MLA Behind the Scenes: How to Join a Committee

**Update** I forgot to mention that President-elect Linda Walton wrote a nice article in August 2013 issue of MLA News on tips for joining an MLA committee (members only).

Usually I try and wait a little bit between my Behind the Scenes posts to give people a chance to read about other things than just MLA stuff.  However, the deadline to join a committee is October 31st so that means I better write about it now to rather than later.

In past posts I have mentioned that Sections, Chapters, and SIGs are a great way to get involved within MLA and to meet, discuss, and just share knowledge with other librarians.  Committees are also another great way to get involved.  Committee are also a component of the engine that helps run MLA.  Without people’s committee work, there are many things that wouldn’t get done.  There are approximately 15 staff members of MLA for an organization of 2,500-3,000 librarians and there is no way those people can do everything.  Much relies on the MLA members to keep their organization moving forward.

One way to help keep the organization moving forward is to volunteer to be on a committee.  Each year MLA members must apply to join a committee or  committees. An online committee application is available in the members-only area (active June through October 31). The form also appears in the August and September issues of MLA News and is available through headquarters. As I mentioned, the deadline for committee applications is October 31.

According to MLA’s website: “In making appointments, the association considers the background and skills of the applicants, as well as the responsibilities and needs of the committees. A history of active participation in committee work on the local, regional, or national level is an important qualification. Recommendations are sought from current committee chairs, members of the board of directors, and program staff. Some MLA committees require combinations of skills and knowledge found among few health sciences librarians. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to recruit certain members with unique experience and expertise to serve on specific committees. The president-elect makes final committee selections. During the president’s term, he or she names members to committees as vacancies occur.”

I have been on a couple of committees and basically the above paragraph is a really long way to say the following:

  • Current committee members looks at those apply for committee spots
    • Therefore list your whatever credentials, activities, experience you have even if it isn’t national experience.  The committee members just want to make sure you are somebody who is willing to be an active participant.
    • If you want to join a committee where your experience might helpful towards committee work. For example: people wanting to join the Technology Advisory Committee will want to list their technology experience.
  • While the paragraph states the president elect makes final committee decisions, in my experience they usually go with the committee’s picks.
  • Chairs are selected from the current committee members and usually serve for a slightly longer term than the rest of the committee members.
  • In the event that certain expertise is needed for a committee, sometimes people are recruited to serve on a committee.  The best example I can give where this happens continually is the National Program Committees.  Once the chair for the NPC is chosen by the Board, the chair works with the president elect to a local assistance chair. The LAC chair is often chosen based on the host city location.  That person has certain expertise (living in/near that city) that is required.

There are a lot of opportunities to join a committee because there are a lot of committees to choose from:

Clicking on each link will give you more information about each committee (MLA members only).

Although the Administrative and Board Committees, Executive Committee, and the Nominating Committee are listed on the committee web page, these three committees are different and don’t follow the same application and appointment process.  (See my post on the Nominating Committee.)  So that brings me to the next important bit about committees….

Members are pretty much applying to be on standing committees (as list above).  Executive and Nominating Committees are mandated by the bylaws and are different.

Ad hoc committees and task forces are appointed for a special purpose or specific study and are discharged when their tasks are completed.  So these committees are not ones that you can apply for annually, the members are appointed.  BUT…(and this is only my personal opinion) you would probably have a greater chance of being appointed if you are already active within MLA through your committee, Section, SIG or Chapter work.  Just saying.

Juries are constituted for the purpose of recommending recipients of awards, prizes, grants, and scholarships. Panels are appointed to serve as peer-review and evaluation boards for MLA’s publication and credentialing programs.  These groups are found within awards committees and other committees such as the JMLA Editorial Board.

Browse through the above list of committees and check out their annual reports to learn more about them.  Find a couple that you are interested in and apply for them.  The reason I say a couple…is because on the application you are asked to list your first, second, and third committee choices.  There are some committees (NPC comes to mind) that are very popular, so it is a good idea to have backups that you are interested in.

If you are interested in joining a committee the biggest advice I can give is to provide information in the boxes about your participation and special expertise or qualifications.  In the past I have seen some applications where people haven’t listed any information in those areas and it is very hard to choose people based on limited information.

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