Thursday, November 02, 2006

My "why I did not apply to be an emerging leader" piece

This is one piece that I wondered if I would post or not. I even thought about just keeping it private, but after my attendance at JCLC's President's Plenary, I felt the need to express myself on it. So here goes, and since it is more an unruly kind of post, I get to do it here.

Back in September of this year, Brian Matthews, the Ubiquitous Librarian, explained why he did not apply for ALA's new leadership program. I was reassured when I read his post. Not that anyone would ask me to apply for anything, but jabbing myself aside, I saw a well-respected leader in our profession declining what seemed like a golden opportunity, and he gave good reasons for doing so as well. Additionally, I found as I read my post that those were my reasons as well.

The clique or exclusive club feel was not something that appealed to me. Personally speaking, I hate cliques with a passion. Before I go on, I will say that if you got selected, you have my best wishes and congratulations. After all, it was a selective program for 100 people, so if you made the cut, that is an accomplishment. If that is your interest, then, as Joseph Campbell would say, you must follow your bliss. But it's not for me, and I wonder how many "new" librarians did not apply for a similar reason.

Then there were the requirements. You have to be an ALA member. That's the easy one. So far, I have maintained my membership even when I question its overall value. This reminds me that I will be rethinking that membership when the renewal notice comes in, which should be any day now. Actually I am surprised I have not gotten it yet. Next, you have to be young. Young was defined at first as under 35. This was later amended to "include new librarians of any age with fewer than 5 years," and I am willing to bet it had to do with some other blogging librarians who were none too happy at being considered too old because they were older than 35 though new to the profession. Find a brief summary of that discussion at Mark Lindner's blog here. Initially, I had no idea I was over the hill at 36. Heck, for a guy who came from another career to librarianship, I thought I was still on the young side. Nope, not according to ALA. I do, however, have the "less than five years post-MLS experience" as I am entering my third professional year as a librarian (great job by the way, even if it has its "days").

Now, here is where it got hairy for me. Requirement four: "able to attend both ALA conferences and work virtually in between." Now, I am fairly savvy with online tools, though I am not a techie librarian. However, I could not, and still can't, afford two conferences, which are coast to coast by way (and I am somewhat in the middle being in Houston), neither financially nor in terms of time. If I told my supervisor, saintly as she can be, that I was planning all that travel in a year, it may not look so well, not to mention it would be out of my pocket. Anyhow, I have plenty of stuff to do here.

Matthews, always constructive, provides then his own suggestion in the form on an Innovators' Program. It is definitely worth a look if one could create a program that the national organization would fund that would actually give back to the members and their local libraries. Other than working in some committee, I don't see the new initiative as very much into giving back to the local libraries that send their people over to the program. Maybe I have a different definition of giving back. When I did National Writing Project, the idea was to take what I learned back to the school and teach other teachers as well as apply the new skills in my classroom. When I did Immersion, the principle was the same. These are not things to do in isolation in some far off committee, but they are things you learn and practice that you bring back to your own library community to make it a better place. That's where I am coming from anyways.

Like Matthews, I feel a new librarian should be focusing on gaining experience. They should settle into their jobs. They should be the best librarians they can be for their libraries. This was why I hate the "where do you see yourself five years from now" question that search committess love to throw at job candidates. I hated it when I was in the job market because, unlike most eager beavers, I don't want to be assistant dean, manager, administrator, or educrat. I am an Instruction Librarian. My first duty is to my students, followed by their faculty, my library and campus. Your administrative job, dear interviewer, is pretty safe from me, and if you treat me right, you won't be hiring someone down the road to replace me in five years when I decide it is time to find a greener pasture or advancement. You see, it is not that I am not interested in advancing. Someday I will be coordinating a large Information Literacy Program, or I will maybe head a Public Services unit, but not anytime soon. Anyhow, making sure you treat your librarian right means you gain continuity for your staff and library, which, as I understand it, can be a good thing. Pity that a job candidate can't be so blunt and honest in a job interview. But I am digressing.

Back to the prompt at hand. Matthews summarized pretty well the catch: "Basically, a new librarian, who pays membership fees, can afford to attend a handful of conferences, and is willing to volunteer for committee work." That doesn't look terribly challenging. Stressful on the pocketbook, possibly, unless you get ample institutional support, but it's not rocket science.

Now, here's what I want to hear about. I want to hear about those librarians, young in any sense of the word (you are as young as your heart, or something like that), who are doing great things in their libraries. If they are doing it by pulling on their bootstraps and fighting uphill battles with scarce resources, so much the better. Why? Because those are the troopers not many recogonize, outside of the few bloggers who point at them or who happen to be the troopers themselves. Those are the ones making a difference.

I think at the end of the day, the call for leaders as it was stated seemed contrived, something for the cv or resume. I did not give it much thought, but as I mentioned when I started typing this, my attendance at JCLC and Ms. Burger's statement that those selected were all under 35 made me wonder. It gave me the impression the powers that be were pleased by that detail. Whatever other wonderful traits the emerging leaders bring, and I am sure there are plenty, seemed reduced by that little statement that they are "all under 35." I was not ready to feed the conspiracy theorist back at the conference, and I am not about to do so now, but I did wonder.

By the way, readers wanting another take on this should go over to The Annoyed Librarian and take a look at her take on it. Look for her three tips on how to be a successful leader, or at least, a good committee worker. Laugh a little, then get back to work.

As for me, well, if I can aspire to anything like Lao-Tzu describes, I am halfway there:

"Superior leaders get things done with very little motion. They impart instruction not through many words, but through a few deeds. They keep informed about everything but interfere hardly at all. They are catalysts, and though things would not get done as well if they were not there, when they succeed they take no credit. And, because they take no credit, credit never leaves them."


Mark said...

Excellent post Angel! Seems you managed to tread a fine line here. As you know, I didn't apply either for pretty much the same reasons as you and Brian Matthews.

All of that travel, time and expense is out of the question. And as you and others say, it seems more about service to the professional organization than to the profession or, more importantly, to your local professional context.

It can be argued that service to the professional organization *is* service to the profession, but I would question that in many cases. I often wonder how much "my" (main) professional organization even supports the profession itself.

Much of what ALA does is very important, but much of it is at best an indirect benefit to the profession as a whole, and sometimes even a "hindrance." I am glad they take on censorship and such because someone needs to fight the good fight, but being labeled "porn pushers" doesn't "help" the profession.

Then there's the whole librarian shortage/recruitment thing. Now that is a REAL help!

Anyway, good job Angel.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Hey Mark: I don't recall, but you may be on your way to Austin. Hope it's fun. I did agonize a little whether posting it or not, but being at JCLC sort of served as the catalyst. Yea, the ALA does have some good things, like their intellectual freedom work (I would definitely support that even if the rest of ALA went down the wayside). The recruitment thing, for me, it is reaching the point where I don't think serious librarians or library students should even grace it with an answer. Best, and keep on blogging.