Volunteer to Boost Your Career

by Christina Wilson, Senior Assistant, INALJ Alberta and INALJ Manitoba

Volunteer to Boost Your Career

ChristinaWilsonAlthough I’ve worked full time in my field as a library and information professional since graduating from library school, I’ve always found time to volunteer as well. While I enjoy contributing to my community, volunteering has helped me gain valuable experience and learning opportunities that were directly relevant to my career development. Some of my most rewarding volunteer activities, both personally and professionally, have occurred in the library and information field.

While working in the information technology field in a new city, I volunteered at my local public library delivering materials to homebound clients. Personally rewarding, this experience helped me learn more about the library’s collection. My readers helped direct me to new authors I’d never have thought of before. I was living in a new city and met some amazing people, both library staff and my homebound clients, through this volunteer experience. I learned so much about my new community through their eyes. I also learned about the public library’s culture, from the perspective of a volunteer, valued by the staff and appreciated by the organization. I learned that other library staff enjoyed spending their free time delivering materials to homebound readers, too! Both at that library and the one where I currently work several staff volunteer delivering materials to homebound readers. There may be many reasons for this, but I suspect, like me, my co-workers enjoy sharing of their skills, experience and knowledge, whether the activity is paid or volunteer. In addition, we are motivated by the desire to enable people to keep reading. This is an important cause and we are rewarded by our shared interest in reading and in getting to know our clients.

Early in my career, I volunteered as a conference planner for the Ontario Library Association (OLA). This experience was instrumental in helping develop a solid professional network that has helped me get a great start to my career. Being involved in a conference as a planner was also a great item to include on my resume. The experience was as valuable as attending any course or conference in learning about the variety of issues facing Ontario’s libraries and how they were being met, which greatly assisted me in my position at the time. I was able to practice and hone skills such as project management (session planning, event planning), team building (committee work) and communication skills (proofing programs, session forms and other communiques). This experience achieved several career boosting goals such as skills development, relevant work experience, self-learning, meeting new people who shared similar interests, assisted a cause (libraries) that was very important to me and improved my self- esteem. This key volunteer activity enabled me to learn more about the scope of the library and information profession and to develop for myself what my role in it could be.

The library and information profession field offers many volunteer opportunities that can be career boosting but personally satisfying as well. If you lack Board experience, you may wish to gain some by volunteering to join a local public library Board or the Board of your local library Association. I participated in the latter at another stage of my career and know several library professionals who contribute their time to area Library Boards. They find it helpful in honing their committee work, but also to allow them to experience library governance, as a way to prepare them for future career choices. I’m sure that my previous volunteer Board experience was helpful in being shortlisted for my current position as a public library CEO.

My current volunteer gig is as a Senior Assistant, for the Alberta and Manitoba pages of INALJ. I became involved so that I could try something new, participate in an online, professional community and write a regular blog posting on career related topics. The cause of helping others in my field become gainfully and happily employed is important to me as a library professional and employer. I want the best people to be seeing the best opportunities. I’ve “met” some stellar professionals via this online community and we’ve shared many interests. Volunteering for INALJ has taught me about time management, WordPress and how hard it is to write regularly and freshly. For all these reasons, I find INALJ to be personally rewarding as a volunteer activity. For those of you beginning your career, it could be just the volunteer experience that adds value to your resume and further boosts your career.

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