Why I am not applying for ALA’s Leadership Program

September 10, 2006, 11:31 am

Several people have asked if I was applying for ALA’s Emerging Leaders Program .


The problem with library ‘leadership’ is that there is too much echo. Too much conversion. That’s the problem with climbing the ladder; you adopt the credentials of those before you and essentially become a clone. The “this is what libraries should be!” mentality.

It’s cool if you’re into it. No disrespect. I just don’t want to be part of that clique. Besides, look at the credentials to attend:

  1. ALA member, and
  2. Young (under 35 years) or new librarians of any age with fewer than 5 years post-MLS experience, and
  3. Recent MLS degree from an ALA or NCATE accredited program or in an MLS program currently, and
  4. Able to attend both ALA conferences and work virtually in between, and
  5. Ready to commit to serve on an ALA , Division, Chapter, or Round Table committee, taskforce or workgroup upon completion of program

Basically, a new librarian, who pays membership fees, can afford to attend a handful of conferences, and is willing to volunteer for committee work.

Where is the leadership potential there? Seems to me ALA is just looking to bring the Next Gen folks into the loop: You’re special, we’re letting you into the club. You will be the future leaders! It’s up to you to save the profession. And sure, there is a lot of bureaucracy, but you’re on the inside now. Ok, please pay your fees and attend our conferences because that’s what good leaders do.

No thanks.

I would be much more interested if it was ALA ‘s Innovators Program. Have each person submit a ‘realistic’ idea, something that could be implemented in a year for less than $500. Then bring together the top 30 candidates to discuss principles of entrepreneurialism and project management. Bring in some good speakers from within and outside the profession. Then have ALA fund the projects, yes, you know, actually give back to the membership, and package the ideas and release them for free to the library community. If you offered something like that, then I would apply.

That’s right Leslie , if you really want to transform libraries, it starts with generating new ideas, rather than zombie-fing the next generation. Help us create and implement something meaningful and then let us tell others about it. Strive for building enthusiasm and innovation, rather than encouraging cardboard cut outs of ideal leaders. We gain leadership through experience, not attending ALA conferences and reading books like this .

Updated 9/12/2006

Ok, maybe those Doom & Gloom articles got to me? Maybe I took it too far with Zombies. My point is that when you attempt to create a community of leadership, it feels contrived. I understand that there is concern about the future and it’s nice that ALA has succession plans in the works, but my first impression when I read the announcement was that it was manufactured. It made me think of the Wal-Mart Manager’s brainwashing seminars.

I know that change has to come from within. I know it’s easy to be against something. I also know a handful of people applying for the program. I wish them luck and will be interested to hear about the experience, unless of course you have to take an oath of secrecy. Here are some leadership principles to get you started: vision, ethics & integrity, service orientation, communication skills, self-awareness, teamwork in diverse groups (Osher & Ward) Have fun!

Final thoughts on the topic: I feel that ‘new’ librarians should focus on gaining experience their first 5 years and then in years 5 – 10 shift toward leadership and management. The best coaches are players first, ya know?

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