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The PLA Blog | Official Blog of the Public Library Association

Emerging Leaders at ALA

I’m Karen Keys, a young adult librarian at Queens Library in New York. I’m going to be posting about my experiences at Midwinter over the next few days.

On my jam-packed, snackless, luggage-charging flight, the woman to my left inquired about my end destination. I told her I was headed to Denver for a library conference. She stated she was a publisher rep, and looked at me quizzically. “Why are you flying out so early? There’s nothing for you to do until Friday evening.” The dot-dot-dot of “when the exhibit hall opens” was implied.

However, there are more than a few things to do before the librarians storm the hall for schmoozing, info-gathering, and freebies. Yesterday, I joined in the other 100-plus members of the 2009 Emerging Leaders class for a day of leadership hijinx.

The Emerging Leaders program focuses on getting new leadership on the fast-track to become involved in ALA. Before our meeting in Denver, we were split into 25 project teams. The work will be presented during a poster session at Annual in Chicago. After Annual, emergers are expected to serve ALA in some capacity, most likely through committee or division work. (As a committee junkie, I’ve already committed myself to two YALSA committees.)

In its third year, the program has identified and offered opportunities to approximately 325 leadership-inclined members. Many attendees receive sponsorships from divisions, round tables, and state library organizations.

A show of hands revealed most attendees have been ALA members for two to five years. Leslie Burger, past president and the program’s founder, joked, “So you’re all new to the organization; you haven’t been tainted.” A later activity revealed the academic librarians held the majority with a strong showing of public librarians and a respectable gathering of school librarians.

Berger stated, “ALA is structured in a way that only librarians could have come up with.” To aid our understanding, she shared some basic organizational facts:

  • The Council is comprised of approximately 190 people, some voted on by the membership at large and others elected by the various round tables and divisions
  • The ALA Executive Board is elected from the Council
  • Twenty-five signatures are needed to run for Council
  • Once elected Council members serve for three years and it is considered a large time commitment

“There are many ways to find a home in ALA,” Berger said. She challenged us to transform the organization, and offered the following tips:

  • Ask questions
  • Don’t do it just to add to your resume
  • Be bold
  • Don’t be afraid of the “old guys”
  • Be flexible
  • Take a break when you need it. “There have been times when I couldn’t stand to come to these conferences.” She took the necessary breaks enabling her to come back more excited each time.
    Bend the rules, apologize later.
  • Have a good time, go to parties.
  • Be willing to say, “This doesn’t work. We want to change it.”Later in the afternoon, current president Jim Rettig stopped by to further cheerlead us. He said, “We need a future and you are that future. [ALA offers] an amplified voice for librarians on a national scale.”

    Rettig reminded us, “You are developing an incredible professional network.” As I looked around the room, I realized there are very few opportunities as a new librarian to interact with librarians on a national-scale and across all the librarian genres. I network with other youth services librarians through YALSA, I meet up with other NYC librarians for drinks and rants, I gather with the public librarians through PLA, I tweet and Facebook with a random assortment of ragtag librarians. Even then, most tend to be either public or young adult librarians or both.

    I’m looking forward to building some lasting professional friendships. And, of course, transforming the organization.

  • Comment Pages

    There are 15 Comments to "Emerging Leaders at ALA"

    • […] Emerging leaders at ALA. PLA blog. […]

    • Fritz says:

      I never understood the link between (a) leadership, and (b) participation in ALA.

      Does ALA participation, in itself, provide you with leadership skills?

      Has anyone asked that question to the old guys?

    • Fritz says:

      I never understood the link between (a) leadership, and (b) participation in ALA.

      Does ALA participation, in itself, provide you with leadership skills?

      Has anyone asked the old guys that question?

    • Leigh Anne says:

      I learned a lot about leadership and management at Midwinter this year from “the old guys,” (not the most politic phrase, there, Fritz) both by observing them and by talking to them. Yes, they should be open to new ways of doing things in libraries, but that door swings both ways, and we should be open to what we can learn from their years of experience.

      As for whether participating in ALA is somehow linked to leadership…well…I think leadership is something you develop when it’s called for, and everybody gets the call in different ways. If you’ve tried being active in ALA and it’s not getting you what you want, well, there’s your answer. I’d love to hear what council members and committee chairs think.

    • Karen Keys says:

      Leigh Anne, I think Fritz was referencing Leslie’s tips which I mentioned in the original post (“Don’t be afraid of the ‘old guys'”).

      As for the original question of how participation and leadership are linked, I’ll admit to being somewhat inarticulate. I’m a doer and I like doing things and getting stuff done and the best way to get stuff done is to involve other people. And using leadership strategies or developing abilities tends to pop up as a way to best get stuff done and involve other people.

      I also like Leigh Anne’s idea of “I think leadership is something you develop when it’s called for, and everybody gets the call in different ways.”

    • Fritz says:

      I’m still not convinced that participation in “Emerging Leaders” is an indicator that an individual is a skilled leader. It’s just an indication that they are willing to participate in ALA.

      Appears to me that the name of this group is misleading – that it may provide participants with opportunities to develop leadership skills on their own, but the group’s intent is really to develop skilled ALA participants, not to develop skilled leaders.

    • Hi Fritz,

      I don’t think that being selected as an ALA Emerging Leader is necessarily an indicator that one is a skilled leader either. However, participants are selected based on a capacity for leadership as determined by a combination of experience and recommendations.

      One of the main goals of the program is to help identify younger ALA members that have both the capacity and desire to lead in ALA, and help give them the combination of skills, knowledge, network-building, and opportunity to do so.

      Signed a not (yet) too old guy

      (Full disclosure: I’m on the Emerging Leaders Subcommittee, but I speak only for myself)

      You are correct that the program was never designed to be primarily a leadership program (i.e. Snowbird, or Tall Texans). But I also think it is more than just a program to develop skilled ALA participants. How about meeting me in the middle and agreeing that its purpose is to develop and foster ALA Leaders, and prepare them to effectively serve and execute the interests of all ALA members? :-)

    • Fritz says:

      Peter,

      Thanks for meeting me halfway, but I am not convinced of your assumption that ALA works on behalf of its members, at least those members who are employed in libraries. It does work on behalf of libraries, but when the interests of libraries are counter to the interests of those who work in libraries (as they are now – pay cuts=healthy library balance sheets), the ALA tends to support libraries at the expense of library employees.

      So this Emerging Leaders encourages young professionals to become leaders in an organization that works to cut their pay and job opportunities. Doesn’t seem like a good way to retain new librarians long enough to solve Burger’s “leadership crisis.”

      Sorry, I just don’t see it.

    • Leigh Anne says:

      Organizations are made up of people. They’re not tentacled creatures from another dimension that you defeat with holy water and the right incantations (though that could admittedly be kind of fun).

      Unhappy with an organization? Find and mentor the people with a different outlook who could make change. It’s not gonna happen overnight, but it can happen.

      Or, to put it another way, “Dumbledore’s Army.”

      That being said, I am just now becoming active in ALA, and suspect I have a lot to learn. I appreciate your putting it out there, Fritz, because if you really believe what you said about ALA, then we all have a lot of work to do to make things better.

      [NB: Thanks, Karen, for clearing up the “old guys” thing – in my enthusiasm to defend EL and all the fabulous people I met, I missed that part. ;)]

    • Nate Hill says:

      Fritz, is the public library’s primary function to serve its community or to create jobs for librarians?

      I know that is simplifying a pretty complex question, but I’m curious to hear you weigh in on your feelings about that…

    • Fritz says:

      Peter claims that the ALA serves the needs of its members.

      I claim that it doesn’t.

    • Fritz says:

      Peter claims that the ALA serves the needs of its members.

      I claim that it doesn’t.

      Time to step up to the plate, Anne, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Particularly if this discussion is going to go in the direction that Nate Hill wants to take it.

    • Nate Hill says:

      “It (ALA) does work on behalf of libraries, but when the interests of libraries are counter to the interests of those who work in libraries (as they are now – pay cuts=healthy library balance sheets), the ALA tends to support libraries at the expense of library employees.”

      ^ This is the part I was hoping you’d expand upon Fritz.

      I’m inclined to say that if we focus on making our libraries fanatastic places that offer the best services possible, then we can’t help but have plenty of better paid jobs for library staff. Job descriptions might (and really should) change, and that gets tricky. So… if the ALA is fighting for the interests of libraries, aren’t they indirectly fighting for the people who work in them?

    • Fritz says:

      Nate,

      I’m not convinced that a better library = more jobs. Appears to me that decisions to hire more people have little to do with how many people use the library, and more to do with the size of municipal budgets.

      What do you think?

     

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