This is the last of three interviews I conducted with iSchool alumni at the New York Library Association (NYLA) conference in Saratoga  Springs about their involvement in NYLA and their advice for MLIS students who are thinking about getting involved in professional organizations. You can read the other interviews here and here.

I spoke with Sue Kowalski, who is currently a librarian at Pine Grove Middle School in the East Syracuse-Minoa School District. She is Councilor-at-Large for NYLA, and she has just finished a three-year term as president of the Section of School Librarians (SSL).

Sue Kowalski at the NYLA 2014 Annual Conference

Sue Kowalski at the NYLA 2014 Annual Conference

APS: How has involvement in professional organizations helped you throughout your career?

SK: I would say that way back when, when I was just getting started in library land, I didn’t really know all of this world existed, quite honestly. It wasn’t like I had a lifelong dream to someday be in NYLA.

I was a classroom teacher for 10 years. I was active with the New York Middle School Association, and I got a taste of what it was like to network and present and learn from other like-minded souls. Then when I started as a librarian, I had a librarian colleague who [helped me apply for a small scholarship that required me to register for membership]. I liked the fact that there was a group attitude toward somebody’s success.

And then it just got contagious…When you have a reputation as a doer and an enthusiastic person, you get recruited for things, so I ended up getting recruited for several different things, and just have continued to hop on the opportunities when they surface. And then as a result of my being involved, I’ve continued to recruit other people, too.  We’re on the inside circle, we get information faster–you get notices, you know more people, your network is just expanded exponentially. There are so many ways that your professional world can just get richer through that kind of involvement.

APS: Do you think MLIS students should get involved in professional organizations?

SK: Actually, that comes up a lot at our Section of School Librarians board meetings because we’re always trying to up membership because even though conceptually people can support the organization, we need the dollars and the votes and the representation that comes with membership. The more members, the more we’re represented. And again, big picture-wise I, back in the day, probably said, “Oh, you get involved and you get to meet people and you get to go to conferences” and that was my idea of membership. Now I almost see it as–that’s all good, but it’s really almost a professional obligation…Especially as students, when I know money and time are the tightest, the dues structure is also low enough that that’s kept in mind–most organizations offer a sliding scale to recruit grad students or first time members.

APS: If students do want to get involved in organizations like NYLA, other than just showing up at conferences, what are some other ways they could get involved?

SK: Again, this is something we just talked about the other night at our board meeting…there are projects that just don’t get followed through on a quick timeline because we’re working full time. For example, I have this one project, it’s probably a 10-hour project. I’m trying to merge data, put things in one easy-to-access place, but I haven’t made the time to commit to making that project come to life. That could be something that’s not a conference, it’s not an event, ut the wisdom of a grad student who’s living this world would be priceless.

I think there should be a two-way database or system that says, “Here are the current students in your area and their niches, and here are the current librarians in your area, and their niches”…so that if you’re looking for field work, you don’t have to start from zero. So I think more could happen if it were easier to make those connections.”