Reflections of an LIS Student: ALA Midwinter 2003

Emily Lin, Drexel University

I found myself recounting more than once during ALA Midwinter how I "fell into" the field of library and information science, as I had never really considered becoming a librarian. I became interested in information architecture and learned about database-driven web sites when I was involved in developing a strategy for putting the collected mass of articles, books, and audio recordings produced by an international church organization online. Nowadays the catch-words are "content management" and "knowledge management," but my desire to educate myself more formally in the field led me to the College of Information Science and Technology at Drexel. There, I have pursued an M.S. in Library and Information Science, with a concentration in digital information management. It has been a somewhat uneasy balance for me, straddling "library" and "systems" courses, never feeling entirely at home in classes filled with experienced programmers or database administrators, or with those in or clearly set on a career in librarianship.

Yet I nodded in agreement as ALCTS President-Elect Brian Schottlaender, relating how he became a librarian, compared his studies in folklore with cataloging and described himself as a "very organized person." My training in comparative literature was also very much about finding patterns, concerning oneself with details and distinct traits, as well as stepping back to see the larger picture. What appeals to me about librarianship is always being in touch with intellectual materials, as Brian affirmed, and working with people who know and value them.

I've realized that some of the uncertainty I've felt on a personal level is also reflected in the field itself. This was tangible during the Friday ALCTS symposium on "Managing Electronic Resources" I was able to sit-in on. As participants discussed new trends and possible solutions for acquiring and delivering content, linking, and assessment, they also expressed concerns for rising costs, being short on staff, gaps in training, and the many challenges that technology presents. The program ended, however, on a positive note as Trisha Davis of Ohio State University described projects at OhioLINK and other university systems. The excitement with which she spoke of these initiatives is the same motivation I feel in wanting to build digital libraries. When I spoke with her and Julia Gammon of the University of Akron afterwards, they emphasized the importance of communication, both in developing collaborative programs such as the kind in Ohio as well as building a successful career.

I had the opportunity to speak with ALCTS President Olivia Madison, from whom I learned a great deal about the overall organization of ALCTS as well as some of the issues concerning its structure currently being addressed. When asked whether it was possible that libraries might be "sidelined" with the development of electronic resources and learning tools, she described how the library at Iowa State University serves as a partner to academic departments and academic computing, and how libraries on campuses serve as the "lynchpin to bring people together." I also asked her what qualities she felt were most important for someone pursuing a career in digital library management. Beyond the concrete information technology skills, as well as people skills and communication skills, she listed "intangibles": "enthusiasm," "joy," "not being afraid-not giving up," and being "comfortable with 'I don't know.'"

It was these "intangibles" I gathered from the people I met and observed during ALA Midwinter that made the experience invaluable to me. I appreciated how people took the time to talk about their work, their background, and their advice for someone new to the field. It was also an assurance to me that I had made the right choice in terms of a career, as I understood from them how much they love their work, despite the challenges libraries may face, and how much they believe in what they do.

I was amazed, sitting in on a Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access (CC:DA) meeting, to find a group of about forty people discussing the placement of a comma within a bibliographic record. At the same time, I was impressed by the high level of professionalism and efficiency I witnessed at the ALCTS Board meeting and from the reports given there by the various ALCTS committee chairs. I had the sense of a "well-oiled" organization, and certainly felt that with such leaders, our libraries are in very good hands.

I was grateful for the opportunity to serve as a student volunteer attending my first ALA event, and would strongly encourage other students to seek the same opportunity. For the uninitiated, it is a great way to learn about the scope of the organization and the range of work in the field, and to gain perspectives from individuals from different parts of the country. I also feel fortunate and privileged, as a native Philadelphian, to have been a host for the event. I hope you enjoyed your stay in our city, and welcome you back.

A final note: I came home after Midwinter to find an ALA Membership Renewal form in the mail. This time, I'll be adding membership to ALCTS!

back to alcts newsletter online home