The importance of conferences for the early career librarian

January 28, 2016 Mary Kate Stopa

plane2.jpgEach year there are hundreds of library conferences covering a variety of topics. They give librarians across the world a chance to meet each other and share their ideas. While they benefit all librarians, they are of special value to early career librarians.

I recently spoke to Emma O’Hagan about her experience as an early career medical librarian at Western Michigan University. Her insights revealed just how important conferences can be to early career librarians.

One of the overarching themes in Emma’s responses was the chance conferences give librarians to step out of the bubble of their own libraries. Early in their careers, they may only have experience working at one library or one type of library.

“It’s easy early in your career to do things exactly like other people in your library,” Emma said. “I mimicked my fellow reference librarians and their instruction styles pretty heavily in the first year or two. You need someone to guide you, but there comes a point where you have to start thinking about what works best for you. I think that’s one of the main reasons to attend conferences early in your career, you can see how other people are doing things.

“The first time I went to the MLA meeting I think I’d been a librarian for just a year or two and I got some new ideas about instruction that served me well.”

The exchange of ideas and perspectives at conferences also helps librarians solve problems. “I work in a very small library and it’s easy to get stuck on just one possible solution to a problem,” Emma said. “I think this can be true at larger libraries as well, especially if there isn’t a lot of turn-over.”

Of course, vendors often unveil their latest products and services at conferences. “At Charleston I always seem to learn about a great new product. Browzine, Altmetric, Kudos, Mendeley, I think I got my first look at all of these in Charleston.” said Emma “Even if isn’t something we’re not going to use at my library, I still want to know about it.” No matter what technologies their libraries use, conferences keep librarians current with industry trends.

Conferences also provide early career librarians with an opportunity to set out on the path to thought leadership. Emma explained that “submitting a poster abstract isn’t nearly as intimidating as writing a full article which may end up being rejected in the peer-review process. Obviously, it’s also a great way to start meeting other people in your field, outside your own institution and if you can start with something small like a poster or a shorter talk then sometimes that turns into something else – an editor might approach you about turning it into an article or you might be asked to participate in a panel.”

Despite all of the benefits of conferences, it can be difficult to obtain funding to attend and costs add up quickly. “I’ve been lucky to work at libraries where there’s been enough funding for me to attend at least one conference per year,” said Emma, but this is not the case for all early career librarians. If there is funding available, it may only be for a local or state conference instead of the more popular national conferences.

In order to show our support of the library community and make it possible for more early career librarians to attend conferences, Wiley has launched the first ever Wiley Scholarship for Early Career Librarians. The scholarship is a $1,500 reimbursement grant that early career librarians can use towards attending ALA Midwinter, ER&L, MLA, SLA, or ALA Annual.

The competition is open to all academic and research librarians in the first five years of their career. This can also include Library and Information Science students who are working towards their Master’s Degree in the field.

To apply, you must answer a short questionnaire and upload a résumé or CV along with an interview you conduct with an academic or research librarian. Applicants must think of five to seven questions to ask about the changing role of librarians. We encourage you to present the interview in a creative format. From written transcript to podcast to video, we will accept all submissions.

To learn more and apply to the Wiley Scholarship for Early Career Librarians, visit our website. We look forward to receiving your submissions and learning about your library!

Image Credit/Source: hxdyl/Shutterstock

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