Getting Involved In A Big Way: Interning with an ALA Committee at Midwinter

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By Patrice Johnson & Larissa Gordon

For librarians who are looking to get involved with the American Library Association as a form of professional development, navigating through the twists and turns of the organization that is the ALA can seem like a daunting task. To those new to the profession, it can seem impossible. With its thousands of members and its tiered organizational structure where divisions filter down into a multitude of committees and roundtables, an organization as large as ALA can seem like a vast uncharted frontier to the uninitiated. Where does one begin? The New Members Round Table makes getting involved easier by introducing new librarians to the organization slowly and on a limited scale, but for those of you eager to jump right into the fire there is a wonderful program that can help get you started.

The Internship Program began in 1988 and was "designed to provide an avenue for interested members to become more easily involved in ALA activities and to introduce new people and ideas to ALA committee discussions and decision-making."1 The internships available through this program are on committees at the ALA organizational level; they are not for divisions or roundtables. Anyone who has not held an appointment or elected office at the ALA organizational level is eligible to become an intern. New librarians and those new to ALA in general are encouraged to apply. Interns are appointed for a two year period and must attend both the midwinter and annual ALA conferences for the duration of their appointment. It is quite common for those who have interned on a committee to be appointed as a full member of that committee, or appointed as a member of another ALA committee, when their internship term is over.

As interns of the ALA Membership Committee, during midwinter we were expected to attend an intern orientation and three committee meetings. Although this was only the first of four ALA conferences that we will attend as interns, our experience thus far has given us a greater understanding and appreciation for the American Library Association. Not only do we now have a greater understanding of how the governing and organizational structure of ALA works, we finally have a real feeling of connection to the organization. The opportunity to have our voices heard and the ability to deliberate and vote on real issues was inspiring. The experience was also beneficial in that it introduced us to many other librarians who are active members of the organization. Through our participation in the intern program, we have begun to make connections that will help us further our involvement with ALA, and hopefully within the library profession itself.

In closing, we want to leave you with some advice that was given to us by a fellow committee member. This committee member told us that "the more you become involved in ALA the smaller and more comprehendible it becomes." We have certainly found this to be true.

You can volunteer to become an ALA committee intern for 2006-2007 by filling out the committee volunteer form.

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1 Guidelines for the Leadership Development Program for ALA Committees: http://www.ala.org/ala/ourassociation/committees/otld/otldcmteminutes/internguidelines.htm