I am the former chair for School-Age Programs and Service Committee (SAPS). As a first time chair, this past year was one of learning. I share my reflections on this new experience for those who are new ALSC committee chairs — I hope that my gleanings are helpful to you!
When Nina Lindsay asked me to take this job on, I admit that I was trepidatious. How would I lead a national group of librarians who I (largely) never met and lead them? How would they trust me and follow my leadership? I lead committees within my home system of San Francisco Public Library, but these consist of people that I have been working with for years, that I see at least on a monthly basis, and who inhabit a common work culture. SAPS consisted of public and school librarians serving school-age to middle school-age students from the West, South, and East Coast of the country. How would I schedule meetings and foster collaboration across all the time zones? Yikes!
A year later, I can proudly say that I quelled those doubts by leaning into an adage from one of my favorite childhood films: “Bee yourself!, Al!”. I’m a relationship person. I like people. And I love building relationships with people. I realized quickly that I couldn’t lead this group without getting to know them more and by knowing them more, caring about them. Becoming invested in them. Understanding how their membership in SAPS connected to their daily work.
Because of this, I started to dedicate the first 10 minutes of our meeting to a round robin of “What’s a school-age programming highlight from your work this past month?” Each person would share the incredible work they were doing: author visits, annual medieval research projects, STEM art-making, service to rural communities, summer learning planning, and so much more. Doubts soon gave way to deep gratitude; I had the opportunity to work with an incredible group of colleagues doing great work. How lucky was I? As each person shared their highlight, the group also got to learn about each other. Since we met on Slack, we sprinkled thumbs up, high-fives, smiley faces, and all other kinds of supportive emoji throughout our chat.
The supportive tone laid a great foundation for us to collaborate with one another on our project: a Tween Maker Toolkit for public and school librarians. This project required research, writing, and confidence in Google Docs. In order to keep us focused and motivated, I leaned into another personal value of mine: strong organization and consistent positive communication. We met monthly on Slack and before every meeting, I sent out an agenda. After each meeting, I gave a quick summary about meeting highlights, shared action items, and cheered the group on to continue the good work! Consistent monthly meetings helped people stay engaged.
I found a time during my week when I could dedicate time to ALSC chair business — agendas, follow-up emails or calls to members, review of the blog schedule, and blog posts. This year, I decided to post all the blog posts myself, which — while a bit more work for me — ended up saving a lot of possible headache. It also allowed me to review, edit, and connect with the author. In addition to constructive feedback, I also took the opportunity to give my committee praise and ask any follow-up questions. I shared out the blog links to our members so that we could continue to learn from each other. More of that relationship-building business. One minor tip: Remind your committee members of the 2MB limit of photo sizes – this will save you some time.
Leading a committee isn’t easy work, but I found it to be greatly fulfilling. I recognize that I held my members to a high standard for communication and participation and I want to thank them for doing their absolute best. I tried, with some limited success, to divide the committee into subcommittees that would (theoretically) meet between our monthly meetings, but I realize that we all work really hard and adding another meeting is too much. If you have chaired an ALSC committee, what are your tips for fostering collaboration virtually between members?
Cristina Mitra was born, raised, lives and works in San Francisco as the Family Engagement Coordinator for San Francisco Public Library where she coordinates system-wide STEM and cultural programming for youth and their families. She is a 2009 Spectrum Scholar and is a Twitter newbie @seemitra.
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This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: VI. Administrative and
Management Skills and VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.