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69:2 Opening Our Minds
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Tennessee Libraries


Volume 69 Issue 2 2019
 TL Home | Archives | Call for Articles | Editorial Board

Opening Our Minds: Two Early Career Librarians.  Two Roundtables.  Where To From Here?

by Ashley Roach-Freiman and Joseph Winberry

Ashley Roach-Freiman is a Research and Instruction Services Librarian at University of Memphis.  Joseph Winberry is a graduate student at the University of Tennessee.


In recent years, young professionals face the Catch-22 of needing both education and experience as they launch their careers. The situation is not very different for librarians. However, there is the additional need to situate oneself within the context of the profession. That is where the Tennessee Library Association comes in. Ashley Roach-Freiman is a Research and Instruction Services Librarian at the University of Memphis. She chairs the Access and Patron Services Roundtable. Ashley has spoken at previous TLA conferences and received the TLA James E. Ward Instruction Award in 2018. Joseph Winberry is a second year Masters of Information Sciences student at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He chairs the College and University Libraries Roundtable. This was Joseph's first TLA conference. Their shared passion for serving and learning from fellow librarians led them to these leadership posts. The desire to grow as professionals and serve the profession led to collaboration across the Roundtables that serves as a model for how early career librarians can get the most out of their state library association membership.

Keywords: Early Career Librarianship; Tennessee Library Association; Roundtable Collaboration; Professional Associations; Civic Engagement

The American Library Association (ALA) was founded on October 6, 1876 in order to “enable librarians to do their present work more easily and at less expense” (American Library Association, n.d., Founding of the American Library Association). In time, the organization grew into a robust professional organization with more than 57,000 members in fiscal year 2018 (American Library Association, 2018). Along with this growth in membership, there was growth in professional activities and in its chapters such as the Tennessee Library Association (TLA) whose records date back to 1897 (Tennessee State Archives, 2011). 

Participation in the American Library Association and similar organizations is a rite of passage for professional librarians. But like new members within any professional organizations, early career librarians—and particularly those from underrepresented populations—experience numerous challenges in getting involved and climbing the ladder of their profession (Leong and Vaughan, 2010; Thomas, Trucks, and Kouns, 2017). Two early career librarians in Tennessee wanted to reflect on their own experiences with professional organizations and renew the conversation of how librarians in professional organizations remain at the forefront of the profession in the rapidly evolving 21st century. This discussion was explored in their recent presentation at the Tennessee Library Association Conference held in Chattanooga, TN between April 24-26, 2019. 

Conference Presentation
Opening Our Minds: Two Early Career Librarians. Two Roundtables. Where to from here? was presented on April 26, 2019 at the Tennessee Library Association annual conference in Chattanooga. The topic began germinating shortly after Joseph Winberry of the University of Tennessee was named TLA Chair of the College and University Libraries Roundtable for the 2018-2019 term. After sending an initial outreach email to members of the Roundtable, he got a response from Ashley Roach-Freiman. A Research and Instruction librarian at the University of Memphis, Ashley was a member of the College and University Libraries Roundtable as well as the chair of the Access & Patron Services Roundtable. Initial discussions led to the publication of Matching Sets, a newsletter on upcoming events and other information of interest to members of both their roundtables. The decision to present on how the Tennessee Library Association can better engage with early career librarians (and vice versa) emerged from the newsletter collaboration. The presentation considered some of the related literature, shared more on both presenters’ backgrounds, mentioned challenges faced as Roundtable leaders, and opened up the discussion to attendees to explore how they thought TLA could better engage early career librarian members.  

Return on Investment in Library Associations
In trying to understand the background of why librarians participate (or feel barriers to participation) in library associations, a brief literature review of the topic was performed. This helped illustrate how the return on investment for involvement operated and what people looked for when they joined professional associations. Surprisingly, the topic of membership at state-level associations is not particularly broad or forward-thinking. In 2008, Diane Zabel said what the authors basically already feel: networking is good, and people like connecting with others who share the profession. Zabel confirms that “professional associations can help new members of the profession connect with more experienced professionals. These mentors can offer practical on-the-job advice, career guidance, and the opportunity to network. At the same time, mentors can find it rewarding and rejuvenating to work with mentees who bring a fresh perspective to professional issues” (p. 350). She identified mentorship as one of the most valuable aspects of membership, but not all organizations make mentoring a priority (for example, TLA doesn’t have a mentorship program). 

A 2016 editorial by Jenkins Lumpkin identified many of the same reasons why memberships are important: rite of passage for professionalization, a stronger sense of professional responsibility, networking, mentorship, and opportunities to discuss new ideas and collaborate. Lumpkin raised an important question about professional organizations today—are they as meaningful as they once were to media-savvy millennials who are finding much of the same support in online spaces like Twitter? She offered the idea that membership is valuable because it amplifies the voices of the most involved, recommending that members “change the argument for the value of membership from one which is transactional to transformational” (p. 6). These findings guided discussions as they shifted towards sharing personal experiences. 

Two Early Career Librarians
Ashley Roach-Freiman started as a roundtable chair after being nominated at the previous year’s instruction roundtable by a colleague. She had had very little exposure to the Tennessee Library Association prior, but as a faculty member at the University of Memphis eventually seeking tenure, was open to getting more involved. Philosophically, she is very interested in communities of practice as defined by Lave and Wenger (2006) as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” Her work with Library Instruction Tennessee (LIT) helped her realize that collective growth is important and vital for communities with shared interests. She wondered: how can we connect and share as librarians across a wide and diverse state? The Roundtable seemed like a possible way to search for answers to this question. 

Before the position had begun, she was informed that the Instruction roundtable would be folded into the Reference and Circulation roundtables, so the Access and Patron Services roundtable would be totally new. She struggled with knowing who to ask about what, and leaned on Executive Director Annelle Huggins. When she saw an email on the listserv from Joseph to other chairs, she was excited to reach out to someone who was similarly new but perhaps able to help fill in some of the gaps. Joseph’s enthusiasm and open spirit inspired her to do more for the roundtable, including set up more forms of communication by creating a group Slack for meetings and announcements. At Joseph’s suggestion, together they started a newsletter for the roundtables called Matching Sets, which will continue with the incoming chairs. 

At the time of the presentation, Joseph Winberry was a second year Masters of Information Sciences student at the University of Tennessee. He became chair of the College and University Libraries Roundtable after receiving a call for leadership opportunities from the TLA executive director. Interested in a career as an academic librarian or professor of library and information sciences, he has long had a personal and research interest in the area of early career professionals. Joseph’s interests stem in part from his own experiences but also from a strong belief that engagement in professional organizations is part of an individual’s civic responsibilities. He feels that his past experience managing federal and private grants as well as awards earned in Toastmasters International, a public speaking and leadership development organization, provided him with the communication and organization skills necessary to lead the Roundtable and work with Ashley towards better collaboration across the TLA Roundtables. 

Numerous challenges can make it difficult for early career librarians to get involved in their professional organizations. Communication and knowledge sharing—the process of sharing information learned within an organization—provide numerous barriers as new members do not always know what kinds of information to seek while more veteran members may not know what information is helpful or in some cases not wish to share what they have learned with newer members (Lindsey, 2008). Funding is another challenge for early career librarians as not every individual has the support of an institution willing and able to pay the cost of memberships and conferences (Stopa, 2016). There are so many opportunities to get involved on behalf of the organization’s mission that sometimes it is not clear what the goals or action items of one Roundtable or committee are (Warren and Haven, 1968). Turnover can also be a challenge as people may leave the organization as they take new opportunities outside the scope of a particular professional affiliation or due to lack of engagement within an association (Gruens, Summers, and Acito, 2000). The lack of a formal, advertised mentoring program is also another challenge that became evident throughout the work (Osif, 2008). All of these challenges create barriers, leading even seasoned librarians to refrain from full engagement with their professional associations. 

Attendees of the session responded to these challenges, elaborating on ways that communication and time kept them from participating more fully. One attendee addressed an issue that hadn’t occurred to us—primarily that she didn’t know where to turn for mentorship as a woman of color. She asked an essential question: where do I go if I want to find a place in TLA, and in libraries more generally, that can support my specific concerns and needs as a marginalized person in a primarily white profession? If Lumpkin (2016) is correct in asserting that “there are moments in our professional lives when the crucial question—the pivotal, defining question—becomes not whether you have a voice, but how loud you want that voice to be. Professional associations are, perhaps above all, amplifiers,” (p. 7) then this is an essential issue that demands not just further inquiry, but action from TLA. 

After providing an introduction with literature as well as each perspective based on personal experience, the discussion was opened up to those gathered. Although numerous ideas and feelings were shared, three overarching themes related to early career librarians’ engagement with professional organizations stood out. These included information overload, a lack of knowledge on their role within the organization, and concerns over a lack of diversity. With the incoming chairs of both Roundtables in attendance, the closing discussion hopefully sparked new ideas on how the Roundtables can bring these topics to the attention of the TLA leadership in the new term. 

The collaboration between two Roundtable chairs and the resulting TLA presentation demonstrates how the topic of engaging early career librarians in the work of library-related professional organizations is an important, timely, and complex subject. Discussions with attendees suggest that early career librarians would benefit from a structured mentoring program in the Tennessee Library Association. The development of such a program would allow members to obtain mentoring from professionals steeped in the unique political, cultural, and social contexts of the state, something they could not receive from librarians living in other parts of the country. More research is necessary for determining how professional organizations can best mentor and learn from the experiences and perspectives of early career librarians in the twenty-first century. 

American Library Association. (n.d.). History. Retrieved from 

American Library Association. (2018). ALA annual membership statistics. Retrieved from 

Gruen, T., Summers, J., & Acito, F. (2000). Relationship marketing activities, commitment, and membership behaviors in professional associations. Journal of Marketing, 64(3), 34-49.

Leong, J., & Vaughan, M. (2010). Preparing new librarians for career and organisational impact. Library Management, 31(8/9), 635-644.

Lindsey, K. L. (2008). Knowledge sharing barriers. In Knowledge Management: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (pp. 1491-1501). IGI Global.

Lumpkin, J. (2016). #Why membership? Professional associations in the millennial age: A call to action through mentorship. OLA Quarterly, 21(3), 5-7.

Osif, B. A. (2008). Successful mentoring programs: Examples from within and without the academy. Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 13(3), 335-347.

Stopa, M. K. (2016, January 28). The importance of conferences for early career librarians. Retrieved from 

Tennessee State Archives. (2011). Tennessee Library Association records, 1897-2009. Retrieved from 

Thomas, C., Trucks, E., & Kouns, H.B. (2017, April 17). Preparing early career librarians for leadership and management: A Feminist critique. Retrieved from 

Warner, W., & Havens, A. (1968). Goal displacement and the intangibility of organizational goals. Administrative Science Quarterly, 12(4), 539-555. doi:10.2307/2391532

Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). Introduction to communities of practice. Retrieved from

Zabel, D. (2008). The mentoring role of professional associations. Journal of 
Business & Finance Librarianship, 13(3), 349–361.

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