Finding Your Passion - or, How ALA Midwinter Changed My Life!

Wendy Westgate, San Jose State University

Editor's note: Ms. Westgate is a student in the MLIS Program at San Jose State University. She has studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Romance Languages and Information and Documentation Science from the Free University of West Berlin. She worked 14 years in publishing (Editorial, Production (books and journals), Marketing, and Textbook Sales capacities) before embarking on her library degree. She was selected as the ALCTS Student Reporter for the 2004 Midwinter meeting.

Sometimes you just know right away when an event or happening has life-changing potential, and as soon as I embarked on the exciting ride of ALA Midwinter, I knew that I was immersed in something important and wonderful. The mantra I carried with me through all the committee meetings, symposia, sessions, etc., was "You get out of it what you put into it." A speaker at one of the meetings made that statement, and I wrote it down, because it summarized the reason for my interest in getting involved and becoming a real, functioning part of ALA and ALCTS. From the beginning of library school, I've found the time and energy to be involved in library organizations and events, and what a difference it has made in my educational experience. Now, as I approach graduation this coming spring, I have begun to consider how to continue this pattern as I get my first library job and jump wholeheartedly into the library world. The experiences I had as the ALCTS Student Reporter at this year's Midwinter Meeting went a long way toward providing me with the answers to my question.

Maybe I was just fertile ground for the messages of organizational involvement I heard at ALA, but the bottom line is that it resonated with me and confirmed my desire to work for the goals of library organizations and divisions such as ALA and ALCTS, both to help others in my chosen profession and to enrich my own career experience. During the course of the meeting, I joined two New Members' Round Table (NMRT) committees, which I learned is an excellent basis for further committee work as my career progresses. I made sure to ask what the responsibilities for each committee entail, because there is nothing worse than taking on assignments that you can't follow through. That was a second mantra I heard over and over: If you want to get involved, offer to do something, and then DO it. People will learn that they can trust you to do what you say you will. ALA President Carla Hayden spoke at the NMRT Orientation, and she too emphasized the importance and benefits of getting involved with committees, and perhaps later on, running for Council.

One of the challenges of this year's Midwinter meeting was that meetings and sessions were held at various locales in downtown San Diego, instead of just within the Conference Center itself. As a consequence, I spent my time whizzing around the town--on shuttles, in taxis, and on foot. It was exhilarating and exhausting in the most positive of ways. There were many ALCTS meetings that I would have liked to attend but ran out of time, such as the Association of American Publishers/ALCTS Joint Committee, the Publisher-Vendor Library Relations Committee, and the AS Acquisitions Librarians/Vendors of Library Materials Discussion Group. Even so, I feel I was able to attend a nice variety of sessions and meetings on topics that interested me.

The conference began for me with two concurrently running symposia sponsored by ALCTS. I ran between the two because both interested me, and I wanted to learn at least something about both topics. Taming the Electronic Tiger: Effective Management of Electronic Resources, presented by the ALCTS Serials Section, gave me an understanding of what the issues are in electronic resources management. Although I don't work in a library yet, I'm sure that the materials I took back with me from that symposium will come in handy later on.

As I plan to take a class in Grant/Proposal Writing during my final semester, the LAMA/ALCTS symposium on Successful Fundraising in Turbulent Times was really invaluable. Joan Flanagan and Peter Pearson, both dynamic speakers, led the symposium and shared a wealth of information and hands-on tips with the group. They made fundraising seem less daunting and provided examples from their own experiences that illustrated how to do it right. This was probably the single most valuable experience I had at Midwinter, and I thank ALCTS for giving me the opportunity to attend this session. With all the cutbacks libraries have experienced and will likely continue to experience, it looks like fundraising is here to stay!

I attended part of OCLC's Copyright in a Digital Age symposium, which was very informative about how careful we need to be to avoid infringing on copyright. When it's so easy to digitize materials, the risk of infringing on copyrights held by others is much higher, so it pays to have a good grasp of copyright law and a firm understanding of the extent of "Fair Use." Again, the materials I took away with me will come in handy for years to come.

The really special part of being Student Reporter was having the opportunity to meet with various committee chairs, members, and ALA Council members. I learned so much from these people about the path to increased levels of involvement and responsibility, what it's like to be involved on that level, and the different things you can do with an MLIS. I spoke with ALCTS President Brian Schottlaender about a number of subjects (including the fact that he grew up bilingual in English and German, which-as a linguist-I found really fascinating), but we focused on his goals for the ALCTS. He would like to see ALCTS become more aggressive about continuing education (CE), and more assertive about generating CE events for the ALCTS membership, instead of waiting for it to bubble up from the membership itself. I think this is a great idea, because there is always more we can learn to improve our skills and knowledge. I almost always take advantage of CE opportunities when they are offered, and I'll bet most others do too. Brian told me a key fact about the CC:DA, which most people probably know but I didn't: that the CC:DA is the American voice-along with the Library of Congress-in constructing the rules for AACR. I had no idea that this is how cataloguing rules were made! He also explained to me about his Presidential Program "Libraries as Agencies of Cultural Memory" and why he feels so strongly about the need to preserve the original artifacts underlying digital collections.

A real treat for me was being allowed to sit in on the CMDS executive committee meeting, and to speak afterward with the committee's chair, John Haar. I plan to go into acquisitions/collection development, so I really enjoyed listening to the chairs of all the subcommittees as they reported on their teams' activities. I heard about ideas for preconference seminars, discussion group issues, and some preliminary results from a CMDS member survey. This experience made me eager to participate in an ALCTS committee, and I have already submitted a Committee Volunteer Form. I consider myself very lucky to have figured out early on what area of librarianship interests me the most (collection development) and to have had the opportunity to explore what ALCTS is all about. I found out about ALCTS when two ALCTS membership committee members (Manuel Urrizola, Chair, and Marion Reid, Member-at-Large) spoke at a San Jose State University SLIS "Professional Associations' Day" and knew it was for me.

In speaking with John, I learned more about committee workings in general, and the types of issues that concern CMDS. The CMDS executive committee wants to set a new general direction for all the committees, including the specific goals of producing publications and offering Website programs that are more practitioner oriented. Both sound like worthy goals to me!

To learn a bit about ALCTS in the larger context of ALA, I chatted with Bruce Johnson, ALCTS Councilor to the ALA Council. He outlined the role of the ALA Council, noting that the Council believes that it is important for ALA to be involved in privacy issues, freedom of access to information, and so forth. I learned that the job of the Council is to establish policy for ALA, and it sure would be interesting to sit in on a discussion of one of their more hotly debated issues!

In summary, the interesting people I spoke to and the educational sessions I attended comprised a life-changing experience. I thank ALCTS for choosing me as the Student Reporter, and I encourage any library school student to apply for this opportunity next year. Special thanks go to Kirsten Ahlen of the ALCTS Office, who provided me with suggestions that made it possible for me to narrow my focus to areas that interested me the most. I came away inspired and enthusiastic about using my passion for libraries as way to make a difference in people's lives.

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