Professional Development Grant Winner's Report on ALA Annual

By Samantha Helmick

The New Members Round Table of the American Library Association offers an annual stipend to attend the ALA Annual Conference called the Professional Development Grant. The recipient of this conference stipend is mentored by an experienced librarian, volunteers at the NMRT Resume Review Service, and attends NMRT meetings. As the 2014 awardee of the Professional Development Grant, I was able to attend my first ALA Annual Conference and use the experience to its fullest potential. I spent my first ALA Conference (and my first time in Las Vegas) attending sessions on topics ranging from maker spaces made popular in Philadelphia to mobile room reservations made possible in academic libraries across Kansas, as well as networking with other library staff who share my love of information literacy and access and dipping my toe into ALA engagement.

Attending an ALA Annual Conference is a unique experience; it can best be described as organized chaos. Each meetup, ConverStation, and session offers a wealth of information for attendees to consider. ALA Annual brings together diverse, creative, and industrious library professionals. Attending a conference with librarians from around the globe is an amazing experience, and the energy and enthusiasm that was present through each day stayed with me long after I came home to my library. NMRT empowered me to find my niche and to connect with librarians that I would never have had the pleasure to know if I hadn't been supported to network and get involved.

I met many job seekers while I worked at the NMRT resume review booth. Connecting with fellow librarians searching for employment was a powerful experience that enabled me to network with librarians from outside my geographical area. Volunteering beside reviewers permitted me to tweak my resume, have one-on-one conversations about employee-seeking trends, and establish contact with administrators currently looking for librarians. The time I spent volunteering at the NMRT resume review booth was more intensive and prosperous than the last three years of my post-graduate opportunities combined.

I attended NMRT sessions that showcased the roundtable's four major goals, which are:

  1. To create and structure opportunities for members to be involved on a local, state, and national level
  2. To provide programming which educates, encourages, and assists new members of the profession
  3. To develop ongoing programs for library school student to introduce them to professional involvement
  4. To offer leadership training and opportunities for formerly newer members growing into advanced levels of professional and association service

These sessions gave me an introduction to the formation and practices of professional groups and committees on the national level. Before I was awarded the Professional Development Grant, my concept of participating through ALA was nebulous at best. I assumed that all the professionals needed for volunteer roles were in place and that I might not be able to transition from local and state service to the national level. Learning the variety of openings, skill sets and interest sought each year throughout ALA encouraged me to engage. Since attending ALA Annual, I have joined the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) Innovation Award Task Force, co-chaired the Library Information Technology Association (LITA) Distance Learning Interest Group, chaired the Young Adult Services Library Association (YASLA) Division and Membership Committee and joined the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) to assist with various objectives to enhance services to professionals and the communities they serve.

The mentorship aspect of the grant touched my professional life profoundly. My mentor supported me through calls, emails and Tweets throughout my entire ALA Annual experience. Before I purchased a plane ticket for Nevada, my mentor regularly contacted me to offer tips and tricks for my first ALA Annual Conference. My mentor attended sessions with me, walked through the massive exhibitor hall with me, and gave me pointers throughout the conference. We discussed my professional goals and tentatively shaped my ten-year plan. In the past months, my NMRT mentor has stayed in contact to check in and to offer information pertinent to my goals.

Recently, NMRT posted an opening for new mentors. The Iowa Library Association, which is in my home state, had a position that I volunteered to fill. I anticipate supporting new members of our field with the same dedication as my NMRT mentor, and I look forward to sharing information and resources available to all librarians through the New Members Round Table. I highly recommend applying for the Professional Development Grant, and I would suggest that any new librarian join NMRT.

Samantha Helmick serves her Iowa community in the capacity of UX & Outreach Librarian for Burlington Public Library. She received her MLIS from University of Illinois, where she designed a sustainability internship with through PLA. She currently volunteers as an Iowa Library Association chair Public Library Form and is the author of Mobile Social Marketing Applications for Librarians, which will be published through Rowan and Littlefield in 2015.