How NJLA Leadership Worked Up the Ranks (and how you can too!)

NJLA may seem like a mysterious organization to some, but it shouldn't be that way. If you’re new to the profession, looking for a way to break into the organization, or searching for an opportunity to reinvigorate your involvement and career, maybe the following information will help you do just that! I interviewed our Past President and director of the Piscataway Public Library James Keebler, Current President and director of the South Brunswick Public Library Chris Carbone, and President-Elect and director of the Kenilworth Public Library Michael Maziekien to demystify how to get involved in NJLA, work your way up the ranks, and get the most out of your conference experience.


Q1: How long have you been involved in NJLA, and what has been your trajectory through the organization to where you are now as past, current, and future leaders?

James Keebler (JK): I have been involved in NJLA for over 15 years.  My first committee assignment was as a member of the Conference Committee under the leadership of Cindy Czesak, Heidi Cramer and Nancy O'Grady.  I was amazed by how organized they were, and when I later became a Conference Co-Chair I realized how much work goes into planning the conference. In 2010 I crashed a Public Policy meeting, and a few months later I was picked to be vice chair for the upcoming year.  In the meantime I have also served as a member of the Member Services Committee, as NJLA Treasurer and then NJLA President.  The key to moving through the organization?  Showing up, pitching in and be a positive influence even in the most dire situations.

Chris Carbone (CC): I became actively engaged with NJLA in 2008 when I became the Director of the South Brunswick Public Library.  My one career regret is that I did not make NJLA a bigger part of my early career! Through the great mentorship of Eileen Palmer I quickly became very active with the Public Policy Committee, serving as Vice Chair and then Chair...  Through my work on Public Policy over the years I have had the opportunity to serve on the NJLA Structure and Funding Task Force, the Advocacy Subcommittee, participate in Task Force presentations across the state, be an Advocacy Captain and coordinate NJ’s delegation for ALA’s National Library Legislative Day. I was elected to serve as NJLA Secretary from 2012 to 2014.  This was followed by a partial term as Treasurer from 2014 to 2015 when I was humbled to be selected as NJLA President-elect.  I have been very fortunate and honored for the opportunity to work with so many of New Jersey’s amazing library leaders and provide service to our vibrant Association.

Michael Maziekien (MM): I've been involved in NJLA since 2007. I started out working with the Reference Section, serving as co-editor of the Reference Section Quartertly newsletter, and working on the first annual Adult Services Forum. While working at the Nutley Public Library, I took part in NJLA's Emerging Leaders program. I became president of the Reference Section, and later worked on the Virtual Reference Task Force, researching opportunities for digital reference service. I was then appointed to the Member Services Committee, and worked with fellow committee members to establish a series of social events for NJLA members and their families. I was elected to the NJLA Executive Board as Member-at-Large, served on (and later chaired) the Personnel Administration Committee, and here I am today!


Q2:  Do you remember your first NJLA Conference? What was it like?

JK: My first conference experience was more of a day of professional development.  Arrive at conference, attend some programs and see if I could leave early.  Once I became more involved in NJLA and made more friendships, I started to participate in more of the NJLA Conference events and the experience became much more rewarding.  NJLA has many opportunities for meeting others, and I would highly recommend participating.  It is all about having someone to go to lunch with.

CC: It was so exciting!  There is just something about being among hundreds of other library people, all sharing great ideas, enthusiasm and advice.  It was truly eye opening to see such collaboration, commonalities and opportunity.  Everyone is so accessible, so for a first time attendee is was such a great experience.  And going to Conference still is!

MM: At my first NJLA Conference, I knew very few people, had no detailed plan for attendance, and signed up to speak on a panel with Rutgers Library Science Professor Marie Radford. Needless to say, I felt like I was jumping into the deep end. By the end of the conference, I had met so many wonderful people, learned so much, and had such a great time that I couldn't imagine missing a future conference.


Q3: What are some of your favorite NJLA Conference moments?

JK: Most of my favorite moments are as a co-chair with Karen Klapperstuck, Lynn Schott and Kathy Schalk Green.  Chairing conference is a constant running around trying to make sure the Conference experience is enjoyable for 1,000 attendees and the exhibitors and speakers.  Lynn always had a bag with everything you didn't realize you needed until you did, like tape, scissors, markers and much more.  By the end of the conference you are exhausted but filled with a sense of pride at having pulled it off for another year. More recently, this year's pool party was an event that added so much to the Conference experience.  Since we went to Revel, many of us have discussed how much more of a Conference feel there is when you are able to attend the events at night and the Pool Party was the best yet.  The discussions, meeting new people and the relaxation after a long day was such a great experience and one I look forward to in the upcoming years.

CC: Finding inspiration and sense of purpose at key notes and the Awards Reception. Shopping the NJLA store.  Visiting the vendors.  Seeing new and familiar faces all with the common bond of developing great New Jersey libraries.   Being proud and thankful to learn from all these inspiring New Jersey librarians.  Those Aha moments when you realize others have the same hopes, dreams and challenges, and together we can make things happen!

MM: To name a few: Ignite sessions, Battledecks, Conversation Starters, Brown Bag lunchtime talks, and, of course, dance parties. I always return to the library feeling like my battery has been fully recharged, and these are just a few reasons why.


Q4: What are you most looking forward to at the 2017 NJLA Conference?

JK: Having almost no official responsibility as Past President.  Also, the Conference being in Harrah's a second year building on last year's success.  The Conference Center at Harrah's is such a great fit, larger rooms for programs, a centralized exhibitor area, more affordable rooms and of course the Pool Party.

CC: I’m looking forward to the energy and power of New Jersey libraries coming together, for some great Beyond the Box programs, the keynote speakers, connecting with everyone at the Pool Party, and to hear where Michael will lead NJLA next!

MM: It looks like NJLA President Chris Carbone has picked a wonderful slate of keynote speakers. I'm looking forward to hearing them all!


Q5: Do you have any advice for library school students or young librarians who want to get the most out of their NJLA membership and advance in the profession and in the organization?

JK: Get involved and meet others.  Join a section, or if you are a library school student become a Committee Intern.  The more people you meet, the more doors will be open to you and the more fun you will have.  New Jersey libraries have amazing people, and many of them are involved in NJLA.  Meet them, learn from them and work with them within the Association.  You will definitely enrich your life and career and may even make the world a better place for those who rely on NJ Libraries.

CC: Do it!  Get involved and be active.   Network with fellow members, at all levels, and don’t be shy.  We all learn from each other.  Participate in areas that you are most drawn to – and also try some areas beyond your box!  Take advantage of opportunities to talk with colleagues from all types of libraries and experiment with sections focusing on different types of library services.  Make as many connections as you can; you will find that we all have far more in common than you might think.  There are many opportunities and the rewards are great.  Look into the Emerging Leaders program.  Take advantage, volunteer and have fun!

MM: Raise your hand when volunteers are needed. Raise your voice; you always deserve to be heard. If you're getting used to the idea of public speaking... Fortunately NJLA members are a thoughtful, friendly and engaging audience. Share your experience and enthusiasm with others. And above all, take the time to listen to those around you. I've met more wonderful people through NJLA than I can count.

I think it's safe to say that NJLA leadership all feel that involvement in NJLA and attending the annual conference helps to take your job from just a... job... to a career. So the next time someone asks you if you love your job, avoid the answer of the little boy below and jumpstart your career by attending this year's conference!
Emily Witkowski and the 2016-2017 NJLA Conference Committee