Being an active member of a professional organisation has always been very important for me.
I've been a member of CILIP since my student days and still retain membership. I am fortunate, however, that currently my employer pays my membership subscription, which is a continuing incentive to remain a member. Would I stay a member if not? Probably and if I didn't I would probably explore joining other groups.
In 2002 I joined CILIP's Career Development Group and became actively involved in the London and South East Divisional committee, firstly as Events Co-ordinator and then in 2009 as Chair.
More recently I have got more involved with the Network for Librarians and Information Professionals (NGLIS) and was the Conference Organiser for a 'highly successful' joint government libraries conference held in April 2011.
Via my active involvement in professional groups, I've had the chance to travel to the IFLA World Libraries Conference in Durban in 2007 (thanks to being awarded a CILIP grant) - something that I wouldn't be able to have done as part of my job.
Being actively involved in professional networks and groups has also increased my self-confidence, given me the opportunity to learn new things such as event planning and financial management, relate to others outside my day job and therefore expand my professional contacts and horizons.
Another invaluable learning point about being on a committee is that you are highly likely to work in association with people with a range of skills, personalities, motivations and differing senses of commitment. Sometimes you need to develop a thick skin to deal with people who might clash with your differing approach and this way you learn more much quicker how to handle people, situations and opinions in a 'political' sense.
In June 2009, I had an article published in the CILIP Update Journal about the benefits of getting practically involved in professional organisations. The article was titled "Don't just sit there, become a Chair" (published in CILIP's Library and Information Update magazine - June 2009 - http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/launch.aspx?referral=other&pnum=&refresh=6Yp107As9k1C&EID=ecb9146e-601b-4ae8-afce-1c4e408148b4&skip=) which was all about getting involved in professional committees. There are so many ways to get involved and more often than not you will be welcomed with open arms.
When I applied for my current job, being able to draw on my professional involvement and activities was a definite plus point. And I continue to try to stay involved when I can, subject to other commitments. Continuing to stay involved keeps me balanced in relation to my job - particularly when I am looking for fresh challenges. (And I'm not alone as highlighted by one of many job articles about the benefits of getting involved with professional organisations published on the Jobsite website)
In many ways, I guess I just like joining groups and having a sense of participating - it feels right and above all I get enjoyment out of being involved.
However I do appreciate why so many people are reluctant to get involved such as a result of time pressures, more focus on paid work, lack of interest, or feeling introverted/shy. Another reason why people might seem less inclined to actively participate in face to face networks or professional groups is because they feel they are out dated and don't see any dynamism or relevance to them. A general sense about fragmentation across the information professions might give people a sense that it is not worth their time in getting involved in professional networks.
I'm now at a particular stage in life where I am rethinking how to be involved professional and how to build up new skills. One area that interests me is mentoring other professionals, so do get in touch if you have any queries...