My ALCTS Experience: Ann Marie Willer

I love to give advice. I can’t help myself! When given the opportunity to write about my “ALCTS experience,” I couldn’t help but see it through the lens of “lessons learned.” So bear with me…

Prior to becoming a preservation librarian, I had the opportunity to develop my leadership skills in other non-profit settings. Once I had my MLS and was working at the University of North Texas, I was eager to get involved in professional library associations, so I attended ALCTS 101 at my very first ALA annual conference. I cornered a member of the PARS Executive Committee after the program and walked with her to her next session, peppering her with questions. She encouraged me to volunteer right away and see what shaped up.

Lesson one: seek advice from experienced members

My coworkers warned me that it was “hard” to get appointed to ALA committees and that I might not get anything my first year, so I cast my net wide and volunteered for both ALA-level and PARS-level appointments. On the application forms I explained my past volunteer service and tried to connect my experiences to specific committee opportunities. I targeted three different ALA committees and expressed a willingness to be either a member or an intern.

Lesson two: be flexible and open minded about committee service

Imagine my surprise when I received appointments to two out of the three committees! Of course I said yes. Then a short time later I was invited to serve on a PARS Committee as well. To be honest, taking on three simultaneous appointments is not something I would recommend for any member, new or “seasoned,” but I went ahead and said yes a third time because I definitely wanted to be involved on the PARS level and get to know my preservation colleagues.

Lesson three: pace yourself

I found my work on the ALA Committee on Diversity (COD) and the Orientation, Training, and Leadership Development Committee absolutely fascinating. I gained a broad perspective on the work of the Association, which is much larger than any organization for which I had previously volunteered. It was energizing to work with colleagues from around the nation and from all corners of the library world on shared goals and initiatives. I had the opportunity to further develop my communication skills, and I learned how difficult it can be to get work done between conferences! I observed the committee chairs and how they led the groups, especially as COD undertook the important work of revising Section 60 “Minority Concerns” of the ALA Policy Manual.

Lesson four: watch experienced committee leaders at work, and learn from them

As it turned out, these two ALA committees required a fair amount of my time during conferences, and I didn’t get to attend as many PARS Discussion Groups as I would have liked during the two years of my term. But I gained so much from serving on ALA committees that I encourage new members to volunteer at least once at the ALA level. (That’s Lesson five.)

But wait, you say, this column is supposed to be about my ALCTS Experience! Well, the exposure I had to large committees, strong leaders, and the ALA organizational hierarchy through my service on ALA-level committees made me a better-informed ALCTS member. I took on increasing levels of responsibility in PARS, first co-chairing a Discussion Group (Lesson six: co-chairing with a more experienced member is a great way to get your feet wet), serving on and then chairing a PARS committee, and ultimately being elected to chair the Section. Through my involvement on the PARS Program Planning and Publications Committee, I served as liaison to the ALCTS Publications Committee, which was a great opportunity to interact with colleagues from the other ALCTS sections. When I was PARS Chair I served concurrently on the ALCTS Board, and this gave me a more nuanced understanding of each section and enabled me to highlight preservation issues in Division-wide initiatives. I appreciated that the others in the Division were near-neighbors to preservation, and we all understood and valued each other’s respective areas of work.

Lesson seven: volunteering at the Division level broadens your network

One strategy that has worked well for me is to take a break every five years or so and spend the year with no committee appointments, at any level. This is especially rejuvenating after a complex or high-profile commitment comes to an end. This “sabbatical” gives me the freedom to wander all over the annual conference and explore new areas. It gives me the space to re-evaluate how I want to spend my time. I ask myself: How can I best contribute to the Association? What do I want to learn? How do I want to grow? Then the next year I accept an appointment that interests me and return to the action with a renewed sense of purpose and focus.

Lesson eight: rest, rejuvenate, and re-evaluate periodically

If PARS is any indication, there is plenty going on at the section level to keep a person engaged in the profession. It would be easy to stay focused on section activities and never venture further afield, but I encourage everyone to consider volunteering at the Division and Association levels and then bring what you learn back to your section. I hope you have as rewarding an “ALCTS Experience” as I have!