By Heidi Steiner
It seems to me that new librarians want to take part in the ALA Emerging Leaders Program for a variety of reasons. Many want to get acclimated with the Association, which can be undeniably overwhelming. Others perhaps hope to put their foot in the door for committee work or are seeking structured leadership training. For me, taking part in the program was very much about forging professional connections. Emerging Leaders provides ample opportunities to meet and establish relationships with not only other driven new librarians, but also important leaders in the Association.
When I was still in library school and working part-time jobs in libraries, my mission was constantly to impress as many people as possible. While wrapping up library school and starting the job hunt in 2009, I delved into committee work with New Members Round Table as a member of the Student and Student Chapter Outreach Committee. In a very simple way, NMRT was my first Emerging Leaders program. Even though it is a large round table, it felt tremendously welcoming for someone dipping their toes in national committee work. In the interest of constantly impressing, I was actively involved in the committee that year and asked to chair SASCO the following year. My involvement has now branched out to include state, regional, and ACRL committee work—always working to connect and impress. In participating in Emerging Leaders, I wasn’t concerned about getting my foot in the door with committee work or learning the ropes of ALA, as I have already found my little corners. I wanted instead a focused place to spread my branches with like-minded individuals. I have not lost the mindset of connecting and impressing, but have instead carried it into the Emerging Leaders program: a wonderful privilege afforded to me through sponsorship by the New Members Round Table.
For those unaware, Emerging Leaders is a selective, yearly leadership program for ALA member librarians under the age of 35 or with less than five years of professional experience. Each year roughly 75 participants are accepted (this year from well over 200 applicants) and assigned to projects created by a variety of units within ALA. The program is kicked off by an all-day leadership workshop at the Midwinter Conference, followed by six months working asynchronously on team projects. It is capped by a second all-day workshop at the next Annual Conference ending with a poster session to show off project results.
Although through weird happenstance I did not end up on NMRT’s chosen project, I did complete a project targeted toward newbies. As part of Team B, I worked with ACRL’s Membership Coordinating Committee to create promotional videos for new conference attendees. Our end product is three videos on ACRL’s YouTube channel. Give them a look! We also helped present the first-ever virtual ACRL 101 webinar prior to the Annual conference. Reflecting on things now, I see how full circle the program ended up being for me. From being involved with NMRT from the start of my still-short career, my interest in helping support, nurture, and set a positive example for other new librarians is quite strong. My participation as the NMRT-sponsored Emerging Leader on a project aimed at new conference attendees could not be more appropriate.
For those interested in Emerging, it is important to note that the program is very much what you make of it – the lessons you allow yourself to see and learn. There is ample opportunity to work on your own leadership development and collaborative skills, though it is easy to get caught up in the tasks and products of your project. While working on the project, which is inherently challenging no matter the task, allowing yourself to see learning opportunities in the things that go well and the things that go wrong is key. At the actual conferences, the opportunities to network are basically fed to you and to not eat them would be silly. I had the pleasure of meeting many other fabulous new librarians also participating in the program, as well as past Emerging Leaders. I also met current leaders in the association, including ALA President and leadership maven, Maureen Sullivan.
Perhaps the biggest thing I noticed about going through Emerging Leaders was the confidence it instilled in me as a professional. Clearly multiple people saw promise in my application, enough not only for the program to accept me, but also for NMRT to sponsor me. I made it through the program with a finished project and did not let meeting important people give me an anxiety attack. Maybe one day I will be one of these key leaders. So, thank you to the New Members Round Table for making me feel welcome to participate in the profession three years ago and for sponsoring me as this year’s Emerging Leader. I look forward to serving NMRT until I am not allowed anymore!