In a month, I will be the chair of the New Professionals Community of Practice, a part of the Library Leadership and Management Association, which is itself a division of the American Library Association. That’s a mouthful.
It’s not the first time I’ve led things, but it is without a doubt the biggest deal so far. The other things I’ve led have been so new that I felt my job was to lay a strong foundation on which future leaders might build, to channel the initial fizz of enthusiasm into groundwork so that the new group wouldn’t overstretch itself immediately.
New Professionals has been around for three and a half years now, so I think I can and should pay attention to some building, instead of just foundation.. I’ve been involved from the get-go, but didn’t begin in any sort of leadership position. I’m definitely nervous about this, but I’m also kind of excited.
The original chair of the community (a new designation – we used to be called sections, and I’m trying to get used to the word) used to say that his dream for New Professionals was to reach a place where it was so integrated into the larger LLAMA community that no separate group for New Professionals was necessary. That we would make ourselves obsolete.
Maybe it’s because I never really knew LLAMA before the New Professionals community, but after three and a half years, I’m not sure I agree with that as a goal. I like it, in theory, and I agree that library school students, new professionals, and those taking on new levels of leadership in their career need to be more deeply rooted in LLAMA as a whole, but there’s something to be said for the comfort in being part of a group all at similar stages, professionally.
I believe that LLAMA plays a unique role in the American Library Association. Unlike other divisions, leadership and management cut across ever single library, archives, and information science career. It’s important to remember that one can lead without being a manager, and heaven knows we’re all aware of those who manage without leading. But no matter which of LLAMA’s communities interest you – human resources, assessment, or buildings and equipment, to name a few, I think it is important for the newcomers to have a place of their own, to address their specific issues.
The original section chair wanted the New Professionals to build an association in which they were obsolete as a separate group. What I want is for the new name, that of “community of practice,” to become the reality of what we are. I’ve been working with our social media team for a few weeks now, trying to revitalize it and provide a variety of resources, as well as figuring out exactly who our audience is. What I’d like to see developing is greater back-and-forth interaction. I’d like to see threads and conversations. I’d like to see our Facebook page especially become a place where we can discuss our challenges, share ideas and resources, and ask the “dumb” questions without fear of feeling stupid, because let me tell you, it’s just like in school – if you didn’t get something in class, I can bet you that others had the same question. Someone just has to be brave enough to say they don’t get it. I have those kinds of questions all the time.
Many of us leave library school feeling confident and full of ideas, but with the job market the way it is, you find yourself reading job description after job description with steadily waning confidence in what you actually know. New professionals need a community of people going through similar stretches in their careers. That does mean that as a community, we need to be prepared for a more rapid rate of turnover than other parts of LLAMA. New professionals will launch from us to other areas, as they should, but I hope they’ll remember what it felt like to be starting out, with the learning curves and the frustration and the secretly feeling like you somehow missed something important in library school.
I have a year. I don’t expect huge changes – what I’d like to see New Professionals become is the kind of thing that takes time and wider community engagement. But I’m going to do my part to make it a welcoming place, and I’ll do what I can to both answer and ask the dumb questions.