Emily Sanford: My ALCTS Experience

Emily SanfordBy Emily Sanford, Serials Catalog Librarian, Michigan State University

I am hard-pressed to remember a time before I wanted to be a librarian. From an early age, the library as a place was my clubhouse, the books in it my adventures, and the librarians my guides. It was logical, therefore, for me to answer the question of what do you want to be when you grow up with, “a librarian.” This early appreciation grew over time as I began to understand what librarianship entailed as a career. And, I found that, for me, librarianship fell nicely into the middle of the Venn diagram of my skills and personal interests. As I took on internships and eventually went to library school, I discovered my niche with cataloging and technical services. In a similar way, my experience with ALCTS has grown over time. In ALCTS I’ve discovered my niche and amongst its members my community.

I first learned about ALCTS at the 2009 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. I had just finished my first year of graduate school at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. My peers on the ALA Student Chapter board there selected me to be the nominee for ALA’s Student-to-Staff Program. The program selects graduate students from ALA accredited programs and provides them with conference registration, housing, and a stipend (you must arrange for your own transportation to and from the conference) in return for a certain amount of hours spent interning for an ALA section or committee during the conference.

From internships and work experiences, I knew that my skills and interests made me well-suited to technical services, and so I selected ALCTS as my top choice on my student-to-staff application. I was assigned to ALCTS and spent the conference interning with the wonderful ALCTS staff. Once I figured out that this “Alex” people kept talking about was not a person but the pronunciation of the acronym ALCTS, I was good to go. My tasks kept me busy running errands, helping with the preconferences, making copies, sitting in on committee meetings, and meeting lots of lovely ALCTS librarians. I also had time to explore sessions and all that the conference had to offer in my free time.

I joined ALA when I entered graduate school, but looking back now, I realize that I had a somewhat nominal understanding of the organization. And, I definitely had never attended a conference before. Having that first exposure really gave me a leg up when it came to understanding the basics of professional conference attendance, ALA, and ALCTS. I came to truly appreciate this during my first Annual Conference as a professional when I could easily navigate shuttle buses, the exhibit floor, getting to sessions in other hotels, and all of those acronyms ALA veterans use like a second language. It also gave me perspective on the potential of being actively involved in a professional organization. All of this came into play when Michigan State University hired me as Serials Catalog Librarian. MSU encourages and expects professional involvement and continued professional development. I knew too, that being involved would allow me to keep current on trends and innovation and build a professional network.

I first got involved at Midwinter 2012 in Dallas. I attend an ALCTS New Member Interest Group (ANMIG) meeting. During the session, the group mentioned they were looking for someone to take over as web/social media coordinator. I volunteered. Now, a year and a half later, I am the co-chair elect and will take over leadership with my co-chair after Annual 2013. One of my favorite things about being involved with this group is that we help to plan ALCTS 101 with the ALCTS membership committee. Being able to help new members learn about ALCTS/ALA and get involved is rewarding. Encouraged by my first successful volunteer experience with ANMIG, I filled out the ALCTS volunteer form. From that, I was appointed to the ALCTS Program Committee as a member-at-large. I am enjoying the behind the scenes look at conference program planning as the committee meets with, helps, and advises individuals on developing programs.

My ALCTS experience is just that, mine. There are a lot of ways and places to get involved in ALCTS or in professional organizations. And just as many ways to make the experience yours and to make your professional membership a living thing that develops and evolves over time as your roles and skills evolve. My advice: fill out the volunteer form, show up at committee and interest group meetings that interest you, know your skills and volunteer to use them. Go out there and make your ALCTS experience yours.