Everyone’s telling you that you have to network. Go out there and meet people! they say. Make your voice heard! Introduce yourself and make connections and do favors and it will all pay off down the road! And you say…that sounds great. Where on earth do I start?

We’ve got you covered. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be doing overviews of organizations for museum professionals. All of them offer benefits to their members, and all of them are great places to meet other like-minded museum geeks. It’s up to you which ones to join, but speaking for myself – I’d join as many of them as you can.

First up is the 800 pound gorilla of museum professional organizations: the American Association of Museums.

The AAM was founded in 1906, and its mission is to “strengthen museums through leadership, advocacy, collaboration and service.” They represent over 15,000 museum professionals and volunteers, 3,000 museums, and 300 corporate members. The AAM is all-inclusive; every kind of museum you can think falls under its purview.

Membership is $50 for students (be sure to include a copy of your Tufts ID!) and $90 for professionals. That’s relatively steep in the scheme of museum professional organizations, but it does come with some pretty sweet benefits. You can read all about them here, but the highlights: free or reduced admission to many museums, a subscription to Museum magazine, steep discounts in the AAM bookstore, and access to all sorts of free and/or reduced price professional development opportunities.

The AAM’s big bash is the Annual Meeting, an absolutely enormous conference and expo. This year it’s being held in Houston, Texas, from May 22 – 25, with the theme “The Museum of Tomorrow”. Early bird registration for $375 ends on February 18. Yes, it’s a lot of money. But if you really want to go, there are ways and means. The AAM itself offers several fellowships, including one for emerging museum professionals. And if you’ll remember, on this very blog we conveyed news of fellowships offered by NAME, the National Association of Museum Exhibition. You’ve still got time to apply for both of those.

The AAM does LOTS more, and I’d encourage you to spend some time exploring their website. Right  now they’re focusing on a big push for museum advocacy, and their accreditation program is a source of continual focus (and some debate). Don’t forget, too, that AAM President Ford Bell spoke at the NEMA fall conference and you can download his talk on their website. He had some very thoughtful and interesting things to say about the future of museums.

If you want to join the AAM, start here.

(Watch this space: every Wednesday, we’ll do a short overview of a different professional organization. There are more than you can imagine – we might be done sometime in 2012…)