Writing your ALA Emerging Leaders Application

This past year, I participated in the ALA Emerging Leaders Program. I was on Team C(at) with my super awesome teammates Daniel Ransom, Kyle Denlinger, and Mari Martinez. We worked on a social media project for ALCTS, and wrote a white paper of best practices for their social media. It was a wonderful experience, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with. We went through the IRB process together, designed a survey, and took the most epic cat photo ever.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Emerging Leader’s Program is geared towards LIS professionals and students who have less than 5 years of experience in the field. It’s meant to jumpstart involvement in ALA and give people the chance to work on a project for various divisions. It also gives you the chance to meet other ambitious, early career librarians. If this sounds like something you’d want to do, I highly recommend it! I’ve been getting quite a few emails and questions about the application process so I thought I would take a moment to just say what I thought worked for my application. I can’t say that there is a one-size fits all recipe for a successful application; I really don’t know what the selection committee is looking for except that you need to be in the first 5 years of your career. These tips are just what I thought worked for me, and also what I learned from asking other past Emerged Leaders.

Be succinct in your responses but eloquent. This is so hard to do, but if you can get to the point but also effectively illustrate your point, that’s probably the best route. I’m assuming the selection committee doesn’t want to read through a bunch of text just to get an answer that could be one paragraph. Just to give you an idea, I responded to some of the essay questions with just one paragraph; the longest answer I gave was 3 paragraphs.

Don’t just tell them, show them. Do you have a project at work where you demonstrated leadership? Did you work on a volunteer project that was led by you? If you can refer to a tangible project or effort that you have done either in school, in a volunteer position, or at work, that helps show people what you’re capable of. Sort of the same principle for cover letters. I tried to also make my answers personal and have a narrative too, so my responses wouldn’t be cookie-cutter or incredibly dry.

Reflect on your lifetime experiences. For questions about your own leadership philosophy, you might want to think about what inspires you to be a leader. I have very limited leadership experience in the workplace. I’ve never been a manager or a supervisor, so I had to really reflect on my past experiences to craft my own philosophy of leadership. Prompts that helped me were: what did I think was inspiring in my favorite bosses? what did they do that I would want to emulate in my own leadership? what inspires me to work harder for someone? If you’re not sure of what your philosophy is, reflect on what you think a good leader is and hopefully that’ll get you on the right track on crafting your own philosophy.

Ask good people to be your references. I would not skimp on who you ask to be your reference. I asked someone who has worked with me at my workplace on many projects to be a reference. I also asked a librarian who was a chair of a NMRT committee that I was on, who also was a past Emerging Leader to write me a letter. Both of them are people that I also look up to, so it meant a lot to me that they were willing to recommend me for the program. Consider asking people who can really speak to your leadership potential.

Highlight unique skills. Are you a programmer? Are you a kick-ass project manager? Are you really good at throwing parties? Whatever your unique skills may be, you should absolutely highlight them. This program is about group work (whether you like it or not), so if you can make a point of what great things you can bring to the table, you should!

Get a cheerleader! Bryce wrote a really great blog post on writing an Emerging Leader application and one of her tips was get someone to cheer you on throughout the process. Bryce was my cheerleader! She emailed me a lot of GIFs when the announcements came out. Related to this, reaching out to others who have done the EL program is a good way to figure out if this is something you want to do, and get advice.

For those who are applying to the EL Program, I wish you all the best application writing. You can consider me your cheerleader.

Additional articles/interviews that might yield more information and advice:


Gamification and Digital Badges

ALA Annual is almost here. I’m happy to report that I will be presenting on a panel titled What you need to know about gamifying your library with a lot of talented people. I will also be co-moderating a session on digital badges called Achievement unlocked: Motivating and assessing user learning with digital badges with Nicole Pagowsky and Young Lee. As a big fan of playing video games and having fun, I’m really happy to see so much interest in the idea of game-based learning in the library world, and also in the world of education.

Many people have been throwing the word “gamification” around which basically is defined as using game design elements or game based mechanics in a non-game context. The term itself elicits a variety of responses in people, from excitement and curiosity to confusion or eye-rolling at “just another fad”–you get the point. Additionally, some game developers have ambivalence towards this term. It’s not enough to just assign badges or points to some mindless activity, you must make your engagement with the user meaningful for gamification to be effective. Also, some people make games for a living and find the term gamification to be a sleazy, shallow marketing term to sell products that aren’t necessarily well designed.  For further reading, check out Gabe Zichermann’s article, Gamification has issues, but they aren’t the ones everyone focuses on, for a thoughtful break down of the arguments against gamification.

The reason why I’m even mentioning all this is because a few of the panelists on the gamification panel will also be talking about digital badges. Mozilla sums up badges as “an online representation of a skill you’ve earned.” People can earn badges by completing tasks online or in person, and display them in a social space so others can see what they’ve earned. Digital badges tend to get thrown into the mix of gamifying stuff, but that can be misleading because it doesn’t automatically turn your activities into a game. It’s just a small piece of the larger part of the engagement process that you are undertaking with your target audience. For example, Mozilla recently rolled out their Open Badges project, with plans to incorporate them into a web literacy standard which aims to teach people how to create web content. People can earn badges as they complete projects that teach them html and css. Pretty neat right?

If you are interested in the nitty gritty details of how libraries are using digital badges, the instructional design, how to get the tech set up, or have a project you want to share, you should come to the digital badge session on Sunday, June 30, 2013 – 9:15am to 10:00am in Room S102d. We’re looking forward to hearing from others who are working on digital badge systems or just want to learn more about it.

As a proponent of active learning, I highly suggest you check out the Open Badges tutorial on Earning Your First Badge, and set up an account on the Mozilla Backpack which serves as the display board for all the digital badges you will end up earning. Hint: you could earn a badge at the session, come and find out how! If you can’t make it to ALA or to the digital badge session, you can follow the conversation on twitter with the hashtag #ALABadge.

Want to learn more about libraries and games? Check out:

Voting on ALA’s Dues Increase Proposal: Yes or No?

There’s been plenty of buzz around libraryland about the ALA elections in the past couple of months. Yesterday, I finally got my ballot and have given much thought as to who I wanted to vote for, for ALA President (Go Courtney!) and also ALA Councillors At Large (another debate on the number of At-Large Councillors rages somewhere on Facebook). When I opened up the ballot to vote, the first proposal made me pause. It says:


Should ALA establish a five-year personal dues adjustment mechanism not to exceed the percentage change in the national average Consumer Price Index (CPI) beginning in September 2013 running through September 2017?”

After doing some close reading, I believe this is a vote on the process of how the ALA  executive board reviews membership dues. If the amount were to be above the CPI average, then Council would vote on it, as well as membership. Increase in dues is inevitable, so right now we are voting on the process of how it’s done (correct me if I read this wrong).

I tweeted my question to get input from the public and got a huge variety of responses about this potential “personal dues adjustment”. Typically, the knee-jerk reaction to anything that talks about a dues increase is to vote no, but I wanted to hear from others on how they felt. I’ll try my best to sum up the different points that people made.

How would that money be used?

Someone had commented that as much as ALA has tried to do for the profession, it was the staff that bore the brunt of the burden. The ALA staff are pretty great, and the people I’ve worked with directly from ALA have been so supportive of the work that we do as librarians. I really value that and an increase might allow them to do more. To help justify this, the proposal states “This dues adjustment mechanism will allow ALA to augment valuable work on its many ALA 2015 strategic initiatives including library advocacy, federal legislation, intellectual freedom, diversity, digital content, community engagement, online continuing education, and member engagement..”

Can the average librarian afford that?

My initial concern of tying due increases to CPI, is that the CPI may not accurately reflect increases in a librarian’s salary. I had a lively discussion with fellow librarians about the benefits and disadvantages of this. One benefit is that the increases would be fairly low amounts, maybe a few dollars a year over the next five years, instead of a large jump all at once. The dues are also tied to CPI, vs. an arbitrary number which makes the amount in increase tied to a realistic standard of living.

But I also heard anecdotes about how rare it was for a librarian to get a raise, or even find an entry-level job; which makes it harder for people to vote yes on something like this. Eric Phetteplace found some statistics from the Current Population Survey which he put in a google doc. Why the sudden 13% increase in salary from 2011-2012? No one could really tell. Is that accurate? The data says one thing, but people are saying they haven’t gotten raises in a long time. The cost of ALA currently is already a strain on some people, so an increase of any kind causes more financial stress.

Increasing dues would turn away new and current members

ALA needs membership to function. We make up many of the committees through ALA, we pay for conferences, workshops, classes, and membership. If there weren’t people, ALA wouldn’t exist. An increase could turn new members and current members away. Many questioned if they get enough in return for what they pay.

Why even be a member of ALA?

Several people mentioned to me that they have dropped membership completely because they felt that they didn’t get enough in return. Some are working outside of the field, and so they don’t see how being a member would help them. Others are questioning their own involvement in the organization. How much is participating in committee work really going to benefit their home institution or even ALA? Can someone benefit from the networking aspects of conferences without actually being an ALA member? These are all valid questions, some I have even asked myself as a newer librarian.

The question of why someone should belong to ALA, really translates to the value ALA has for our profession. ALA will continue its work as long as it has members. Abby Johnson wrote a great post called “ALA is Not Your Mom” a couple years ago and I think it’s still relevant as discussions around this ballot proposal arise. Getting involved helps the organization to change, but I think it’s hard to even see what difference one committee member can make sometimes. ALA is a big organization, any change that one person can try to make can take a long time. Sometimes, we just don’t have that time.

My Thoughts

I do see value in the work that ALA does for librarianship. They represent our issues on a national level and hopefully stand up for our work. I know that I’ve had a few opportunities that have helped to advance my career, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of ALA. For example, last year I was able to propose and moderate a Conversation Starter at the ALA Annual Conference. Having any opportunity to present your work on a national level is pretty great for your career in my book. Also, Jenny Levine and Tina Coleman at ALA has been very supportive of the Hack Library School blog, and has worked with us on hosting events at conferences, and helping us promote things. Seriously, that means a lot to have people who care about your projects and want to help you spread the word.

The reason why I ask these questions is because not everyone has an employer who provides financial support for professional development. I’m actually very, very lucky that my work does support this, so voting yes wouldn’t hurt my pocket as much personally, but I empathize with those who pay for membership themselves. It’s not cheap once you start adding in other divisions and round tables. We all come from different libraries with different working environments. Being involved is going to mean different things to people.

I’m obviously flip flopping between this issue, although after doing much thinking, I’m going to vote yes. However, I’d be interested to hear what others think of this ballot proposal. Did you vote on it? Are you even a member?

Further reading:

ALA Council approves dues adjustment proposal