As regular readers may know, I was selected as a 2011 ALA Emerging Leader, sponsored by the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA). Part of my sponsorship was the opportunity to write for the quarterly newsletter, RUSA Update. This is a slightly edited version of a post that will be appearing in the Fall 2011 issue.
During one of the excessively hot days this week, my ever-entertaining morning weatherman informed me that “five months ago today, the temperature was 23 degrees with a wind chill of 17!” New York City weather swung from one extreme to another in little more than a quarter of the year. Clearly change can be sudden and extreme – and take place in a short time.
Can this be applied on a personal level? Indeed, and most definitely for me. In the six months of the Emerging Leaders program I went from part time to full time employment, now serve on several ALA committees, presented two posters (one of which was my Emerging Leaders deliverable), been published in Computers in Libraries (and soon to be in Reference and Technical Services Quarterly), and unsuccessfully ran for ALA Council. There’s been a laundry list of personal life changes, but listing them all would turn this into a 20 page article.
The goal of all change is to learn from it, and I have learned throughout these six months. For starters, I have learned to work within a team again. Four months of unemployment and six months of working in a small consulting firm as the solo office manager render team work skills a bit rusty. There were times I did forget what it was like to work on a group project! But with patience and gentle, constructive criticism from group members and self-reflection, I was able to get back on track. It was like riding a bike – you may not get on a bike for years, but when you do, everything comes back.
Another lesson learned is the importance of reconnecting with your people. The job search, unemployment, three family crises in the latter half of 2010, and other issues led some of my involvement within ALA and librarianship slide. I made some time for certain events and projects, but lack of time and job search burnout led me to take a small sabbatical from professional development. Those who are unemployed and underemployed will agree that it’s hard to be “Yay Libraries!” when you’re spending day after day in your pajamas watching The Price is Right and living off of cereal because you’re not working. (I speak from 100 percent personal experience.) Being an Emerging Leader, surrounded by like minded peers whose ambition matched (and sometimes exceeded) my own, re-energized my passion for information. It was the kickoff workshop at Midwinter in San Diego that led me to run for ALA Council in the first place!
The third lesson on change is to accept its presence – to quote from one of my favorite movies, French Kiss, “swim in it until your fingers get all pruny.” One of my colleagues in the 2011 cohort gave the simple axiom that “life happens” as her biggest lesson from the program experience. Her group had several cases of personal and professional change affect the progress of their project (including, I think, someone affected by severe weather in the Midwest). Rather than fight it, they learned to work with it. If someone was behind on a deadline due to a family member being in the hospital or a hectic week at work, it was best to just let it go – the work will still be there when everyone returns to it, hopefully rested and in better mind. Their acceptance of crisis mode and understanding that life can intervene in critical and severe ways allowed them to adapt better. It’s nothing more than the old phrase, “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
A final lesson from my project experience – perhaps the most important – has nothing to do with change at all, and is quite counter to it: Stand up for your beliefs. Anyone who attended the Emerging Leaders poster session at the Annual Conference knew that my group (Team G), had a quite different, definitely edgy and potentially controversial giveaway with our poster. I was on board with this idea…until I got a full time job in April. I wasn’t comfortable handing this particular item out to co-workers or senior colleagues that attended. I did not feel it would be appropriate for me to do so, not with such a short tenure at the company. I advocated for having the more family friendly alternative of business cards, and successfully convinced my EL colleagues of same. I could have kept my mouth shut and gone with status quo (again, accepting change!) but decided that certain issues and concerns were worth the fight.
If you attended the Emerging Leaders poster session, I wholeheartedly thank you for coming. If you stopped by to talk with Team G about our poster, accept more thanks from me. Whether or not you visited the Emerging Leaders at Annual, allow me to highlight some of my favorite projects:
- Team B worked with ACRL to prepare ACRL 101, a “guide to enhancing the conference experience for first time attendees.” I loved this project not just because one of the dearest friends I made from the group (Megan Hodge), served on it, but because it will be useful for me when I attend ACRL as a full fledged attendee in 2013.
- Team I reviewed a favorite topic of mine, library website usability, showing off the “Seven Deadly Sins of Library Websites.” Usability and design thinking are so important in our profession, and I predict that this will grow in the future:
- Team J worked with the Information Technology and Telecommunications Division to create a “Virtual Guide to ALA Deadlines” – any and all deadlines within the organization in one interactive timeline:
- Team K and Team L both worked on projects for the Learning Round Table (LearnRT) relating to training and staff development – Team K built a wiki for staff development day resources, and Team L looked at ways to build a webinar series. I’m a semi-frequent guest on the T is for Training podcast and have sat through more than my fair share of subpar, weak training session at previous jobs. Al l these experiences foster my interest in ways we can harness technology to improve training and staff development.
- Team N, working with the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) worked to review LIS student recruitment to the organization within management courses.
- And of course, there is Team G, my team project, a set of videogame collection development best practices prepared for the Games and Gaming Member Interest Group (which became GameRT, a full fledged roundtable at ALA Annual).
This is just a small sample of the projects from our cohort, be sure to spend time reviewing the full list. If you or someone in your workplace is interested in the Emerging Leaders program, please get in touch with me; I would love to talk at length with you about the program.
As my reign as RUSA’s Emerging Leader is now over, this will be my last “News from Your Emerging Leader” column. Consider this my final walk across the stage with the tiara on my head; it’s now time to crown my successor. I wish to thank everyone at RUSA – President Barry Trott and the Executive Board, leadership from sections, and members – for the sponsorship, networking and professional opportunities. You’ll still be hearing from me within and outside of the organization – I will be co-chairing the RUSA Structure Task Force, and if you’re active in the New Members Round Table, I’m working on two committees there.
I hope to see you all in Dallas and Anaheim in the coming year, and continue conversations in between conferences. The dialogue is so important to keep librarianship alive. After all, to quote Doctor Who, “”You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books, best weapons in the world. This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself!” I can’t think of a better calling.