Friday 20 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 20 : Making an impact on your professional association

To an outsider, ALIA can look like a large and somewhat complex organisation. We use terms that only make sense once you understand the organisation, like how there are groups and advisory committees and board sub committees, and how it’s apparently obvious what the differences are between those (totally not the case). But the fact is that ALIA is guided in its activities by volunteers – aforementioned committees, mostly. If you think that ‘ALIA should do x’, it’s not that hard to make that happen. 

So I present for you here a guide to how to make an impact on ALIA. You can see this as a way to ensure that ALIA represents its members, or for you to develop influencing and negotiation skills, or a sneaky way to one day rule the world (Of librarians. In Australia. It’s not a big world).

Step 1: Be a member
It might sound petulant, but if you’re not a member of ALIA you just don’t get as much of a say in what they do. You need to be inside the tent. This is enshrined in the ALIA constitution, which says that non-members do not get a vote at the AGM and can’t sit on the board of directors. There are also other regulations and guidelines about non-members sitting on committees, some of which have to do with insurance. If you want to change ALIA, put your money where your mouth is.

Step 2: Identify your areas of interest
I find this hard, because my areas of interest change rapidly. But some areas are broader than others, and some of ALIA’s groups or committees are based on geography or career stage. Align yourself with one or more groups – perhaps a local group and a topic-based group – and find out more about what they are doing.

Do you have an interest that isn’t currently represented by ALIA? No problem – all you need are 25 signatures from other members interested in the same topic, and you can start your own group. You don’t need money, but you do need at least one other person to be the group’s committee with you. And that’s it. You can get an elist, you can hold events, you can have a blog or a newsletter, and you’ll be supported by ALIA. 

Step 3: Volunteer
ALIA groups all have organising committees. The majority of these committees would fall over themselves with excitement if you volunteered to help them. Sometimes the people on those committees have been in the role for many years, not because they love it that much but because they can’t find anyone to replace them, and they don’t want to let the group disband. Ask the current committee what they do, and then ask where you can help.

Step 4: Be brave
Don’t limit your offers to roles that you already know how to do. To my astonishment, most ALIA groups really struggle to find someone to fill the mandatory role of treasurer. This, despite the fact that most ALIA groups don’t have any budget. A treasurer with no budget? It’s the easiest job in the world! Use the opportunity to develop skills that may help you in future career steps. It’s like a free training course.

Step 5: Speak up
Once you’re in these positions, be the person that drives change. If you feel that a group could do something a better way, propose this and convince your committee colleagues. Have a great new idea? Use the framework to make it happen. You don’t even have to be on the group’s committee to make a suggestion. If you can’t convince anyone that your idea is worth implementing, either the idea needs work or your influencing skills need work. Once again, it’s like a free training course.

Step 6: Look for other opportunities (part 1)
I’ve written here about ALIA groups, because they’re often the first step for members getting involved in ALIA. But they don’t have to be. ALIA advisory committees are great places for those that like to explore issues and give advice on policy and strategic approach. Advisory committees are used by the board to give advice on their area of expertise, and they make up for the fact that board members are not there to represent one particular issue. Advisory committees are also a good step for those that want a new challenge after being on a group committee.

Then, of course, there is the board of directors. Any member can nominate for the board, at any point in their membership. Personally, I would not recommend nominating for the board until you have at least a bit of an understanding and some experience with ALIA, merely because there is so much to learn and you’ll have to spend so much time catching up. I would also suggest that you learn how to read a financial statement, and what fiduciary duties are. Once you’ve ticked those boxes, talk to a current or past board member who can tell you more about what being on the board requires and entails.

Step 7: Look for other opportunities (part 2)
Volunteering your time isn’t always the best path, and sometimes isn’t possible. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways that you can have an impact on the association that claims to represent you.

You can vote. Vote in board elections, and vote at AGMs (by proxy if need be). If you’re not sure how to vote, ask someone – talk to your friends, managers, staff, ALIA representatives (such as advisory committee or board members). We can explain the issues. Voting is better than not voting, always. 

You can nominate for things. Nominations are currently open for ALIA’s Excellence Awards (closing 30th June!) – do you know someone who is really good at what they do? In past years some of these awards have struggled to attract nominations, and I’m fairly certain it’s not because no one deserves to be recognised. I don’t know the people you work with, so I can’t nominate them. But you do. Use ALIA to help someone’s good work become noticed.

You can get things for yourself. Nominations are also open for ALIA’s Research Awards (closing 30th June!). ALIA will give you money, actual money, to undertake research. Granted, it’s not enough money to retire on, but like the Excellence Awards, these funds often go unawarded due to lack of applications. If you have an idea for a research topic, get cracking on your application.
I hope this blog post has helped you understand how you can impact ALIA, and how you can use ALIA to further your career. If you’ve ever found yourself saying ‘ALIA should do x’, remind yourself that you, as a member, are ALIA. What are you going to do to make x happen?

Alyson Dalby is a current director of ALIA. She learned how to navigate ALIA by jumping in and doing it, making several mistakes along the way. She also has an actual job at UNSW Library.

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