Service to the profession: Resume building or valuable work experiences
By Asia Hall
Service to the profession is an innocuous term for performing many different types of activities, both on and off the clock that are supposed to benefit your profession. I don’t know if other professions outside of librarians have service to the profession requirements, but I think that many of the academia related professions encourage this type of service. Candace Benefiel et al in their article Service to the profession: Definitions, scope, and value discuss how service to the profession is often a requirement of tenure under the “premise that participation in professional service activities has beneficial effects for the individual, the institution, and the profession as a whole.” Service to the profession activities are as varied as the institutions that require them. As an example some activities might include committee work, participation in professional associations, conference attendance, presentations, publishing, research and I’ve even heard of book reviews as being considered service to the profession. The question to ask with all of this information is this: Is service to the profession actually service, or is it simply resume building?
Networking is always mentioned as a benefit for attending conferences and belonging to associations. It’s also something that comes up in many articles about service to the profession. Crystal Goldman in her article The Benefits of local involvement: professional development through state and regional library associations discusses the importance of local networking and how beneficial it can be. She states “discovering how other librarians have dealt with similar concerns or finding creative ways to combine resources is an excellent use of a professional network.” This is a great description of how beneficial networking can be. The hazards of siloing information are real and a great way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to network. Another benefit of networking is having experts on hand to assist you in areas of librarianship that you may not be as advanced in. This is especially important if you have a small work force and you’re the only one who in that department. However, there are many librarians, like myself, who are not overly enthusiastic about networking. There’s the constant fear to always “be on” as one librarian I spoke to put it. You never know who is going to be on a search committee or who you might have to work with one day. If you add to that the potential that many librarians are likely to be introverted individuals and networking is difficult if not impossible task that certainly takes a lot of courage and mental exhaustion. The benefits of networking to one’s self are numerous for making connections, learning about possible job opportunities, encourages knowledge sharing etc. These are all great things, but how to do they benefit more than just your resume? Networking can be beneficial to a department and university for the same reasons as above when it comes to the sharing of knowledge, and job opportunities. Departments and universities benefit if their librarians have access to a varied pool of knowledge on multiple topics through their networking connections. Students and faculty can also benefit from this as their librarians now have more access to information that they would have had without networking. Departments needing to fill a position quickly and with a qualified candidate could benefit from a librarian having a network of connections to other librarians who might be looking for a new job. Networking is an aspect of Service to the profession that can potentially benefit your resume and your job.
Committee Work and Conferences
Committee work whether it is thru a professional association, a library related charity or your university could all potentially be considered service to the profession. Working on a committee not only provides great networking opportunities but it could also provide opportunities to speak on behalf of your university, department, community etc. Committee work is also a great way to keep yourself informed and involved in what’s coming next in your profession. Committee work however can take up a significant amount of time that is usually done while on the clock. This is time that could be spent teaching, assisting students, or working on departmental projects. It’s important that any librarian seeking to do committee work keep their service to job ratio balanced. The benefits of working on a committee don’t always outweigh the benefits of being in your office and available to students and faculty. Conferences are another way that many librarians gain not only service to the profession points, but also important professional development opportunities. Conferences are not only for networking they provide a great amount of knowledge of a specific topic or on a variety of related topics, depending on the conference and its purpose. Many conferences include attendees and speakers from all over the country and even internationally this is an excellent chance for a librarian to get knowledge of practices from a myriad of libraries. As Ruth Jenkins writes in her article Learning and teaching in action, “it is easy to get caught up in the routine work of our organizations, and conferences are an opportunity to take a broader view of our work in context of the whole profession and beyond.” In a sense a conference is a great way to remind a librarian that they are not alone, and that there is an enormous world out there with many different possibilities for them to learn from and draw inspiration from. Conferences have to added bonus of boosting employee morale. When an employee is approved for funding to travel to desired conference it shows that the administration has faith in the employee and is invested in that employee’s development. This helps the employee to feel respected and appreciated by the administration which in turn will make the employee work harder and happier. A truly win win situation in which the library gains a more knowledgeable and developed librarian and the librarian is happier and feels a great sense of appreciation for their work place.
Publishing is sometimes considered service to the profession and sometimes it is put in its own category for tenure and promotion requirements and job descriptions. I’m including it because many larger research universities encourage their faculty librarians to publish. I use the term encourage euphemistically, we’ve all heard the “publish or perish” terminology and realize that the encouragement is often to not lose your job. Unlike networking and committee work, I have found very little evidence of any significant benefit to students, or the department when librarians spend their time working on articles to publish. Many librarians find it hard to make time to work on articles and so will do a lot of the work at home. If publishing is something that you’re passionate about, then by all means spend your free time working on your article. However as Meredith Farkas explains in her blog post On tenure, after three years of tenure track, there are many librarians with little to no interest in publishing and are doing so only to keep their jobs. Their half-conceived, and faint-hearted articles are flooding the literature with poor quality work that doesn’t do anyone any good, most of all the profession. More importantly it doesn’t benefit the students or faculty, it provides no noticeable benefit to your coworkers and if it’s not done with passion and purpose won’t bring distinction to your university. However, if a library were to not require publication, but to allow a librarian who has a passion for research and publication to pursue such avenues then it could lead to truly remarkable scholarship that will bring notoriety to the library. This prestige could result in grants and extra funding as well as encouraging new talent to want to seek employment at the library. Therefor I have to argue that publishing as requirements for tenure or job descriptions as service to the profession is not of any viable use to anyone, but can be useful if done correctly and without requirements.
There are many varied definitions and descriptions of what service to the profession truly is, and many more ways in which it is applied to librarians and their jobs. Through many of the most notable ways that service to the profession is fulfilled, committees, conferences, professional associations and publishing a librarian is able to network and networking can provide a viable service and benefit to more than just the librarian. Committees are a unique way for a librarian to speak on behalf of his university, community, student population etc and have a say in changes that might affect a large group of his/her users. Committees are also a great way that a librarian can stay on the cutting edge of what’s happening and what’s coming up in the profession. Committee work can be time consuming and it’s important to stay balanced with your job to service ratio. Conferences are like-wise a great way for librarians to gain perspective and inspiration from a gathering of fellow librarians. Publishing is one service that provides little benefit to anyone other than the librarian and can also be time consuming. It is best done when the librarians is passionate about something and can take the time to work diligently on the project.
Benefiel, C. R., Miller, J. P., Mosley, P. A., & Arant-Kaspar, W. (2001). Service to the Profession: Definitions, Scope, and Value. Reference Librarian, 35(73), 362
Farkas, M.F. (2014). On tenure, after three years on the tenure track. Retrieved from http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2014/07/23/on-tenure-after-three-years-on-the-tenure-track/
Goldman, C. (2014). The Benefits of Local Involvement: Professional Development through State and Regional Library Associations. Practical Academic Librarianship: The International Journal of the SLA, 4(2), i-xi.
Jenkins, Ruth. (2015). Learning and Teaching in Action. Health Information and Libraries Journal, 32, 156-160.