Someone on my Twitter friends asked, “Question for the folks in ALA – how do you get involved w committees. Help?” My expanded response follow.

Observe. If you can get to Annual or Midwinter conferences, sit in on the committee you want to volunteer with – most are open meetings; juries (award selection committees) are the exception. Go to the board meeting and watch the proceedings (don’t forget to introduce yourself!).

Do your homework. Know the commitment involved. Talk to a current member to inquire about the expectations and workload. The ALA directory you get in the mail lists committmee charges and members.

Go online. The YALSA Governance page is one-stop shopping, with links to committee descriptions and chairs and board members.

Be honest. Think about what you can realistically commit to. If you can’t go to conference, try for a virtual membership on a committee. And, don’t sign up for a selected list or jury if you can’t read at least a book a day.

Join an Interest Group. If you can’t attend conferences, consider an Interest Group. Unlike committee members, members of an interest group are not required to attend the Annual Conference or the Midwinter Meeting, and there is no limit on the number of virtual participants an interest group may have.

Introduce yourself. I’m convinced I got my first appointment by shaking Joel Shoemaker’s hand at a the YALSA member reception–I think I filled out my volunteer form on the spot. You could also write a note or email to whomever makes appointments – AND their replacement (ie, prez & prez-elect).

Contribute. Post frequently on division email lists, blogs or wikis to get your name noticed.

Fill out your paperwork. Every year, in fact, you need to complete a new volunteer form. I just did mine. Be specific, don’t just say, “I’ll do anything.” If you want to be on Best Books, make sure your credentials are reflected on the form.

Pay your dues!. You can’t participate if you aren’t a member! Join today, we’re the fastest growing division of the ALA (#4, w00t!). And, IMHO, the most fun. 🙂

Don’t forget about process committees. Initially, I felt I had to earn a spot on Best Books by sitting on Organization and Bylaws, but it turned out to be a really interesting committee that gave me a wonderful overview of how YALSA works, and I’ve enjoyed all my appointments so much that I haven’t even requested to be on Best Books in years.

Be creative. My first time to ALA was 9 years ago; I was just out of library school. I stayed for free with a friend on the subway line, lived on peanut butter sandwiches, apples, and water for 5 days, walked or took the shuttle bus everywhere, and had a fantastic time. I try to buy a meal — (or at least a round of drinks 😉 — for a student at every conference. Don’t forget that YALSA has a mentoring program, and a mentor may have some great advice, connect you to someone who needs a roommate, or have a transferrable invitation to a publisher luncheon.

If the committee you are interested in requires conference attendance and your library won’t pay for you to attend conference, ask the director to ask the Friends to cover it. Seek scholarships or jobs with stipends to attend conference. Sometimes, work will pay if you are presenting – submit a proposal to a committee to sponsor. Ask for membership dues or airfare vouchers as a holiday or birthday gift. Your conference expenses should be a tax deduction, but I always found I never made enough money (or had enough expenses) to count it.

Other tips? Please comment!

About Beth Gallaway

Beth Gallaway was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2006 for her work in advocating for videogames in libraries. She is an independent library trainer/consultant specializing in gaming, technology, and youth services, and is a YALSA certified Serving the Underserved (SUS) trainer.

One Thought on “How Do I Get On A Committee?

  1. Meghan Wheaton Cirrito [Visitor] on June 28, 2007 at 5:26 pm said:

    Thanks for the great advice! I just filled out my on-line volunteer form and am looking into the mentoring program.

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