Blogger Mary Fellows

So You (Might) Want To Be (ALSC) President

It’s June, the last month of my ALSC presidency. As my term nears its end, I think about the leaders who will come after me to carry on our work. Carolyn Brodie and Starr LaTronica will each in their turn do a fine job. Yet we need a new leader each year. Some of you reading this post may already be wondering if you might like to do this job someday, and what you might do to prepare and position yourself. In my last presidential post, I’d like to share my path and a bit of what I’ve learned along the way, as a sort of trail guide for you.

I joined ALSC when I joined ALA, as a student in 1987. It seemed like a given to me then just as it does now. If you think of yourself as a professional, then you must take an interest and active role in your profession. The first step is to join your national professional organization. It’s what you do.

Once I learned the lay of the land, I got involved. Over my years in ALSC, I served as a member and then chair of the Education Committee, as a member of Managing Children’s Services, on Notable Books for Children, on Caldecott, and then as a member of the Board. I have edited or co-edited two publications for ALSC, one as a committee project, and one at ALSC’s request.

Each of the committee experiences sharpened my skills and knowledge in being a contributing committee member, chairing a meeting, and motivating others. I also developed skills in preparing to speak at a national conference, evaluating books and articulating what I perceived, organization (in keeping track of 1800 potentially notable books!) and group decision-making.

My ability to communicate a vision, as well as negotiation, motivation, and language skills evolved in editing the publications. The Board work added to my parliamentary procedure knowledge and understanding of ALSC operations, and honed further the group decision-making competence. On each committee, project, or board I met colleagues who remain friends to this day.

As president, I have naturally learned a lot more about our organization — the fine details of its structure, the politics of its existence within a parent organization, and the culture of its staff and members. I have also learned about the many people who make ALSC excellent — our astute, hardworking members and member-leaders, the dedicated ALSC staff, and Aimee Strittmatter, our exceptionally talented executive director.

Perhaps most of all, I have learned about myself: where my confidence gaps are, where my knowledge needs feeding, and how to communicate effectively in multiple modes on dozens of topics, some of them delicate. I am definitely a better communicator than I was a year ago!

Each of these ALSC learning experiences has enriched my career and my personal life. When I applied for jobs, my resume got more attention due to my ALSC involvement and accomplishments. I bring experience and skills gained in ALSC to projects in my daily work life. I’m tapped for leadership in statewide plans based on my ALSC activities. I’m also a more effective communicator with colleagues, friends, and family — and I’ve become more conscious about balancing work, professional activities, personal relationships, and recreation.

So what would I do to prepare myself if, as a new librarian, I looked into a crystal ball and discovered that I would be climbing the path to the ALSC presidency? Here’s the trail guide:

  • Be continually involved in ALSC—serving on or chairing a committee or task force, participating in a discussion group, or volunteering to present a program, course, or webinar
  • Say yes to committee assignments even if they aren’t of great interest. Everything is a learning experience, and serving on less glamorous committees demonstrates commitment to ALSC
  • Request appointments to the Organization and Bylaws Committee and as a Priority Group Consultant to learn how ALSC functions
  • Cultivate mentors, and assume the responsibility of maintaining the relationship
  • Develop leadership skills in local, regional, and state organizations
  • Become an effective public speaker and an excellent writer
  • Read widely about our profession and its larger environment of children, trends, and society
  • Cultivate extreme organizational skills
  • Seek jobs in which professional engagement is actively supported
  • Express interest to the Nominating Committee in serving on the ALSC Board
  • Learn about ALA  and how it functions — attend Council and other open meetings
  • Make it a personal priority to attend every Annual and Midwinter conference, and to develop and maintain relationships with colleagues
  • Attend the ALSC Institute and preconferences whenever possible
  • Mentor newer members
  • Meet, closely observe, and offer support to ALSC leaders

So if you (might) want to be (ALSC) president, these are your landmarks.  [Since we have many past presidents who traveled different routes to the top, I invite past ALSC presidents to add to this list by replying to this message. Let’s keep the leader preparation going!]

If you complete the above list and decide that you don’t want to be president, you’ll nevertheless have had an interesting journey. The views are good all the way up.

Thanks for the company this year. Happy trails!


  1. Thom Barthelmess

    Thanks, Mary, for your wise, stalwart, visionary service as ALSC President! It has been an inspiration. As a relatively recent past president I’ll add a few markers to your trail: Become an active member of the ALSC 2.0 Community. Follow the blog. Offer to write a post. Explore ALAConnect. Post to a discussion list. Even if you can’t travel to conferences now, fill out a committee volunteer form and ask to be a virtual member. Share your expertise. Propose a program for a conference or institute. Write for our journal, Children and Libraries or contribute to our newsletter, ALSC Matters! We can’t do it without you!

  2. Sharon McClintock

    Thank you so much, Mary, for your invaluable service to ALSC!

    May I ask one question? Do you have any specific suggestions on how to cultivate “extreme organizational skills”?

    1. Mary Fellows

      Hi Sharon,
      Good question! It took me a while to think this one through.

      I think it starts with cultivating the value of being organized — identifying the areas and relationships of your life that would work more smoothly if you were better organized, and visualizing the benefits (more effectiveness at work, look more professional to coworkers, more harmony with neatnik spouse, etc.).

      Once you’re committed to the need for improvement, it’s time to buy paper files (hanging ones work best with file cabinets). Take the time to label folders for categories that make sense to you — and it’s better to make too many than too few. Keep new folders and labels readily at hand. When I fail is when it’s too much effort (walking to the supply room is not that much effort, but still!) to find the supplies to make a new folder. Then I stick the document into a folder with a sort of applicable label. And then I have to hunt for it when I want it.

      Even before you do the paperwork, however, you can organize your digital documents and your emails. Again it’s about making folders and folders within folders. Again more is better; you can always delete the ones you find you really don’t use. And digital folders don’t take up much space! Also, consider having separate email accounts for work, home, shopping, and anything else where you’ll get a lot of messages.

      The other part of organization is following through on whatever system you set up. I have found that if I set things aside to file “sometime” (either physically or digitally), I don’t get to it. Train yourself to take the few seconds to file things right away in the folders where you’ll find them. Once in a while, when you’re in the mood, go through a folder to see if everything in it still belongs there. (Much easier to do with electronic folders!)

      Having highly developed organizational skills was a lifesaver this year for me — and made it a better year for Aimee, for Carolyn and Julie, for the board and executive committee, for my coworkers, and for my husband. We do visit our stress on those around us, try as we might not to do that!

      1. Sharon McClintock

        Mary, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. What a help your suggestions will be to me, I’m sure!

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