As a librarian of several decades’ standing but a relatively new SLA member, I’m sometimes asked why I joined. After all, I work in a public library, so why belong to an organization whose members work in law libraries, or business libraries, or hospital libraries, or museums, or… I stand there and nod, rhythmically, waiting for the question-asker to run out of “ors” and thinking, been-there-heard-this. Eventually, perhaps prompted by dizziness caused by my rhythmic nodding, they stop “or-ing” and let me answer.
In fairness, I must say that most of these people are not SLA members, so they know little about the organization; nor do most of them know me very well, for those who know about my specialized background and passions don’t have to ask. To the uninitiated, I point out that I have a number of subject-area interests: history, genealogy, medicine (including consumer-health information and the history of medicine), languages and literature (notably French, but I’ve studied some Russian and Latin, am studying classical Hebrew, and have learned just a little Spanish, German and Italian, since I sing), and music.
At the Free Library of Philadelphia, I’m a reference librarian in social science and history, which means I provide information, teach people how to obtain and use it, and work in collection development. Because I understand the importance of specializing in some fields without hyper-specializing in only one–which limits a librarian’s value in the market and ability to help his or her clientele (and which, let’s face it, makes anyone a crashing bore)–I’ve developed skills and knowledge that have made me very useful to my colleagues, employers and patrons…and have contributed to my enthusiasm for the whole process of learning and teaching.
So why did I join SLA? In six words, to keep learning, sharing and growing. While I don’t work in what would be termed a “special library,” I am a specialist in the library and information professions. I’ve developed an ever-expanding, diverse and international network of colleagues and friends, and my mailbox is never empty, for long before I joined SLA, I joined both ALA and MLA. At some point I somehow started receiving Information Outlook, and in one issue I happened to see an article about AIIP, the Association of Independent Information Professionals. I perked up at that one too, since I have a fair (or unfair?!) number of medical problems and had learned by then that knowledge about them was vital to my health and to successful advocacy for research, education and proper treatment. Thanks to a successful workshop and poster presentation I’d given on the subject at several conferences, I’d started thinking about a way to use my knowledge in an independent business, perhaps consulting as a librarian, speaker and writer.
I had also been bitten by the genealogy bug…and as a lifelong student and lover of history, I knew that bug was not curable. About four years ago I fed it by joining some genealogy organizations and starting to attend their conferences. I also went to AIIP’s site, joined as an associate member, and started helping to edit AIIP’s quarterly online newsletter, Connections. I joined SLA around the same time, first in DBIO, then DMAH, then DSOC.
In a few years I’ll retire from the Free Library of Philadelphia, but I don’t see myself hanging up my shingle. There’s too much I want to do, and as some people have advised me (not that they need to), with everything I’ve done and learned, I should give it back…and pay it forward.
This post is the first in a series detailing why different kinds of people have joined SLA. See our second post from Brianna Marshall: “Why would a grad student join SLA?“ If you would like to contribute a post to this series, contact email@example.com