What’s the value for MLIS students of going to conferences, and how can participating in professional organizations benefit librarians throughout their careers? I had the opportunity to talk to three iSchool alumni about these topics while attending the New York Library Association (NYLA) conference in Saratoga Springs on November 5-8, 2014. This is the first of those interviews.

April Steenburgh works part-time as a reference librarian at Broome Community College, and part-time as the Director of the Public Computing Center at the George F. Johnson Memorial Library in Endicott, NY, where she does digital literacy instruction. She is currently the President of the NYLA Section on Management of Information Resources and Technology (SMART), and has been active in the section since her first NYLA conference.

April Steenburgh at the NYLA 2014 Annual Conference

April Steenburgh at the NYLA 2014 Annual Conference

APS: How has involvement in NYLA helped you in your career?

AS: It has been very good for networking. The sections are made up of people from all over the state. We get together for board meetings and NYLA, and you get to know a lot of people through that. It also gives you a lot of opportunities for continuing education, which, if you’re a public librarian, is a huge deal. You need to go every year to continuing education things. And I’m a tech person, so being involved in the SMART section is awesome, because the section itself is very interesting, in what technologies are being used in libraries, how they’re being used, how they could be used, what isn’t being used, how we could get it used, and so on. So the sections themselves are great for looking at what kind of librarian you want to be, and then you can really target your interest.

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

AS: Yes. Dear God, yes…When they pass that sheet around in library school saying, “Here, fill out what you want, we’re going to cover it”, do it! And then renew it the next year. Coming as a student that first year was awkward, because I wasn’t actively engaged in librarianship, but it gave me a really good view on what was going on. I got a good feel for how librarians actually are, which you can’t get from a book, can’t get from a class, you can, kind of, from doing your internship work, but something like this is totally realms different. Being in a professional organization gives you the ability to keep on top of your profession.

APS: What are good ways to get involved as a student?

AS: Join a section. There are the roundtables and there are the sections…The sections have council representation. So, over time, you want to find the relevant section for you. Even if you’re not currently working in a library or not working in the type of library you want to be in, join the section. They will have speakers throughout the year and they organize all the stuff at the conference, so being part of the section, you get input too on what’s being done. It makes it a little more hands on and it also keeps you learning. You don’t stagnate in whatever you’re doing.

APS: Are there students that are currently on boards?

AS: I was. I don’t know what other students are around, but it is possible. You just have to be comfortable going forward and saying, “Hey, I would like to do this thing”…They put a call out every year when elections go through, so that’s how new people get in. And they want new people because if not, the same ten or so people keep having to just shift positions around, because we have to have boards…Join a section, see how they function for a year. See if that’s a board you might want to be on. You make huge connections. And it looks really good on a resume. I hate to put everything back to that, but professional organizations–incredibly important involvement for a resume.

APS: Do you have any other advice for MLIS students regarding conferences or professional organizations?

AS: If you’re looking at staying in New York, definitely join NYLA…If you’re working for or interested in working for the SUNY system, there’s SUNYLA, so SUNY Library Association. Those are the two main ones just in the area. And I’m obnoxiously shy, so that first conference is probably horrifyingly intimidating. But just talk to people, I mean, it’s librarians–you get one of them going, everybody’s just going to talk. All of the sections have social events…There’s the New Members Round Table, for people who’ve just joined. They have an icebreaker every conference where everybody gets together and meets each other. So there are a lot of ways we’re trying to get people to socialize, so it’s not as intimidating.

And again, it’s people from all over the state. So if you’re…job hunting…you get a feel because generally everybody’s talking about how the job market in their area is, if their library is hiring, things like that…It has done wonders for me being confident in the profession, because I know what’s going on, and that confidence does reflect when you’re interviewing, when you’re working, when you’re just chatting with other librarians. So, it’s totally worth it.

Part II of this series will be published next week. Subscribe to Information Space to get new posts delivered to your inbox!