Don’t Wait for the Phone to Ring!
November 21, 2016
Betsy Adamowski, Wheaton Public Library
I f you are like me, you probably love it when the phone rings and someone invites you to go somewhere, be a part of something, or asks for your opinion or input. If you are like me, you probably want to be on a committee, board, or task force because you like to meet people, expand your professional network, and be a part of the change you want to see happen in the profession. If you are like me, and I am sure most of you are, then I bet you are disappointed that the phone doesn’t ring as much as you would like it to. Because then, committees get formed, actions get taken, and you are left behind. If this is true for you, then I am going to tell you the hard truth. The phone is not going to ring unless you make it ring. You have to be the one to do the reaching out.
This dilemma hits home because I have firsthand experience on both ends of the spectrum. Not only have I been the person that was not asked to be part of a committee, but I have also been the person doing the asking. When I was president-elect of the Illinois Library Association (ILA), one of my most important tasks was to appoint people to all ILA committees. It was an overwhelming task, and the pressure to get the right person in the right spot was stressful. It was a good day when someone reached out to me and told me they wanted to be on a committee. Sadly, this happened only a few times.
It was up to me to try to fill the spots with people from every geographic corner of the state, library type, ethnic background, and gender. I never realized how hard it was to find people to take a professional lead on a committee. It gave me a moment to stop and look at my past twenty-five years of being on committees, task forces, and boards. Looking back, I realized that the best groups I had been part of were ones that I reached out to.
Reaching out and getting myself involved paved the way for me to become the library leader I aspired to be. A few of my favorite outreach attempts were to Pat Norris for the Illinois State Library Synergy and Small Public Library Management Institute, to Gail Bush to be appointed to the ILA Conference Planning Committee, to Brad Baker to join the ILA Nominating Committee, to Pam Van Kirk to chair the ILA Advocacy Committee, and currently to RAILS Director Dee Brennan to be part of the Standards Revision Task Force. Those experiences all opened doors for me to express my passion as a library leader. I will forever be grateful for the courage I was able to summon to pick up the phone and make the call.
If I hadn’t made the call, I would have lost out on meeting new people, making changes in Illinois libraries, and most importantly, building my professional resume. There are many of you, new and seasoned library professionals, who are still waiting for the phone to ring. I hate to break it to you, but the phone is not going to ring. You are missing out on some great experiences, and the profession is missing out on your meaningful leadership and contribution. The profession needs all hands on deck to keep it relevant, sustainable, and viable.
You might be asking, how do I start? Truthfully, you start when you reach out and get to know your fellow colleagues, attend meetings, read listservs, blogs, journals, and become aware and interested in what is happening around you. For example, I always wondered how the ILA conference was developed.
It was that curiosity that led me to call then-ILA President Gail Bush and ask if I could be part of her conference planning committee. Thankfully, she appointed me, and I had the time of my life meeting great people, planning programs, and getting to know the ILA staff.
I admit it, making that phone call is hard to do. It takes courage to raise your hand, speak up, and yes, make a phone call. You will ask yourself (as I do every time), what if I don’t get picked, say the wrong thing, or the person on the other end is not interested in me? If you want to get ahead, you have to ignore those “what if’s.” You have to find the courage within yourself to reach out and let people know you want to be
a part of whatever it is they are leading.
It is fortunate that in our profession there are many great state and national associations to be part of—explore the American Library Association, Illinois Library Association, Illinois School Library Media Association, Special Library Association, and Illinois Association of College and Research Libraries. All of these associations have websites that make it easy to get involved. For example, if you go to the ILA website (www.ila.org) there are numerous places to find information on how to join a committee, forum, or cause.
I know there is someone out there right now reading this article and thinking, “I want to be on a committee” or even, “I want to be the president of ILA.” I am sure you’re asking yourself, “How do I do it, how do I get there?” Don’t get left behind. Raise your voice and your hand. Be a part of the library world, have fun, and know that you will make a difference in whatever you do. Don’t sit back and wait for someone to call you. They just might not and you will forever be wondering, “What if?”