listen during board meetings. Ask questions. Give opinions. Make suggestions. Serving the school librarians in your state through board membership is an honor, and they are counting on you to be engaged. 

As someone who fondly remembers her time in library school and who currently teaches candidates in library school, one of the comments I’ve heard for over a decade is how sad it is when library school is over and those frequent conversations with colleagues end. For those of you who long for the days when you gathered with your school library compatriots on a regular basis, I issue you this challenge. Join your state association if you haven’t already done so. Then, engage with that association by volunteering to join a committee or by running for a board member position.

While engaging with your state association can be incredibly powerful for those new to school librarianship, the same can be true for veterans in the field. Also, if you are unsure of what school library associations have to offer, just follow them on social media or check out their websites. I am frequently amazed by what I see offered by associations across the country.

And, don’t just engage with your local association. Reach out to see how you can join in and support your national association as well. Check out the many ways to get involved with AASL.


Author: Courtney Pentland

Courtney Pentland is the high school librarian at North Star High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is adjunct faculty for the University of Nebraska-Omaha School Library program and has served on the Nebraska School Librarians Association board as board member at large, president, and chapter delegate to AASL. She is the 2023-2024 AASL President. Follow her adventures on Twitter @livluvlibrary

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Professional Development

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