Professsional Associations - Personal Background
November 2, 2006
When faculty member Linda Marion invited me to speak to her introductory class of new library students about my professional affiliations I had to ponder what angle to take. I say that only because, aside from being a consistent Special Libraries Assn (SLA) member, my other affiliations have been all over the map. Is that the kind of example you want to pose to new students? Does it reflect poorly on me - all that jumping around? Does it reflect poorly on the associations - that they didn't work out for me? It was hard to say where the conversation would go. But in the end, a half hour seemed to pass quickly without anyone looking too offended, myself included. ...
It helped that my colleague Alison Lewis, Humanities and Social Science Librarian, was there to offer a contrasting experience and comment on some of my own overly broad generalizations.
What follows is more or less what I can recall of my remarks. Feel free to respond if anything inspires you to comment or ask a question.
The story of my affiliations corresponds closely with my work history - as one might expect. Having started grad school just as the Internet was beginning to get exposure in the early 90's, and graduated with the combined MLS (lib sci)/ MSIS (info sys) degrees, my career has followed the wave of the tech boom. The world was changing - or at least the information side of it was. Going the corporate route, with each new position, I was often the first person to hold my job title in that organization. New roles were coming into existence to grapple with the dawn of the information age. The only thing that stayed the same was change itself. But I was comfortable with taking some risks. As it was, none of my corporate positions lasted more than three years. Even that seemed like good longevity considering the workstyle shared by the IT contract workers I met.
My first 'out-of-library' experience was as a project manager with a small, trend-setting non-profit web design and hosting firm. It was fun to work in a start-up environment where beanbags regularly flew at staff meetings. That ended abruptly when it was bought and liquidated by a boutique consulting firm with a niche content management product that it claimed would change the world (it didn't.) From there I went more mainstream, but again as the first person to hold my job title. I was a 'knowledge manager' with the consulting arm of a prestigious 'Big 6' professional services firm. That ended when the firm (with 80,000 employees worldwide) was barred from doing business in the USA after a few partners were convicted of acting under a conflict of interest that arose from a situation that had been legal (but just barely) up until then. The now classic story unfolded when their IT consulting got in the way of their auditing. That firm went out of existence almost overnight, even though it was later cleared of some of the charges. Some would call this sort of thing 'creative destruction' and see it as a necessary byproduct of the information age maturing. I began feeling slightly more conservative. In two other cases that I won't go into, I'll just say that what started out well enough (also under newly created job titles) evolved in directions I was unwilling to go. Still, I learned a ton, about my profession and myself. I have no regrets about how any of it worked out, even if I only stayed for two years with each of those organizations.
Professional Associations R Good 4U
But during all these job-jumps into unknown territory, one thing I could count on as a guide was some sort of professional association that provided a broader context than my job description. They helped me define myself as a professional apart from the sum of my skills and responsibilities. They also provided the language, contacts and analytic perspectives to confront the new challenges I faced in each new environment. Now as an academic librarian, I find myself just as challenged to keep up with new and changing information technology as well as demanding customers. And I can still count on the professional associations as one of the best ways to get a perspective above and beyond the thousands of individual details that make up my day.
So here's the graph of my former and current affiliations that I drew on the chalkboard while giving this talk. Feel free to get in touch or comment if this raises any thoughts or questions for you.