Professional Development Beyond the Walls

This entry was posted by Wednesday, 4 August, 2010
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Working in the archives can sometimes be overwhelming.  I’m sure working anywhere can be overwhelming.  So, we all have outside interests to keep us going.  When I was in grad school, our professors would often stress how participating in professional organizations can keep one intellectually interested in their profession.  Moreover, professional associations help to increase and maintain one’s social network.  I’ve stayed active in professional associations in an attempt to grow professionally.  I’m a member of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA).  These organizations offer archivists the chance to exchange ideas, learn new techniques, and socialize with each other.

As a member of the SAA, I’ve been fortunate enough to present a paper, present several posters, chair a session at the annual meeting, be the editor for the Business Archives Section, and participate on both the Committee on Ethics and Professional Conduct and the Task Force to Develop a Values Statement.  I’ve been very fortunate to have these opportunities, but they didn’t come without effort, and a little luck.

My job makes me a member of the credit union movement, but my profession has little to do with credit unions.  As a result, when I look for growth opportunities, I’m often looking outside of my organization and the credit union movement.  Credit unions, leagues, and CUNA all offer great professional development opportunities.  Heck, CUNA even has the Center for Professional Development!  Whether you’re looking in your credit union, the league, CUNA or outside the credit union movement, there are some basic things to consider as you seek professional development.  Below are my 6 tips for professional development:

1.  Don’t be afraid to look outside your organization. 

Our organizations can limit professional growth for numerous reasons, and none of which may be intentional.  But, that doesn’t mean your organization doesn’t want you to learn and grow, and couldn’t benefit from your development.  In my case, looking to my profession offers many more chances for professional growth.  It might be the same for you.  Accountants, marketers, graphic designers, etc., all have professional organizations they can join.  Or, there are organizations which can use those skills to enhance their organization.  The point is these other organizations can help you improve your techniques, learn new practices, and meet others doing work similar to you.

2.  Volunteer and answer calls for participants.

When an organization asks for volunteers, they mean it.  This is your opportunity to get in the door.  And, we all know getting in the door is half the battle.  Sometimes we get intimated by other members’ credentials or experience.  We can feel like we don’t have the necessary experience to participate.  I’m telling you to place those fears into Al Gore’s lock-box!  Rather take up Rosie the Riveter’s motto, ‘cause, “Yes You Can!”  Take that chance and respond.  The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get selected…this time.

3.  Be persistent and don’t take rejection personally.

If you don’t get selected for an opportunity, don’t take the rejection personally.  Most opportunities have limited openings.  You might not have been selected this time, but next time you might be needed.  In fact, the more chances you take the more often you are to be rejected.  Remember that a numbers game is always being played.  Keep on working to develop your skill with the existing opportunities.  Eventually, you’ll find you have a skill that is critically needed, and/or you’ve meet someone that can “put in a good word for you.”

4.  Look for social networks. 

Develop and maintain professional and personal relationships with different people.  One never knows when a person in your social network will help you out.  In my case, I was recommended for the SAA Values Task Force because of my youth and inexperience in the profession by a professor I had during library school.  Without this connection, my name likely wouldn’t have come up.  We all know the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”  Sometimes this is the case, so try to know as many people as possible.

5.  Participate with pride, conviction, and honesty.

When it comes down to what you know, doing things with pride, conviction, and honesty will help out.  While my name was in the mix for the SAA Values Task Force based on who I knew, it was the “what I knew” that really got me into the group.  I had taken a course on archival ethics with the professor that offered my name.  He knew that I have the ability to critically examine important ethical value positions without being overly impressed by convention or other people’s convictions.  I can argue with the best, but try not to belittle or demean any other position.  I simply go on the facts as presented.  But, you must do your homework and be ready to offer your honest critiques.  Do this, and respect will follow.  Then people will come to you because they can trust you to be a positive member and to do good work. 

6.  Know your limits; or know when to say “no.” 

Once you get your foot in the door, it will quickly become apparent that more help is always needed.  In professional associations, there is often a snowball effect.  This happens in organizations too.  One committee leads to two committees – leads to a task force – leads to a presentation – leads to a paper – leads to another committee.  I’m sure you’ve seen this before.  Knowing how and when to say, “no” can be a very critical step in our development.  And, knowing when to step away can help too.  The point here is to say “no” before you start something that feels “off” or you feel yourself being too drained.  In my opinion, it is better to say “no” beforehand then it is to quit in the middle because you “burned out.”  Once you gain a good reputation, people will understand if you can’t help them every now and again.  They know when you are ready or interested they’ll be able to count on you.

I’m sure you have some other points which are helpful as well.

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