I’ve been home from the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia for nearly a week now, and I still find myself thinking about a meeting I went to while I was there. The Library Leadership and Management Association, which goes by the memorable but rather comical acronym “LLAMA,” is creating a new section within its ranks. This is a section specifically aimed at reaching out to and serving the needs of new professionals. People like me.
If you had asked me three years ago if I’d be getting involved with a professional organization aimed at management and leadership I probably would have scoffed. If you had told me three years ago that I would voluntarily take a chair/co-chair position of my student chapter of the American Library Association for not one but two years, the entire time I was at library school, I’d have been extremely skeptical. I like to put in my two cents, sure, but I’ve always been more comfortable backstage than in the spotlight. I’m the chorus, not the soloist.
It’s not like I’ve never been in a leadership position. In high school I ended up as co-president of a group called the Ambassadors, which served a number of purposes like mediation, shadowing and tours for prospective students, and serving as student staff at events like Back to School Night and information sessions for parents of incoming students. I ended up as co-president because the faculty advisor knew me and brought me in early. Maybe she saw something else in me – if she did, she never said.
In college, I was vice president of the theater group in which I’d participated for a long time. This didn’t actually involve very much on my part, and I was pretty burnt out on the whole organization by that point, so I didn’t take much initiative.
And yet here I am. My tenure leading the UBC student chapter of ALA might not have been full of excitement and risk-taking, but I believe I provided a firm foundation for a new chapter. Ours had only been established the year before I got there, and nearly all of the founding members graduated. We nearly had to start from scratch, and I knew from the Ambassadors that sometimes it’s better to be boring and conservative in one’s efforts in order to create a solid base. I’m still on their email list and I’ve been very impressed with what I’m seeing. They are doing great things this year, taking chances and reaching out to a far greater community. I envy them a little and I’m very proud of them.
I’ve been thinking about the New Professionals Section meeting because I think the organization can serve as a bridge between the student chapters and more traditional ALA involvement. It’s important to bring in the younger folks, and it’s hard to make that jump. You go from your student chapter, where you’re in charge and you know what’s going on, to a conference with thousands of people who have no idea who you are and you have no idea what path to take, what’s important to do, and how best to navigate the experience.
NPS is talking about establishing a buddy program for the conferences, to help newbies navigate. Goodness knows I could have used one. And yes, there’s no “right” way to do a conference, since it all depends on your professional and personal interests, the time you have available, your funds, and who you know. But still, even having a contact there would be nice. Having just one person you know, even if it’s just to meet up for coffee one afternoon and talk about the experience. There’s so much to process, and it can be difficult to be there alone.
The part of NPS that I’d most like to work on, though, is the outreach to student chapters and students in general. One of the quirks of the UBC ALA presence is the feeling of isolation. UBC is a Canadian university, yet it is ALA-accredited. It’s one of the youngest student chapters of ALA. It’s hard to meet library professionals from outside Vancouver, let alone further. The current student chapter presidents have finally realized a long-term dream of the student chapter and made connections with the student chapter at the University of Washington, but more can be done. More can be done to make those students feel connected to ALA as a whole. Make use of alumni, make use of local professionals or people who are able to travel to the area for a little while. When there are ALA meetings in Seattle, reach out to the UBC community as well – it’s a bit of a hike, yes, but it’s pretty easy to get down there by bus.
There’s a chance here to build a bridge, and to get young professionals and soon-to-be-professionals more involved. Instead of the lone student or recent graduate having to work to seek out opportunities, or falling into them by accident, we can at least meet them partway. We can hold out a hand and say, “Welcome. We could use your help.”