ALA Emerging Leaders; Eff the projects it’s about the people

ALA describes the Emerging Leaders Program as follows;

“A leadership development program which enables newer library workers from across the country to participate in problem-solving work groups, network with peers, gain an inside look into ALA structure, and have an opportunity to serve the profession in a leadership capacity. It puts participants on the fast track to ALA committee volunteerism as well as other professional library-related organizations.”

And while I believe it is all of this, there is so much more that it offers. Having gone through the whole program (I emerged in 2008), I’d like to give you my own review of this program.

EL is NOT about the Projects.
This is the most important thing you can know about it!  This is also the part of EL that I’ve heard the most complaining about.  I might seem like it is about the project at times and you’ll do a lot of work for it.  But, if you go into this program thinking that the whole thing is about the projects you’re going to be sorely disappointed.  I’ll admit, mine was ok at best, it definitely didn’t give me any new found leadership skills, I didn’t develop or learn anything from the project itself and I didn’t gain some remarkable problem solving skills or anything. My mentors were barely adequate and my project was never used by the sponsoring organization. But, it was very beneficial in that I met and worked with some great librarians on something meaningful and tangible and I did learn a lot about the ALA organization from the project. But EL is not about the projects anyway.

EL is about the people
What I did gain from my whole experience is an amazing “tribe” of people who I’ve grown to love and respect in many ways. Many of these people are a large part of my personal life, some are a part of my conference life, and some I only get to see occasionally. When I go to conferences I have a group of people to meet up with and learn from. When I have questions professionally, I have a group of people to ask. When I need some kind of support for a project or idea, I have a group of people to offer it. When I’m sitting around on my butt on a Tuesday night with nothing to do, I have someone to call and chat with for no particular reason.

EL changed my entire conference and ALA experience!
Because of the people that I’ve met through the EL program I have been able to run for ALA council, get involved in committees, and put together exciting and fun activities at conferences. Before EL, I was overwhelmed by the whole experience and it was originally through this program that I met JP and Justin who started the ALA Think Tank and moved me from just showing up to conferences to actually participating in them through their whole Partyhard and Makeithappen attitude. It is for the people that I owe my huge thanks to Emerging Leaders.

I highly recommend that you get involved in this program, do your project so you can makeithappen, and most importantly partyhard with your fellow Leaders!

Plus, it’ll look good on your resume.

12 thoughts on “ALA Emerging Leaders; Eff the projects it’s about the people

  1. Very handy and likely true if the people on your project team were on the ball. Less so if they werent, and you’d avoid them like the plague in the case that you needed to accomplish anything in the future. Add that to “it definitely didn’t give me any new found leadership skills, I didn’t develop or learn anything from the project itself and I didn’t gain some remarkable problem solving skills or anything. My mentors were barely adequate and my project was never used by the sponsoring organization”, and the experience can be very disheartening indeed.

    I want to say out loud and in public that this: “it definitely didn’t give me any new found leadership skills, I didn’t develop or learn anything from the project itself and I didn’t gain some remarkable problem solving skills or anything. My mentors were barely adequate and my project was never used by the sponsoring organization” is NOT OKAY. Nor does it encourage those of us who were interested in ALA involvement to continue, unless you find a great and active group that not only welcomes your input, but uses it in such a way that you can *see some sort of great end product done*. I got lucky and landed on a committee completely unrelated to my EL work where that is the case. How many people don’t?

    1. My point was only that, in my case, the project aspect of the experience was not that rewarding. This happens in every organization. I’ve done enough projects and committee work in enough organizations (public and private) to know that its not always about the project or committee work. Oftentimes the benefits of action come from an unrelated and completely unexpected place. I am trying to point out that you shouldn’t make the project the end goal of your experience in the program. There are far more important things that can be gained if you are open to them.

  2. So, couldn’t they take the money and time they spend on the EL people and just throw a party instead? Although, I would surmise that workplaces would be less likely to let people go if all they plan on doing is partying.

  3. I applied for, and was rejected along with numerous other super awesome peeps, from the 2011 class. Several of us, independently, reached out to the ALA EL committee for mentorship and recommendations to improve chances for acceptance to the 2012 class and most of us got nothing but crickets. We even formed a support group on FB. Heh. Emails to EL committee members went unanswered for months, responses were vague when we did get them, whom we should speak to was often changed and email responses would include forwards to various folks because no one would take point on acting as a representative for the general EL committee. I finally got frustrated enough, after several months of no responses, to email anyone associated with the program I could find and cc’d then ALA pres. Robert Stevens with my beefs. With the (possibly immature) pot shot that if ALA could not manage its own internal affairs and organization of its programs, how could I seriously expect them to teach me leadership skills? Stevens immediately responded that she was told that my case was “taken care of” and I received a phone call from a ALA rep shortly thereafter who kept apologizing profusely and said I was not the first person (and definitely not the last) to become (almost) hyper-critical of the program, its inefficiencies, lack of organizational skills, disappointment with the projects and so forth and so on. In fact, she let slip that nearly a dozen people had already filed variety of complaints (assuming rejects and accepted) with her about EL program. Past members, as you pointed out Pat, almost all routinely hate the projects for the variety reasons you’ve laid out above.

    I also want to point out that many of the same people you’ve met through EL or associated with, I’ve met through various other channels (Twitter, ALA Annual, Facebook, etc etc). Yes, EL definitely gives that frat/soroity feeling of a small, worthy clique but it shouldn’t be the end point for meeting people. I’m also not spending thousands of my own time/money (travel to/fro mid-winter/annual, lost hours at work since I’m currently undermployed) to add a single line to my resume.

    I just have to wonder if so many EL graduates are dissatisfied, ALA has received enough complaints to make it noteworthy, why the program is not either being completely overhauled or done away with?

    1. Actually you are exactly right on all of your complaints! But… I would like to point that almost every single one of these complaints can be applied to, and I have heard it about everything from ALA Committees to ALA Council to ALA (insert something here). These aren’t problems with the EL program but with ALA itself. I just spoke with someone last night who was complaining about the same thing when she asked for information from the ALA on salary negotiations. An ALA rep actually hung up on her. So… While I totally and completely understand your frustration i would like to point out that I think that most things that ALA do turns out this way for a segment of the members. This is why you need to get involved and help get ALA back on track to doing what it should be doing, which is “To provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” Which I’m not sure it does. But there are a lot of people working to fix it.

    2. Oh! Also, the reason it hasn’t been done away with because of the number of complaints it has received is because if ALA did away with things because of a high number of complaints…. Well… 🙂

      In the end it is what you make it be.

  4. While I’m glad you can dig out the good, as a manager and administrator I’d not be inclined to sign the form agreeing to fund a librarian’s travel to annual and midwinter if they’re going simply to “network” and “partyhard” rather than actually accomplish anything that is going to have firm results. If the EL program isn’t going to develop them as a leader or give them any of the skills you feel you didnt get, why should I support it by sending my librarians there instead of having them do good work here or in more useful programs?

    You note “This is why you need to get involved and help get ALA back on track to doing what it should be doing, which is “To provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.”” — if ALA can’t even get that right in their *leadership* program, which should be the one thing that works well, I’m not sure how much help I can be, or *want* to be, given that i offer my time as a volunteer, but many folks on the ALA office side are actually paid employees.

    1. Networking is a very important skill with very firm results. I can point to grants, collections, programs, services, partnerships, and many other great results that came directly from networking at Emerging Leaders specifically. If you think that someone can take a one day seminar at a conference and walk away with developed and acute leaderships skills as a firm result because of a six month project, well… :-/

      Other firm results – “I have a group of people to meet up with and learn from. When I have questions professionally, I have a group of people to ask. When I need some kind of support for a project or idea, I have a group of people to offer it.”

      Also, ALA is your organization and if you don’t like what’s happening it is something that is easily changed. Don’t complain, make it happen.

      1. For those projects where you have a group that’s useful for you to ask about future projects or ideas, that *is* great, and one of the much lauded effects of the program for those who found it successful for their needs. (You lucked out with a group with similar interests as yours, it sounds. My experience was not similar, and while i admire, respect and support the work that young adult librarians do, I have very little in common with them in terms of my work and projects.) The ELs I continue to work with I didnt meet through the EL program but knew from online networking and previous conference meetings. And while I dont expect anyone to get leadership skills from a one day seminar (seminars should be so useful!), if someone spends six months on a project, I do not consider that a negligible amount of time, either as a volunteer or as an employer who is donating some of my office time so that gets done.

        Ah, well. I’ve found my relationships I’ve built through online networks much more useful to me than the EL program ended up being. And my current ALA involvement where I feel my time is used to best advantage to actual results is with those same social/professional connections that are more connected to my actual work than a randomly assigned project that may never actually contribute to leadership skills or put me in touch with people who are in any way related to the work I do. To each their own, I suppose, but for a hit-and-miss program (per the reports of former ELs) that doesnt actually do what it purports to do, that’s a pretty expensive miss.

  5. I hesitate whether or not to respond to PnkRckLibrarian, but I think a limited sharing of some information might provide some balance to her perspective. I spent quite a good deal of time responding to her request for feedback which I sent off on November 9th. On Dec 31, I received a response which began, “I’d like to thank you for taking the time for your incredibly thoughtful response and that I appreciate and in addition, I value your responses to my questions.” and concluded, “re: Regarding how to improve your candidacy for next year: Thank you for this information. I’m thrilled on obtaining better tips on to improve myself for next year and am relieved to find out that my application was looked at through a professional lens and that those were the main factors for consideration. Thank you, again, for all of your help in answering my questions. Have a wonderful holiday season.”

    Over the next three months my EL co-facilitator made numerous appointments with PnkRckLibrarian to speak on the phone and further discuss her concerns and fully answer her questions. Each appointment was broken by PnkRckLibrarian, and the breaking of these appointments were either acknowledged days later or not at all. I understand that life happens, but to make appointments with colleagues who are taking time out of their very busy schedules to offer their time at your request and then simply blow them off– repeatedly — is problematic at best.

    As for waiting for months with no response, the facts: PnkRckLibrarian received notification that she was not admitted to the program on Oct 12. She emailed Beatrice Calvin at ALA with a follow up question asking for feedback on Oct 15th, and again on Oct 30. I became aware of her request a few days after and responded with a lengthy, detailed response on Nov 9th. Her response to me came on Dec 31, and all attempts to speak further with her (initiated by my co-facilitator) resulted in repeatedly broken appointments by her over a three month period.

    PnkRckLibrarian has a right to be upset that she wasn’t selected for the program, but to suggest that those of us involved in the EL program didn’t invest considerable thought, time and energy in trying provide useful feedback is simply not true.

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