How to Get the Most Out of Professional Organizations

Aliza Leventhal is a recent graduate from Simmons College’s MA/MLIS Archives Management. She is currently employed as a Bibliographic Database Designer for EBSCO Publishing Inc. In addition she serves as a volunteer archivist for the Cambridge Historical Commission, the co-chair for the SAA’s Architectural Records Roundtable’s CAD/BIM Taskforce, and a volunteer for the Leveraging Encoded Archival Description Skills (LEADS) Project for the Simmons College Archives.

While we are first enticed to join and attend the conferences of NEA and SAA by the promise of networking, it becomes quickly apparent upon reviewing the programs for these events that there is a lot more to experience than passing out a few business cards. NEA and SAA offer a wide range of opportunities for professionals at every stage of their career, and focusing on that one feature sells these organizations short. Networking is incredibly useful in getting oriented and established in a profession, but beside the standard hand shaking and business card swapping, we can do so much more within these organizations. As the newest members of this profession it is our duty to be active, rather than passive, members of our professional community. Benefiting from professional organizations is not and cannot be considered a one-sided experience. A parallel is your education: your presence in the classroom, engagement with the professor’s lecture, conversations with your peers, and thought provoking readings lead to a mutually beneficial experience for your class and yourself. The cliché phrase “you get out what you put in” is as appropriate to professional organizations as to anything else you hope to benefit or improve upon.

When I attended my first SAA annual conference in 2012 as a graduate student, I expected to enjoy the presentations, planned to sign up for a few roundtable listservs, maybe introduce myself to someone I didn’t know, and, if the opportunity arose, I promised myself I would raise my hand to get involved. The great thing about NEA and SAA, like so many professional organizations, is that they facilitate engagement; they provide opportunity after opportunity to sign up for a committee, an extra listserv, or a task force. These opportunities do not require impromptu speeches or a rundown of one’s resume, they simply ask you to raise your hand, to sign up, and to indicate with a star if you’d like to be the co-chair of a task force, or so was the case for me. I became, and still am, a co-chair for the Architectural Records Roundtable’s Task force to discuss Computer-Aided-Design and Building-Information-Modeling preservation. My experience is not so unique; it is what organizations like NEA and SAA are for: to build community, expand professional horizons, and further the profession’s development.

Do not be afraid to raise your hand, to ask questions, and to share your opinion. NEA and SAA’s multitude of roundtables, committees, and task forces are created specifically to engage you and all the other archivists that share your interests. They don’t require you to be an officer (though it’s not so terrible if you become one!), and they don’t demand X number years of experience to participate; you can even create new committees (like REPS or my task force) if you see a topic or area not receiving enough attention. Look at NEA and SAA as cornucopias of opportunity where you can learn and share, make new and strengthen old connections, and establish your professional voice and outlook. Networking is beneficial, but being part of a network is symbiotic.

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