In accepting the 2015 James M. Cretsos Leadership Award, Karen Miller recalled her path from first tentatively raising her hand to volunteer as a SIG program coordinator at her first ASIS&T Annual Meeting. Miller soon came to realize the critical importance of engaged and dedicated volunteers throughout many of the Association’s operations. The organization benefits from the time invested in innumerable volunteer efforts, all of which further goals and education efforts, while each volunteer benefits by building experience, growing a professional network and mentoring others. With volunteers making time in their personal schedules for Association activities, regular communication is crucial to help a team solidify and get tasks accomplished. Communication extends to recruiting and training volunteers to assure smooth leadership transitions. With the Association heavily dependent on volunteer activity, change may evolve slowly, suggesting the need for additional volunteer help. Miller encourages all to deepen their engagement with the Association by volunteering time, knowledge and talent.


Association for Information Science and Technology
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2015 ASIS&T Awards Coverage
Raising a Hand: Notes from an ASIS&T Volunteer

by Karen Miller
Karen MillerAs a new doctoral student, I attended the SIG/ED business meeting during my first ASIS&T Annual Meeting. Naresh Agarwal presented a list of vacant SIG/ED offices, and I tentatively raised my hand to volunteer as the new program coordinator. Five years later, I have the honor to follow in the footsteps of former James M. Cretsos Leadership Award winners to talk about my ASIS&T experience.

If I were to construct a social network of all the people helping me along the way from the first time I raised my hand to volunteer to the honor of receiving this award, you would see a dense network of motivated, dedicated professionals who are committed to promoting ASIS&T and contributing to the development of its members. I learned so much from all of them, and my purpose here is to share some of what I learned.

The first and most important thing that I learned from one of my mentors is that ASIS&T is an organization of volunteers. ASIS&T needs volunteers! Without you saying “yes” to officer positions or committee service the work of ASIS&T will not get done. You are already incredibly busy, but the time you invest working with a SIG, chapter or committee creates value for the membership and our field at-large. For example, reviewing poster submissions provides valuable feedback to researchers and helps create a dynamic poster event for the exchange of new ideas. If you help produce a webinar, you provide educational material to the membership (and non-members) that may end up sparking new research or encouraging creative, fresh discussions in classrooms. From just those two examples, you can see that when you volunteer you are building the organization and creating value for the membership and our profession.

Of course, the benefits of volunteering also extend to you. By volunteering, you will meet and work with some amazing people, so your professional network grows. You will learn new things and encounter new ideas. Most importantly, you will gain experience so that you can mentor the new volunteers needed to sustain a growing organization.

One of my other ASIS&T mentors taught me by example that regular communication is the key to getting things done. SIG, chapter or committee leaders who define and communicate their goals, then regularly communicate with members will see progress toward completing those goals. Holding monthly meetings, even in virtual space, will solidify the team and move things forward. Regular communication helps everyone (even leaders) avoid moving ASIS&T projects to the “back burners” of our busy schedules.

Communication includes asking for volunteers to take on specific tasks. If leaders do not ask, nothing will get done. Asking a new member to work on a project with an experienced leader strengthens ASIS&T going forward.

My ASIS&T mentors took their time to train me. As a brand new program coordinator, they gave me examples of prior webinar and panel proposals that I could use as templates, pointed me to a webinar on producing webinars (now there are two archived webinars to help produce effective online programs) and gave me the email addresses for the helpful Headquarters staff that manage webinar production. These may seem like small things, but without them I could not have accomplished SIG goals. Again, by example, I learned the importance of investing time to train new officers and committee members.

Most ASIS&T leadership positions rotate annually. That reality makes transition planning an important task for any ASIS&T leader. We need to pass on our knowledge and experience to new officers and, while staying in the background, be there to help when help is needed. Once all the annual reporting is complete, it is time to hold elections and begin the work of transitioning your knowledge to the new leaders. Giving the new leaders a strong foundation is the best way to move ASIS&T forward.

Finally, as a volunteer organization, change tends to move slowly. Some processes are not clearly defined, and it may be hard to figure out where to get information. After working to update a manual for close to a year, I am still perplexed about whether the revisions will be adopted soon or how to fully implement the changes. You may read that sentence as criticizing the ASIS&T organization. But really I am criticizing myself. How many times did I put the project on my back burner? What could I have done to move the manual revisions forward more quickly? When we are perplexed, we need to reach out to ask for clarification instead of moving the project to a later date on our electronic calendars. When things move slowly we need to ask if we are the cause. Mea culpa.

The 2013 ASIS&T partnership with the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) provides the membership with access to a broader range of online programs and demonstrates that there are many ways for the ASIS&T organization to grow. Situating the 2016 Annual Meeting in Copenhagen is an effective public statement of ASIS&T’s international commitment. ASIS&T is strong and well prepared for future growth. We must, however, remember that ASIS&T is an organization of volunteers. Please be prepared to say “yes” when you are asked.

I will close by thanking everyone who participated in nominating me for this award and all those who have worked so hard beside me and helped me during the last five years. My thanks also go out to each ASIS&T member for investing time, knowledge and talents to grow this unique and very special organization.

Karen Miller, the recipient of the 2015 James M. Cretsos Leadership Award, is a doctoral student and graduate teaching assistant in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina. The purpose of the Cretsos award is to recognize a new ASIS&T member who has demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities in professional ASIS&T activities. In addition to her studies in information science, Miller holds an M.B.A from Furman University/Clemson University and a J.D. from the University of South Carolina School of Law   She can be reached at kmiller8<at>email.sc.edu.