In 1909, John Cotton Dana started a new library association. It began as an act of inspiration at a library conference in New Hampshire. John Cotton Dana and a several others went out to the veranda and held what is now called the "Veranda Conference." The conference was the birth of a new association, which became called the Special Libraries Association. SLA has an award named after Dana, which is given each year to recognize the lifetime achievement of an SLA member. It is SLA's highest honor.
A couple of weeks ago, the president of the Special Libraries Association called me. This phone call was unexpected and what Tara Murray Grove told me was shocking. This year, I'm receiving the John Cotton Dana Award from SLA. Wow! SLA gives out several awards and honors during its annual conference and I never expected to be among them. Congratulations to ALL of the recipients! Thank you for your contributions to the profession and to the Association. You can read about all of the recipients in this SLA announcement. I'll put at the bottom of this post the text that is specific to the John Cotton Dana Award.
Why am I getting this award?
That is a great question that I have been asking myself. I think it comes down to three things, which I hope can help others - you - think about their future in whatever profession they are in.
Every person who gives career advice says that people should volunteer, because it is a great way of interacting with others in your profession and perhaps locating a position that you want. The idea is that others get to know you and are willing to share information about job openings and even recommend you. While that is true, volunteering allows you to expand your circle of influence and can eventually put you in the rooms where important decisions are made. That doesn't happen overnight, but if you continue to volunteer it will.
For me, volunteering to be on a committee or to work the door at the SLA IT Division Dance Party helped me to know more about what was happening in the Association. Sometimes that volunteering came as a push from a colleague like Judy Field, who wanted to get me more deeply involved in the Association. Outside of SLA, volunteering has caused me to learn more, meet professional colleagues that I would not have met otherwise, and opened doors. Indeed volunteering has kept me busy as I tend to say "yes" more than I should.
For anyone who is starting out in their career, I encourage you to volunteer. Yes, it might be stuffing envelopes at first, but stick with it and soon you'll be serving on committees where important work is being done.
When you are new in your career, you may be hesitant to volunteer because you think you have nothing to offer. However, you do have energy and some time, and often that is what a committee or organization needs. Perhaps you you have a skill that will be helpful, even if that skills seems unimportant to you.
Admittedly, when you start volunteering, you will have no idea what that will lead to in 5, 10, or 30 years and that's okay. Even when you think your efforts are not making a difference, they are and doors that you do not even know exist are being opened for you.
Put Others First
Finally, put others first. If you're volunteering to make yourself important, that will be apparent and likely be a turn-off. Rather volunteer to make an event, organization, or situation better. Be in it for them. If you're in it "for them", then you won't mind taking notes, helping to organize an event, serving on a board (or multiple boards), helping people find where a conference session is, or ensuring that people know how to get to/from the airport.
I heard a speaker a few years ago who talked about all of the different work he had done, including rising through the ranks in one organization. His secret was figuring out what help people needed and then doing it. He was in it for them. His coworkers and bosses learned his skills and knew they could count on him. He benefitted from putting others first. You will too.
By the way, I know that some volunteer in order to learn or perfect a
skill. Yes, a volunteer opportunity can help you do that as your working to improve an event, organization, or situation. Focus on helping and you'll develop the skills you need to do that.
And Still I Volunteer
Let me end with an admission, I'm still volunteering, besides the work I do in my consulting practice. I am on five different boards - Onondaga County Public Library Board of Trustees, St. Francis Farm Board of Directors, Alden Street Foundation Board of Directors, EveryLibrary Institute Board of Directors, and Library Futures Board of Directors. I'm also involved in the Poor People's Campaign. Clearly, I like being busy and I'm still learning from the work I do, as well as growing my network. I have friends who are still volunteering in their 70s and 80s, and I think that's going to be me!
Finally, congratulations to:
- James King (posthumous) and Penny Leach - Hall of Fame
- Parveen Babbar, Clara Cabrera, John DiGilio, Michael Sholinbeck, Laura Walesby - Fellows of SLA
- Emma Antobam-Ntekudz and Amy Stubbing - James M. Matarazzo Rising Star Award
I look forward to sharing the virtual stage with you at the awards ceremony!
John Cotton Dana Award
Named for SLA’s founder and first president, the John Cotton Dana Award is SLA’s highest honor. It is granted to an information professional to recognize a lifetime of achievement as well as exceptional service to SLA and the library and information profession.
Jill Hurst-Wahl, professor emerita in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and a widely respected speaker, writer, researcher, educator, and consultant, is receiving the Dana Award this year. An SLA member since 1990, Hurst-Wahl has served on the association’s board of directors, held leadership positions in SLA’s Upstate New York and Information Technology Communities, and served on numerous committees, advisory councils, and work groups. She received a presidential citation in 2008 for her work with the SLA Second Life project.