submitted by Jessica Trujillo, an ALSC-sponsored ALA 2008 Emerging Leader
When I was young, the term “leader” sent chills down my spine, perhaps due from growing up in the 80′s; but as a young adult my mental picture of a leader was some guy with slicked back hair in a power suit wheeling and dealing. The kind of person that would put an old lady out on the street–in the cold, while it’s raining. Or an overbearing petty tyrant, using his/her power to work out feelings of inadequacy. Not so appealing to a kid (with an admittedly overactive imagination) who read Steinbeck and listened to Woody Guthrie. In my teenage mind people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. were something else–not leaders per se, they were visionaries–humanitarians. The idea that they were leaders as well seemed more like semantics than anything else–they were something more noble than the word leader encompassed. Thus, for many years this abstract idea of what a leader was lingered in my mind. But as with many early held beliefs, my ideas of leadership became more nuanced as I gained more life and career experience. So when I saw the advertisements for the Emerging Leaders Program, I thought this might be an opportunity to gain more skills at becoming an effective leader.
When I applied to the 2007 ALA Emerging Leaders program, I was not accepted. But as a youth services librarian, I am used to things not turning out how I thought it would; and like a good librarian I moved on and tried something else. I took the following year to gain more experience by volunteering on an ALSC committee and participated in a few of the New Jersey Library Association sections. I also presented poster sessions at a few conferences. So when I saw the advertisements for the next group and I decided to give it another go, and I was accepted and chosen to be one of the ALSC sponsored Emerging Leaders.
After I was accepted and told all my friends and family about it, and they all asked me what would I do as an Emerging Leader. So I told them, “Well, at ALA Midwinter we have a session about leadership and then we work on a project, do a poster session, and then volunteer on a committee.” Then the questions became more probing.
“So Jess, what do you exactly talk about for an entire day?” Well, leadership stuff. You know, like learning how to be a good leader and things…
“What type of projects do you work on?” Ah! I know that one: I am working on the ALSC project. They would “like to know what ALSC can do to appeal to your peers, including those who are young or experienced, those considering the MLS or newly-minted MLS, and/or any other demographic you can identify as significant to the possible future ALSC member base.”
“So what does that mean?” Uh, making ALSC cool to newbies. Promoting why ALSC is valuable.
“Blah, ba-blah, blah?” What is this? The Spanish Inquisition? I’m only EMERGING. After the EMERGING then I will know, won’t I?
The first Emerging Leaders session was very much like the first day of school. I was nervous. I got lost finding my way to the room. I had trouble trying to figure out where to sit. Not knowing anyone. The teachers (facilitators) making us all mingle and get to know everyone. Normally I am a very shy person in large groups. But I thought to myself, “You must network. You are an emerging leader. No time for shyness. Emerge, you silly thing!” So I forced myself to introduce myself to people and make small talk–not really my strength, so sorry to anyone who had to listen to my inane chatter.
The Emerging Leader’s first day is broken up into three big sections punctuated by times for mingling and eating. The first section was presented by Leslie Burger (former ALA President). The next section was about leadership. Lastly, we had time to meet in our project groups to plan for our project.
The first section Leslie Burger went over the structure of the American Library Association. I remember from her presentation that: 1. ALA works because its members are willing to volunteer, and 2. it is very complex in its structure. She also talked about her own experiences in her career and with ALA. The comment from her presentation that stuck with me most was that influence rather than power is most effective in leadership.
The next session was presented by Maureen Sullivan, organizational consultant, and Connie Paul, Executive Director, Central Jersey Regional Library Cooperative and recent 2008 co-recipient of the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) Leadership and Professional Achievement Award. From this session I learned that anyone, at any position, can be a leader. It is not just the boss person that leads; every person has the opportunity to foster collaboration, or to set an example by following their own stated values, or be positive about their work. Leadership is not always from the top down, most often the most effective leadership is through influence–by being a team player, being forward thinking, building relationships, being self confident, being empathetic, leading with vision and purpose. Leslie Burger was totally right and now I really get it. Being a leader is totally Woodie (Guthrie that is). During this session I realized that a good leader (at any stage in a career) is a practical optimist. Thinking to oneself, “Maybe I cannot do this now, but what can I do today so that one day I can.” Fortunately for me this new idea of a practical optimist has now replaced my 80′s guy version of a leader.
The last section was when we all broke out into our project groups and met with our mentor and ALA representative. Fortunately for me, all the women in my group are pretty cool. At the moment we are working on sending out a survey via Survey Monkey–which I hope people will participate in–and getting something going for ALA Annual in Anaheim. Keep your eyes and ears open.
If you are thinking about applying to become an Emerging Leader, I encourage you to do so. It is as educational as it is fun. So what are you waiting for? Get your resume updated and line up your recommendations.