Leadership Tools

Tips for ALCTS Leaders

Take advice from experienced ALCTS member leaders


What’s your term of service?

It begins after the Annual Conference and continues through the Annual Conference of the following year. Chairs serve for one year. Members serve for two years and interns for one.

Talk to the ALCTS staff. Really.

Other leaders have been clueless or have even messed something up way before you. Don’t be embarrassed if you are not perfect. Let them help you with both the continuity and organizational memory they provide ALCTS and their relationships with other ALCTS units and their leaders. They give great advice. They answer their phones and their e-mail quite promptly, and are scrupulous to leave bounce messages when they are out of the office.

If you don’t know members of the ALCTS staff, introduce yourself in person, by email or even by phone. This is particularly important for the interest group chairs. Since interest group chairs are elected by each group, the chair needs to notify the ALCTS office.

Contact previous leaders of your group--

especially the previous chair. There may be files, a list of annual committee responsibilities, oral history about how Things Are Done. Even if you think the status quo should be changed, it is a good idea first to know what it is. A phone call, like a telephone reference for a job candidate, can be especially frank and helpful. It’s good to do this close to the beginning of your term, but you can do it again if you need to talk something through. The ALCTS staff may have ideas about other previous leaders who could be helpful.

Feel free to talk to current leaders, too, including the ALCTS President or your Board liaison, if you have one. It is especially important to check in with them if you have been charged to change something or start something new, and need guidance. These folks have gotten where they are in the organization because they know ALCTS and have good judgment, good communication skills, and the ability to work through information quickly to give good advice. Use them.

Spend a little time figuring out how ALA Connect could help you.

There are tutorials, chat, ability to build documents online, post pictures of yourself, etc. It’s meant to be a kind of secure ALA Facebook. Warning: the default setting is for ALA Connect NOT to send e-mail to members’ e-mail addresses when something is posted in your committee space. Each member of the group will have to go in and change that setting individually. If ALA Connect scares you, call the ALCTS office for hand-holding. They do this. Really.

Think about how you will communicate.

It will take a lot longer to get anything done than you think. It pays to start early and keep your sunny side up. Try different things. Admit it when things aren’t working and try something else. Keep up the pace of the conversational volley as well as you can, to sustain momentum.

Cross-check your member lists (discussion list, ALA Connect, web site roster). It is possible to think you are communicating with people you are not reaching, and this can be sad or even very, very bad.

Communicating with Your Group

New chairs should welcome their committee members very early.

Send up a flare early in your term. Sometimes summer communication gets lost, so send something again in September if things have been quiet since Annual. If you are the chair, this is mandatory. If you are not the chair, it is a very responsible and leader-like thing to do. Nothing thrills an inexperienced chair more than knowing there is a breathing committee member out there ready to get to work.

Facilitate introductions among the committee members.

Examples might be inviting people to share short bios via the listserv, becoming Facebook friends, or scheduling an ALA Connect chat. If any committee members live relatively nearby or go to local or regional events, it might be possible for some subgroup of you to meet in the flesh. As you may not meet each other until Midwinter, half your year of service/work may be done before you lay eyes on one another as a group.

Groups that do not meet in person.

Division and section award juries are no longer required to meet in person. Consider the best way for the jury to carry out its work, including email, phone, ALA Connect, Skype, etc.

Share a list of important dates.

Create one as soon as you develop a mental picture of the committee’s work. Chances are you may have served on the committee in a prior year, and these dates aren’t new, but reviewing these dates is like buying the new notebooks and sharpened pencils for the new school year. And you may be a stranger to the committee, in which case you would be insane not to do this. And, who knows, things may have changed. Even in ALA.

Don’t get flipped out if not everyone responds--

or responds with varying degrees of promptness or helpfulness. Sometimes not every committee member is in a position to be equally active, just as you experience in your workplace. Sometimes folks will surface at the tail end of a process and want to rethink things from scratch. There are many reasons people participate the way they do and your job as a leader is to make sure you’ve done everything in your power to make useful participation possible. If it turns out that processes and decisions and products are shaped more by some members than others, you will know you did your best to include everyone. Then let it go.

Give people plenty of lead time to respond.

It’s not fair to stage long-distance crises because you haven’t been paying attention. People have lives, and jobs and families. No one’s boss will notice that an ALCTS bibliography isn’t done promptly, but she will if performance appraisals are late. This is a volunteer organization and has a lot in common with the other volunteer organizations you may know. Procrastination in long-distance professional work is natural. Fight it.

Respond your own self.

Even if you can’t respond substantively right away, let the chair or project leader know you got the message and plan to get back to him/her. I can’t tell you how comforting this is. If you are the chair, and someone writes you, you do the same. Same day.

Doing the Work

Share the work.

For the overwhelming majority of groups, most of the work is done in-between meetings. Don’t assume that work only gets done at meetings. But don’t assume either that it is easy to get work done long-distance between meetings. It takes effort and flexibility and humility. If you don’t know how to do something you’re expected to do, let that situation lead you to ask for help instead of laying low. Appreciate input and participation.

Make phone calls.

If you’re not hearing from someone, give him or her a buzz. You may feel you are hounding the person, and you may be. But it may be just the gesture that helps things get back on track. You will never know until you try to find out.

Make sure you understand meeting arrangements and ALA requirements for Midwinter and Annual.

The meeting reservation policies are extremely rigid; do not count on exceptions if you are spaced out. Be aware that requests to schedule a meeting for the Midwinter meeting is due in September. The due date for scheduling a meeting for Annual is in October. The deadlines are set by ALA and ALCTS must follow them.

If someone resigns or starts talking resignation--

inform the ALCTS President or section chair immediately. Sometimes you may be able to work things out so that the person is comfortable staying on. Other times it may be clear that a parting of the ways is best. The ALCTS President or section chair may be able to appoint someone new or do something else to help make sure you have what you need to get your job done.


If you’re the chair, know that appreciation is one of the important perks of a volunteer organization. Think about how you feel when you are appreciated. If you are not the chair, know and think these same things. You could even thank the chair if there were any reason to do so. It couldn’t hurt to share the love.

ALCTS members rock!

-- December 15, 2009