Emerging Leaders and Professional Involvement

by Anita R. Dryden (guest author)

This past year I had the pleasure of participating in the American Library Association’s Emerging Leaders program, which is designed to help new librarians get involved in ALA. Throughout the course of the program you attend leadership training, meet many of the current leaders in ALA, and are assigned to a small group to complete a project for a Division or Round Table. The EL program was a wonderful experience – I loved getting to know a group of really engaged, passionate young professionals while working on an exciting and beneficial project that helped me learn more about how the beast that is ALA works.

Emerging Leaders is open to current students and recent graduates and the deadline for applying to the 2013 class is August 3. If you are at all interested in participating, I would highly recommend that you apply — with a few caveats. First of all, the program is quite selective, so you need to be sure that you have some good references that can speak to your leadership potential. Second, acceptance into the EL program requires a commitment to attending both Midwinter and Annual conferences during the year of your participation. Conference attendance certainly isn’t cheap, and if you haven’t found a grant or employment that can help with funding, you may want to hold off on applying until you can rely on some funding assistance (there are some scholarships/funding available – but as you can imagine, these are even more competitive).

So while I wholeheartedly endorse applying for and participating in the EL program, I want to offer some general tips for becoming professionally involved within ALA and other organizations. What follows are a few tips I’ve picked up from being involved with ALA, as well as a couple of local and student groups.

Most importantly, volunteer to help.

I can’t stress how many times I have heard this advice, and it continues to be valuable. ALA in particular is a HUGE organization and can be very intimidating to those who are just starting to get involved. Yet many organizations are looking for new people to participate in committees and work groups but they can’t ask you if they don’t know who you are. Submit volunteer forms, give your card to organization leaders at networking events, mention to everyone you meet that you are interested in getting involved – it’s the only way anyone will know to ask you.

Fill out the appropriate forms.

This is really critical – in many organizations, you cannot be appointed to a committee or other work group without filling out a specific form. New Members Round Table (NMRT) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), both part of ALA, are great examples of this. The president of the organization, nominating committees, etc. cannot appoint people who haven’t completed their organization’s form, even if they think you would be a great fit. And when filling out these forms, be sure to give specifics about your past experiences that can help match you to an appropriate committee. For example, I have a fair amount of event planning experience from my pre-library career, so I’ve been able to get onto some conference and reception planning committees by indicating that.

Start small.

You are unlikely to get elected to the ALA Council or the executive board of an organization or division right away. That’s fine. Look for early opportunities for involvement within subdivisions of organizations, groups aimed specifically at new/young professionals, local/state organizations, or student groups. It is often easier to meet and get to know officers in these smaller groups, and turn those networking connections into opportunities. I’ve had luck getting involved with subdivisions of ACRL as well as local groups for new professionals, which can then be translated into doing the same type of committee work on a larger scale. Serving as an officer of my student ALA chapter helped show my leadership abilities and is still something that I list on my resume and applications.

Actually show up and do what you volunteer for.

Hey, everyone has times when they are overwhelmed with responsibilities and some things slip. But being extremely conscientious during your early committee work can help mark you as a good committee member, and you’ll stand out in people’s minds as someone that they can rely on – leading to more and more important assignments down the road.

For those of us working in academic libraries, this kind of “service to the profession” is often a requirement for promotion/tenure/continuing appointment. For librarians working in other types of libraries, professional involvement can be a satisfying way to work on the grander issues affecting the profession, network and meet like-minded colleagues, and get leadership opportunities that will make your resume stand out from the crowd. From a personal standpoint, my participation in Emerging Leaders as well as generally within ALA and local groups has been extremely rewarding – both as a resume builder and as a chance to meet and work with great librarians that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

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