ALA Conferences and the Emerging Leader Program

By Tina Rawhouser

Last summer in the lulls between questions during my online chat reference shift, I was browsing the ALA website and stumbled across an announcement that the deadline for applying to the Emerging Leaders (EL) program had been extended. I investigated, since I was interested in becoming more active in ALA but was not sure where to begin. The EL information page promotes the program as a way to learn more about ALA and its myriad divisions, committees and round tables and as a path for involvement in ALA. It sounded like the perfect way to get my feet wet with ALA. Attending a conference was another professional goal for me. Since I am not the most social or outgoing person, I knew that attending conferences as an EL would give my experience some structure and provide a built-in group of familiar faces. The extended application date was the next day, so I quickly put together my application and was eventually notified that I would be part of the 2010 Emerging Leader class.

The requirements for the program are few and simple: be a member of ALA, be under the age of 35 or have less than five years experience in a professional or paraprofessional library position and be able to attend the opening Emerging Leader session at Midwinter and the closing session at Annual Conference. Participants are assigned to a project team before Midwinter so project planning can begin when the team meets for the first time. The team has to overcome the challenges of time and space to work on their projects between Midwinter and Annual (my team of five literally spanned the country: New Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio and California). It all culminates in a poster session presented by each team about their project during the Annual Conference.

This year's class was asked what they liked or didn't like about the EL program during our closing session at Annual. A sampling of what I heard in that session and through personal conversations outside of the session revealed that some teams wanted more involvement or responsiveness from their project mentors, some wanted less; a few felt there was not enough leadership training; some said their projects felt like busy work; many would like more planned events that include past and present EL classes. One of the most common sentiments, which I definitely share, was that the best part of the whole thing was the personal connections we made with our fellow Emerging Leaders.

My entire conference experience was colored by my participation in the EL program from sharing housing to conversations in the convention center hallways, from EL twitter feeds to sharing cabs for the socials and after-hour events. I am not sure what my own future involvement with ALA will look like, but I have no doubt that we will see some of the 2010 Emerging Leaders rise to leadership positions either on ALA Council (I already know of a handful in the running for next year's elections) or within the various divisions, committees and round tables.

A few resources for more information on the Emerging Leader program are listed below. Most EL's of the past are willing to share their thoughts and answer questions about the program take a look at the lists of past participants and you might find that you know one of them or that one is from your area.

More information about the Emerging Leaders program and links to 2009 and 2010 participants and information about the 2010 Emerging Leaders projects is available from ALA's website.