[Unsolicited] Advice to the 2012 ALA Emerging Leaders

Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

- Polonius, Hamlet, Act I Scene III

During my vacation last week, the participants of the ALA 2012 Emerging Leaders program were announced. I wanted to offer congratulations to those who were chosen for this year’s class as well as consolations to my friends who applied and were not picked. I’m looking forward to hearing about the projects that will be undertaken by this year’s class; I think those projects are a good general indication for the different schools of thought and direction as to what issues are priorities within the ALA organization. From the number of EL graduates that I’ve met over the years, I certainly hope that it is a program that I could try out for someday. (Although, upon mentioning this interest to a friend, she responded simply, “I think you’ve already emerged, babe.” Point taken.)

As those seventy-seven librarians ready themselves for the Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, I write this in the hope of bending one or more of their ears to some advice from someone in the blogosphere. (Interpret that last statement as you will.) I hope this advice is considered in the spirit in which it is meant; to offer a few additional thoughts and considerations for those involved in the program.

So, without further ado:

Listen. This is not simply limited to the words that people are saying, but to underlying body language and phrasing. If you are doing this to increase your involvement in the ALA organization, then figuring out the relationships between members and member committees is important. Every organization has dysfunction; this is the time to figure out what it is for the chapter, division, or roundtable that you are interested in. In identifying the dysfunction, it should be noted that not all types are fatal to further involvement. Personality conflicts, bureaucratic meandering, ineffective communication, or poor work organization; these are all potential obstacles with potential solutions. An assessment allows you to figure out if you can fix it, circumvent it, or ignore it; what it would take to fix (if anything) in terms of time and energy; and whether it is worth your effort at all. Listen, assess, and analyze what is presented to you.

Question. Or at least do not be afraid to. As you are seen as students of the organization, this is the opportunity to inquire and explore. If anything, question anyone who talks about ‘change’ or ‘leadership’ in libraries without offering some specifics. Those two terms are part of an ongoing meme in library thinking in which people like to use those terms without defining them or what their impact would be. Too often, they are actually code words used to express discontent while masking what the real problem that the speaker wants to get at. While I can’t say that I’m not guilty of doing this myself in the past, I hope you will join with me in working to make certain it does not carry on into the future.

Socialize. As noted elsewhere, there aren’t many times when librarians get together face-to-face. While our relationships through social media can further conversations and friendships, there is nothing that beats time spent physically together. It’s part of our undeniable nature as human beings; we thrive on our senses in order to better experience the world we live in. The networking opportunities presented from the Emerging Leader program have the capability of allowing you to make connections across specialties, library types and sizes. In my estimation, these are the relationships that will foster a greater understanding and perception of the entire library spectrum. It is my belief that these relationships will be valued and necessary as the institution of the library evolves in the different roles it plays within society.

Finally, I’d like to offer one last bit of advice: pace yourself. In reflecting on the last year of professional projects that I’ve been involved with, I realized that I wasn’t giving myself enough down time to recharge. It is not simply a matter of time or effort, but there is a (for lack of a better term) psychic energy cost to these projects. It’s a test of willpower, a use of personal bandwidth, and a trial of endurance to create, implement, and maintain some projects. Be certain to figure out what your projects cost you in these terms. And while I express caution at overloading yourself, I am curious as to what projects or efforts that the Emerging Leaders will undertake after they have completed their projects. What will you do with your Emerging Leader skills after graduation?

Once again, congratulations to the 2012 Emerging Leaders. Knock ‘em dead!

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