Emerging Leaders

My time as an ALA Emerging Leader is almost coming to end as we’re in the countdown to the ALA Annual Conference 2012. It’s been such a great experience and I’d like to share some thoughts.

What is ALA Emerging Leaders?

According to the official website:

American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leaders (EL) program is a leadership development program which enables newer library workers from across the country to participate in problem-solving work groups, network with peers, gain an inside look into ALA structure, and have an opportunity to serve the profession in a leadership capacity. It puts participants on the fast track to ALA committee volunteerism as well as other professional library-related organizations.

It was established by a past president of ALA and has been running every year since 2007, following an initiative of Immediate Past President Leslie Burger.

There are a few main components to participation:

  1. Attendance at ALA Midwinter and ALA Annual Conference
  2. Leadership training at both conferences and between the two (we’ve been set a reading and have had a webinar)
  3. Project work with one of the divisions/round tables within ALA (in a project team of usually 4-5 people plus a project mentor and a member of ALA staff), culminating in a poster presentation at ALA Annual Conference

My story

Welcome Emerging Leaders

Welcome Emerging Leaders at workshop

It all began at ALA Annual 2011 Conference when I spoke to many Emerging Leaders who thoroughly recommended it and encouraged me to apply. Being a non-US citizen, I wasn’t sure if I would be eligible but I did some digging and no one could see why I wouldn’t be, so in the ethos of ‘making it happen’ I sought approval from my manager and sent off my application. I wasn’t really expecting anything from it so I was delighted when I discovered I had been chosen as one of the 2012 Emerging Leaders.

Then came the financial hurdle of getting myself to two ALA conferences. I wasn’t offered sponsorship by any of the divisions/round tables so I decided to apply for other sources of funding. Some I wasn’t eligible for as I’m not based in US, but I was successful in my application for an EBSCO Scholarships for ALA Midwinter and my employer is covering costs for ALA Annual. If you’re looking for funding to support attendance at an ALA conference here are some of the sources I would recommend looking into:

It was a bit of a gamble to apply for Emerging Leaders before securing funding, but sometimes a gamble is worth taking. I knew I may have to pocket some or all of it myself, and fortunately it’s been less than it might have been without successful funding applications and a supportive employer but you do have to bear in mind that it may cost you a fair bit (but it’s worth every penny!).

As Emerging Leaders you are given a full list of projects to rank according to how interested you are in working on them. I found it really difficult to choose so devised a spreadsheet to rate them all on various aspects to get my overall rankings. Fortunately, I got my first choice – working with New Members Round Table (NMRT) to investigate the feasibility of a Professional Options Fair at ALA Annual Conferences to introduce attendees to the different groups within ALA (it’s a huge organisation!). Along with my project team (who are all awesome) and our mentor, Janel (NMRT President-Elect), we’ve been working over the last few months to investigate whether this idea is feasible. During the project however, it became clear that things might happen sooner than expected, and we’ve been working with a presidential task force to offer an Association Options Fair for Annual Conference 2012 (if you’re attending Annual and would like to learn more about ALA’s divisions and round tables and opportunities for getting involved, come along – here’s the press release and you can add it to your schedule).

To give you an idea of the sort of scale of an Emerging Leader project, ours has involved:

My team's tower from team building exercise

My team's tower from team building exercise

  • A handful of online meetings – initially monthly but we added some based on specific deadlines/activities
  • An online survey – we used SurveyMonkey and had around 20 questions. We sent personal invites to representatives from each of the divisions and round tables, and each of us analysed part of the results.
  • A brief email survey to previous attendees of a similar Professional Options fair (for Spectrum Scholars)
  • A project report – we worked collaboratively on this
  • A conference poster – we split this to each produce one section of the poster display
  • Work on the upcoming Association Options Fair including an invitation, promotion, an activity for during the fair, and measures of evaluation
  • A set of recommendations for future based on our research and work with the task force
  • Oh, and a tower made of straws!

This is the first time I think I’ve ever been set a group assignment of any sort that has worked successfully. We’ve all been involved at every stage of the process, and we’ve shared responsibility throughout, playing to our own individual strengths (no one passing the buck or leaving it to everyone else). We’ve all been driven to do this to the best of our abilities and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved.

Should I apply?

I really can’t recommend the program highly enough, it’s been a fantastic experience and I’m going to miss it when it’s over. If you meet the selection criteria and are wondering whether to apply or not ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I want to learn more about the American Library Association as an organisation?
  2. Do I want to attend ALA Midwinter Conference (focus on committee work, meetings and discussions groups) and ALA Annual Conference (focus on conference sessions/programs, workshops and exhibition)?
  3. Can I commit to spending an hour or two a week on project work from January to June?
  4. Do I want to learn more about leadership skills and how I can help ALA and other organisations in future?
  5. Am I prepared to join an ALA committee after Emerging Leaders is over?

If so, then you definitely should apply. Don’t let finances put you off – some applicants are sponsored by a division or round table but as I mentioned before there are other funding options available.

I have really enjoyed being part of such an great group of people – it sounds so cheesy but I really can’t describe the energy in the room when I entered the first training session at ALA Midwinter in January. Everyone is so passionate and enthusiastic and want to use that energy to help make ALA a better organisation for its members. I’m so pleased I found out about this opportunity and that I was chosen as one of this year’s Emerging Leaders – I can’t thank ALA enough for providing me with such a great experience and introducing me to some friends I’m sure I’ll have for a very long time.

Seriously, if you are thinking about applying, just go for it!

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  • Thanks so much for sharing your experience! And congratulations! You’ve done a great job 🙂 I think I may have passed the age cut off for Emerging Leaders… but it sounds like a great program.

    • Thanks, Sarah. It really is a great program and I can see why it was recommended to me by so many people!

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