Kim Leeder’s recent post at In the Library with the Lead Pipe exposes some of the pros and cons of being an ALA Emerging Leader. The program, created by former ALA President Leslie Burger in 2007, accepts about 100 new librarians and is supposed to put them “on the fast track to ALA and professional leadership” (see wiki).
Through a survey of Emerging Leaders who have already completed their one-year experience, Leeder extracts some important feedback about the composition and future of the Emerging Leaders (EL) program. In particular, she touches on the frustration of meeting head-on the large bureaucracy that is ALA and the disappointment some ELs experienced when receiving their project assignments.
As a 2009 Emerging Leader, I was not permitted to submit my thoughts for the survey, but greatly appreciated the feedback from the ELs that did reply. Like many ELs, I was proud and excited to have been selected for the program. I was looking forward to meeting special collections librarians in particular and was hoping for an RBMS or CALM assignment. I strongly believe that my acceptance into the program is what helped me obtain the job I have today (and has helped support my efforts to gain institutional funding to attend ALA, no small feat in today’s economy).
While working temporarily as a metadata technician for the Digital Forsyth project, I was able to talk with some librarians in the area about the EL program. I actually met a 2008 EL working in a library near mine before I attended Midwinter and got my project assignment. Her perspective mirrors many of the results found in the survey and was valuable in helping me adjust my concept of what the EL program would be like.
First of all, the Emerging Leaders program is an excellent idea and is a wonderful way to network and bring positive experience to one’s resume. Many of us in the 2009 class felt a bit lost among a large group of 100 and I know a few individuals that were not happy with their project assignment. Projects (see some of our projects on the wiki) vary widely in scope and depth.
I was given the assignment to continue a project from last year’s EL class — to work on the CALM wiki and help promote the mission of the Joint Committee on Archives, Libraries, and Museums. Our group, affectionately called “Nirvana CALM,” consists of a public special collections librarian, two librarian/archivists, an academic special collections librarian, a special collections cataloger, and our mentor Christian DuPont (the ALA co-chair of CALM and former RBMS preconference chair). At first meeting, I was curious to see what our geographically diverse group could accomplish and how much freedom we would be given.
My concerns were soon quieted as our group began discussing what we might be able to accomplish beyond a basic update of the wiki once it migrated to the new ALA wiki system. We started talking seriously about ways to bring relevant information to librarians, archivists, curators, and other LAM professionals by way of a useful and easy-to-navigate wiki. One group member with technical experience helped create wiki pages while each of us brought our own perspectives in terms of content. Our mentor was active and responsive every step of the way, participating in group conference calls and bringing our suggestions to the CALM leadership and membership.
Throughout the project, communication, collaboration, and clarity have been of utmost importance. As we explored ways to present research and online resources, I suggested we create a del.icio.us page for CALM in order to represent dynamic online content as well as links to OCLC records for printed resources. Our cataloger created a list of categories and each of us contributed content.
The resulting wiki homepage (currently called the alternative main page) demonstrates our group’s ability to work independently and in collaboration with each other and with the larger CALM organization through our mentor. Our project will be completed in July after presenting during a poster session at ALA in Chicago and will consider publishing about our experience in the near future once we receive feedback from our colleagues and mentors.
While my experience is unfinished, already I can see that I was fortunate to have been assigned an interesting project and involved mentor. Our large, bureaucratic organization cannot be changed overnight but through the ongoing efforts of its members who go beyond the limits of their assignments and ask lots of questions. Perhaps more inspiration by movers and shakers, as suggested by survey respondents, will improve morale. I think that there are a number of things that could improve the EL experience, such as smaller class size, a selection process for mentors and representative projects, and perhaps an opportunity for potential ELs to suggest projects that could be offered by sections/divisions/committees.
Perhaps also, as Leeder suggests, we should “require the organizers of Emerging Leaders, and the ELs by extension, to become more aggressive in seeking out opportunities in which ELs might share their creative ideas with those in ALA who are best positioned to consider and respond to them.” I think as the program grows, ELs will move into positions where they will be responsible for changing the program — and hopefully they will remember the frustrations and challenges of being at the bottom of this large and complex totem pole.