Administrative and Management Skills

Amy Koester: 2021-22 ALSC Vice President/President Elect Candidate

In an effort to help ALSC members make an informed decision before they vote, the morning and afternoon blog posts today consist of interviews with the candidates for ALSC 2021-22 Vice President/President-Elect, Amy Koester and Renee Grassi. Each candidate was given ten questions and submitted written answers. This morning’s interview is with Amy Koester.

Photo credit: Max Herman

1. What do you consider the most important role of the ALSC President?

I think it is imperative that the ALSC President lead the governance of our association in a manner that is thoughtful, deliberate, values-oriented, and supportive of and attentive to members and other constituents. As a member-driven organization, with a governance structure that includes a continual rotation of member leaders serving one-, two-, and three-year terms, ALSC needs a president who recognizes the inherent collaborative and community aspect of the role. I think the metaphor of a flying vee of birds is an apt one for ALSC governance and this role—the ALSC President is the person currently at the front of the vee, supporting other folks on the leadership team, members, and staff, as well as the work they are doing, in a way that provides direction and stability. The president accepts the brunt of the headwinds and weather, recognizing that part of the responsibility of being at the front of the vee is making things smoother for everyone else. As with birds, the person at the front of the vee changes over time, a sort of turn-taking that purposely utilizes and preserves the strengths of the group for best continued forward motion. The ALSC President is a steward of the association during their term of service, supporting a collaborative leadership framework for the association.

2. What skills & strengths would you bring to the office?

One particular strength that I would bring to the office is my broad knowledge of ALSC and how it works, as well as my knowledge of the current environment within the larger ALA and how that impacts ALSC, our members, and our work. The scope of my work most recently as a Priority Group Consultant, and as a member of the Board and committee chair before that, has afforded me the opportunity to learn and process a lot about ALSC and ALA’s finances, association governance, and strategic direction—the cogs that make our award committees, professional resources, grants and scholarships, and member benefits possible. I am truly energized by the research, collaboration, and thought-work of governance, and motivated by the prospect of doing work that can positively impact my peers and those we serve, especially young people.

I also bring experience with project management, coordinating across many teams and initiatives, and strategic prioritization and organization. In my job, I work daily with people leading multiple teams, and I support those teams in finding alignment with one another rather than working in silos. I thrive on coming up with strategies and connecting teams to make people and projects successful. Much of the work of our association is conducted by a range of committees, task forces, and member groups. We can be most effective in our work when we’re aligned, and that’s something I feel I have the skill set to support.

3. What areas of personal/professional strength or weakness do you feel could be enhanced or improved through this ALSC leadership position?

Honestly, I am not approaching the possibility of serving ALSC in this type of leadership position with the perspective of what it will do for me and my career. I have been the recipient of so much opportunity for development through my work with ALSC over the past decade plus, and I feel it is vital for me to pay that back and pay it forward. I want to do as much as possible to support members in enhancing their strengths, improving their weaknesses, much the same as I’ve had those opportunities. For example, I have received leadership training and coaching as a committee chair, Board member, and Priority Group Consultant; I have received project management skills in those and other roles; my skills in evaluation of media as well as programs and initiatives have been strengthened through grant and award committee work. While I imagine that serving as ALSC President would afford me opportunities to more swiftly develop broad advocacy skills and would allow me greater connection with members of our profession doing outstanding work, my decision to stand for election was ultimately based on what I can do for ALSC at this point in my career.

4. Why should someone choose to join ALSC? What services do you feel ALSC provides that are valuable to new members? To long-term members?

ALSC offers so much to members, from professional resources and competencies that provide discrete tools to be better at our jobs of serving young people in our communities, to professional networking and the ability to grow your personal learning and support networks, to opportunities for professional development and leadership. In general, someone should choose to join ALSC because they believe in the transformative and liberative potential of libraries in the lives and circumstances of young people, and they want access to great resources, supports, and opportunities so that they can do that transformative, liberative work.

ALSC offers new members so many areas and avenues to explore and get started. Whether you’re interested in media evaluation, early literacy, out-of-school time learning, service to historically, intentionally, and traditionally minoritized groups, or all of the above, there are probably resources being offered and a committee in which you can get involved. There are pathways to explore if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, and on-ramps if you know the topics you’re already interested in. ALSC also offers new members strong peer supports. Our Membership Committee does a lot of thoughtful work to welcome and support new members, we have opportunities for formal and informal mentorship, and most process committee meetings are open and can be observed, with chairs eager to answer questions and make connections. You can find the level of support best for you.

For long-term members, I think that ALSC offers myriad benefits of deep, long-lasting relationships (continuing from those formal and informal mentorship connections!) and broad experience in all aspects of the work of library service to children. Long-term ALSC members gain career-long friends as well as ongoing opportunities to learn and serve on committees, building skills not always possible to get in our day jobs.

5. What are your ideas for reaching and involving members? How would you assist the Board in suggestions for recruiting new members?

The pandemic has emphasized the need for varied and regular communication—there’s no such thing as one size fits all when we’re talking about a broad, busy membership with a lot on their plates. Robust and pervasive communication is important for reaching and involving members in every pocket of the association, strengthened by networking opportunities that focus on empowering every member to share within their own spheres of influence. With regard to recruiting new members, I want to fully understand what the larger ALA is striving for—growing membership is a key part of a multi-year ALA pivot strategy, and I think that with some alignment with ALA’s membership recruitment approach, we can be as successful as possible within ALSC. I also think it’s vital that ALSC and our Board regularly and honestly ask ourselves and our members: What are we doing to ensure that new members are welcome and have opportunities? What do we have in place so that if and when new members—or any members—experience something that doesn’t feel good, feels hostile, or is offensive, leaders and members respond and act in a manner that centers the support of members rather than the preservation of norms that may contribute to negative experiences? 

6. These have been challenging times; from coping with the impacts of a global pandemic, racial unrest, and the current political climate. What are your thoughts on how ALSC can best continue to be a positive force for librarians, for libraries, and for children?

When I see the term “positive force,” I think of “force for making things better,” and what comes to mind for me is a metaphor of an overflowing sink. When there are a lot of challenging things happening, that’s our sink overflowing. Are we going to approach the overflowing sink by resolving to mop up the water regularly, or are we going to find out what’s causing the overflow, then actually fix the drain, the faucet, whatever the root issue is? I think the best thing ALSC can do to be a force for making things better for librarians, libraries, and children experiencing challenges is to use the resources and perspectives within our organization to understand what is currently causing the challenges, and then using our resources and influence to work toward eliminating the challenges, not just the symptoms. Sometimes this is a process of figuring out what we can start doing, or what we can build, but more often than not, in my experience, it is a process of figuring out where we can change our ways of thinking and doing, and where we can shift or modify our work to have better transformative impact.

7. ALSC is committed to equity, diversity, inclusion, and the essential role that children’s librarians have in ensuring rich and diverse collections and programming. How would you work with the Board to enhance this commitment?

I love this association and our commitment to this work, and I recognize that it is hard work—and there is plenty of hard work in front of us, friends. Our commitment is not just about the work that we produce, but also, fundamentally, how we do the work and the voices and experiences we center and hold space for. ALSC members are talented, passionate, and doing this work every day, often in addition to their professional positions and/or ALSC roles. I want to work with the Board to ensure we have systems and supports to ensure that those currently privileged to hold positions of leadership, authority, and influence in ALSC hear the voices of those talented and passionate members who might be disconnected from authority or influence, and that when people from historically, intentionally, and traditionally marginalized people groups get involved in ALSC they are heard, valued, and respected. I think we also need to work on having systems, supports, and norms around best furthering the work of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), whether that’s through collaboration, new leadership roles and opportunities to do the work within existing structures, amplifying the work that makes most sense outside our structures, or something else. The Community Agreements recently adopted by the ALSC Board and now in use as a guiding document for our committees and task forces marks a step forward in the long walk that is our work ahead.

8. How would you work to help the Board incorporate ALSC Core Values throughout the time of your tenure?

I see a strong connection between our collaboration and leadership values. I believe in collaborative leadership and want to support that among the Board and more broadly in ALSC, in which every individual can be a leader in their role, collaborating with other peer leaders to build something stronger and more effective than we could each do on our own. It’s one of the reasons I’ve so highly prioritized inter-committee communication in my tenure as PGC—we accomplish more when we work in tandem.

In terms of excellence, I think of a quote from Maria Tallchief, a member of the Osage Nation and the first American prima ballerina: “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away.” I don’t specifically equate excellence with perfection, but I do think that Tallchief gets at how I think about excellence as asking the question: “Is what we’re doing effective, and what could be more effective?” I would work to bring this type of interpretation of our value of excellence to my work on the Board.

Innovation and responsiveness are another pair of values that feel related to me, in that I think innovation is most valuable when it is in response to a defined need. I would strive to have the Board think about the connection of these two values in our work, bringing a lens that allows us to prioritize innovation that is responsive to the needs of library workers, libraries, and young people.

With regard to inclusiveness, our work is not simply about who is at the table, or who gets to speak while at the table, or even what specific ideas move forward. Inclusiveness is about the structures we have in place to ensure that a diversity of perspectives is present in conversations, the voices most impacted (and, typically, least often heard or heeded) are centered, and work that moves forward continues to center those most impacted. I think in a lot of ways we’re still in a space of creating structures to support true inclusiveness, and that’s where I would focus.

Finally, integrity and respect are vital to me personally and professionally. It is important for me to recognize the privilege that comes with my positionality and identity, and to keep that with me consciously throughout my work so that I can, as intentionally as possible, prioritize impact for ALSC, members, and those whom we indirectly serve. Integrity and respect, to me, are about putting empathy and ethics first, and tamping down ego. That is fundamental to my work.

9. What is your motivation in running for this position?

There is hard governance work ahead for ALSC, with everything from the pandemic’s impact on our members and our libraries to the future plans and current finances of ALA influencing both the work that we’re doing and our ability to do that work. I am standing for election because I feel a responsibility to utilize the knowledge and perspective I’ve gained over the past five years of my ALSC service specifically—as Priority Group Consultant for organizational support committees, a Board member who simultaneously served on the Budget Committee, and Public Awareness Committee chair before that—to contribute to doing that hard work to as much benefit as possible for members as well as staff.

 10. What else would you like the voting ALSC membership to know about you before they vote?

I love being a member of this association and working on our commitment to doing good, hard work for the betterment of members, libraries, and children. I am here for this work no matter what, because it is important and essential, and I would like to do it with ALSC, with members and colleagues like you. I have hope and faith that our association can continue to develop and improve how we serve our members, librarianship, and the children in our communities, and I will work hard to move us forward.

To read this afternoon’s interview with Renee Grassi, click here.

Ballot emailing for the 2021 ALA election will begin on March 8, 2021. The election will close April 7, 2021. To be eligible to vote, individuals must be members in good standing as of January 31, 2021.

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Professionalism and Professional Development; Administrative and Management Skills.

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