Professional Commitments

December 11, 2013 at 11:42 am | Posted in NAHSL Annual Meeting 2013, Professional Development | 2 Comments

My position at Maine Medical Center (MMC) was eliminated, so as of August 16th I retired. As a retiree from MMC, there were many decisions to be made, including how involved I wanted to remain in my profession and in professional associations. My chief concern was NAHSL 2014, as I had agreed to serve as Conference Chair, and planning was well underway.  Last August, NAHSL 2014 was 15 months away – I had no idea what I’d be doing at that time, and thought perhaps stepping aside would be the right thing to do for the association. I had already registered for NAHSL 2013 in Falmouth, and thought I’d use that conference to help me decide.

The conference was the first time I had seen or spoken to many of my colleagues and fellow librarians since August, and the support I received was overwhelming. A number of people commented on the contributions I had made to the local, regional and national associations over the past 35 years and couldn’t understand how MMC could overlook that. But, that’s not what was important to MMC.  As I reflected on this, I knew what I’ve always known – for me, recognition by my employer has never been the motivating factor. 

So, what is it that drives me – and here’s the point – can drive you – to step up and volunteer your time and talents to your associations? Way, way back, in the late 1970s, I was responsible for the NYNJ Regional Group’s membership directory. As a beginning librarian, it was a great way to get to know who my colleagues were, and where they worked.  Skipping ahead a few years (to Texas), I worked at an academic health sciences library. During a portion of my tenure there, my boss was the MLA President, and from her I learned the value of mentoring – as she mentored me and I tried to do throughout my career.  She encouraged me to serve as the local consortium chair where I learned a bit about group dynamics. During that time I was also active in the CE activities of the Chapter, and as a result, developed and taught a few classes, regionally and at MLA – great for building confidence.  I then moved to a solo position in a hospital.  I was very involved in the Hospital Library Section (HLS) of MLA. I served as Treasurer of the Section, and got to know some of the MLA Staff, and the operations of MLA. I was editor of the Section’s newsletter – and again, made many friends around the country. My network of colleagues expanded and expanded, newsletter issue by issue. For nine years, I served on the HLS Executive Board. This was an ideal opportunity for me to learn from my colleagues and bring back to my hospital the best and brightest ideas.

And then, my return to the East, and my affiliation with NAHSL. On the editorial boards of Medical Reference Services Quarterly and the Journal of Hospital Librarianship I learned how to constructively critique the work of my colleagues, improving my skills. When asked to serve as NAHSL’s Benchmarking Coordinator for MLA, I agreed and gained insight into how benchmarking could be used at my hospital – my administration was impressed with what we counted and how we ranked (granted, that was another time at MMC). As Chapter Council Representative, and then Alternate, I discovered the similarities and differences across the Chapters, and came to share what I learned with NAHSL and my library. When NAHSL came to Maine, I served as Program Chair the first time, and Sponsorship the next.  Both experiences gave me opportunities to work with people outside the library world and to again increase my competencies.

I ventured out of the health sciences library realm and became involved on the state level with library teams comprised of academic, school and public libraries. I acquired a new appreciation for challenges and struggles I couldn’t begin to imagine, making the ones I faced almost trivial.

In terms of peer recognition, admittedly one of my motivating factors, the most significant reward was being honored to receive MLA’s Virginia L and William K Beatty Volunteer Service Award in 2012. This award recognizes a medical librarian who has demonstrated outstanding, sustained service to MLA and the health sciences library profession.  It didn’t hurt that it also came with a $1,000 check!

The list could go on with many other examples of my professional activities, but this wasn’t intended to be me-centric. Instead, I want to point out the many benefits to be derived, both personal and to our colleagues and librarianship in general.  So, to recap –

– You get to know who your colleagues are and who you can call on when you need to

– Your colleagues get to know you and will call on you when they need to

– Your networking opportunities and benefits just can’t be measured – priceless!

– You become a mentor and a mentee

– You learn about working effectively in groups

– You build self-confidence

– You learn about the workings of the association, whatever it is

– You bring new and improved skills and knowledge to your work

– You might gain a higher sense of appreciation from your employer

– You gain an understanding of the work of other librarians

And back to NAHSL 2014, and whether or not I’ll continue as Conference Chair. The 2013 NAHSL Conference in Falmouth felt very different – I could attend (or not attend) what I wanted to, based on personal curiosity, rather than what I would bring back to MMC. There was plenty that interested me. It was a great conference, and the networking and camaraderie convinced me that yes, this is still my profession, retired or not. Right now, there’s no reason to stop doing what I’ve done for 35 years – volunteering my time and learning from my colleagues. It’s my hope that if you’re thinking about signing up for a committee, saying yes to a request, or getting involved in any way, you’ll stop thinking and jump on board. I’m grateful to NAHSL for the Professional Development Award that helped me attend the conference and for making my decision an easy one.

Janet Cowen

Retired – Maine Medical Center



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  1. Great article, Janet – I’m so glad you’ve decided to keep going with the CPC. One benefit you didn’t mention is the very real friendship that develops among people in our organizations. For me, that’s the best part.

  2. Great blog post, Janet. I wish all who retired were as dedicated as you. You are one of the best in the profession. I will always remember when you offered to step in my shoes and assume the position of Past-Chair. Sue

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