I have spent a lot of time in face to face professional networks. I have never totted up the amount, but just when I was editing the Institute of Information Scientists' monthly newsletter Inform I spent about 20 hours a month, 10 times a year, for 6 years, which I think works out at about one working year of 35 hour weeks. I started doing things on committees in about 1984 (it's so long ago I can't remember). After all that, I would say:
1. It was worth it. I made friends, I got new skills, I gained confidence, I made useful connections, I had fun.
2. It's not worth unless you are having some fun. At least that's the way it works for me. Looking back on it, "Do these people seem like they are having a good time" is one of the criteria for getting involved in a new commitee.
3. You get out what you put in. Trite, but I think it's true. I've made my most meaningful connections when I'm working on something with people, rather than just going along to meetings.
4 If all the people you worked with are retired or dead, nobody remembers you did stuff.
That last point may seem a bit flippant, but I don't feel at all flippant when I look at the first picture, of the UK Online User Group (now UKEIG) Management Committee, in the summer of 1986. I retained the picture's sepia look, as it seemed sort of appropriate. Linda Dorrington, a wonderful information professional, in the centre of the picture, is no longer with us. I hope all the rest are: but I haven't been in touch with Rodney Bennett (back row, left) for years. Christine Baker (middle, far left) is just retiring as administrator of UKeiG; a startled looking Charles Oppenheim, next to her, is retired though still professionally active. The rest of us are still around, but drawing firmly into the retirement zone (I'm far right of the middle row, BTW, and a picture of me this year is here though you will notice I have chosen one where my double chin is hidden by a sprig of cherry blossom).
Of course one good thing is that if you hang around long enough then the people who who you organised events with, and drew up guidelines with, and washed up cups with, and wrangled with for hours about whether or not the association should change its name or not (oh the time I've wasted doing that)- at least some of them get to be gurus and chief librarians, which can be useful.
However, it's not something where you can rest on your laurels. I probably did most for the Institute of Information Scientists (on the right is an article about the silver jubilee of the IIS Scottish Branch in 1995, I was Branch Chair at the time). I got a tremendous amount out of my IIS activities (see 1. above), and got my Fellowship for "Services to the IIS": that is something I am really proud of.
However the IIS is an ex-association, following the merger of the IIS and the Library Association to form CILIP. I still hope I made a contribution to the profession, and the benefits I got out of all this are still there, but the fact remains that the number of people who knew what the IIS (membership circ 3000) was are proportionally few, and dwindling all the time.
In terms of "advice" one point I am coming round to in a rambling sort of way is to say that if one of your goals is "visibility" and "contacts" then you have to work out who you want to be visible to, and who you want to connect with, because you can't do it with everyone (unless you have clones). Before I left my last job at the British Library (Head of the Business Information Service) I was starting to get involved with the local branch of the British Institute of Management. This was very interesting, getting to know a new set of people, and definitely CPD for me as a manager. However, it gave me zero additional visibility with information professionals.
Similarly, I made a decision to get more involved in international groups (as I got to know more people outside the UK) and less involved in UK groups (the third picture is of an IFLA Information Literacy Section committee meeting, which I'm a member of, in Puerto Rico last year). I also started going to more education and research conferences, because now I'm an educator and researcher.
However, from a UK LIS perspective it looks like I dropped out of professional involvement altogether. I've maintained visibility in particular through my blog, and I do go/get invited to UK events still, and can keep in touch via my students and through social media. Still, one of the things I'm pondering through this CPD blog is whether I want to re-engage a bit more face to face with UK LIS groups (and if so, how, as the international/education/research stuff is important to my work now). Realistically, it makes more sense to concentrate on virtual involvement (which is so much more extensive nowadays), but thinking back to my happiest professional-involvement days has made me nostalgic, not a mood I normally cultivate.
So this may be another piece of advice: when you are where you thought you wanted to be - take time to reflect. Are you happy with the networks you are in? Or have you lost the elements that made you want to get involved in face to face professional networks to start with? I hasten to add that, as you can judge from the above picture, the IFLA section meets my criterion of "these people have a good time". However, the problem of international networking is that you don't meet face to face very often.
I thought I would end this by listing the groups where I've been on committees. I put this in, then I took it out, and then I put it back in again. After all, it shows that you can be on numerous committees, and survive.
- Member of the Committee of the International Federation of Library Association and Institutions (IFLA) Information Literacy section (2009 - )
- Member of the Committee of the International Federation of Library Association and Institutions (IFLA) Management and Marketing section (2001- 9)
- Executive Committee Member of the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA) (1992-1997, Alternate Member 1999-2002 )
- Chair of the European Chapter of the American Society for Information Science (1999-2000)
- Member of the committee of the CILIP Community Services Group Information Literacy Group
- Member of the Recruitment and Retention Panel of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (2002-2007)
- Member of the Executive group on Information Literacy of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (2003-4 )
Institute of Information Scientists (IIS)
- Member, IIS Council (1988-1994)
- Chair of IIS Scottish Branch Committee 1994-96 (Committee Member from 1992-1999)
- Chair of the IIS Marketing Coordination Group (1987-1990)
- Editor of the monthly newsletter (Jan 1992- Dec 1997)
- IIS representative to the Scottish Library and Information Council (1994- 2000)
- Member of IIS Publications Committee (1985-1989, 1992-1998 )
- Member of IIS External Affairs Committee (1987- 1996)
- Member of the Society of College, National and University Libraries Working Group on Information Literacy (2004-2010 )
- Treasurer / Committee Member, Business Information Network (1990-1992)
- Member, Library Association Standing Committee on Business Information (1988-1992)
- Member & Officer on the Management Committee of the UK Online User Group (now UKeiG) - in the 80s (from 1985) and early 90s - I chaired the Subcommittee on Education and Training at one point
- Member of the City Information Group committee - 1990-92, as far as I can remember