A First-timer Experience at ALA Midwinter (by Jon Grass)

A First-timer Experience at ALA Midwinter (by Jon Grass)

This winter I attended my first national ALA event, the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston.  As a student, it seemed as though the Midwinter Meeting was perhaps not the best introduction to ALA; the Meeting was a time for committees to meet, not an event full of fun programming and dancing librarian with book carts.  I had my concerns, but I had been fortunate enough to become involved with the campaign of an ALA Presidential candidate —Molly Raphael —so I had a mission and a reason to be there.

In planning my conference activities, I focused primarily on helping with the campaign.  As the Volunteer Table Coordinator, I made an effort to arrange for everything to function smoothly with the campaign table and gave only my second or third thoughts to the rest of the weekend’s schedule.

When I did get around to planning my weekend, I found myself overwhelmed and confused by the Midwinter Meeting Web site.  In addition to being warned that there would be no programming at the meeting, I couldn’t find a calendar of all the events of the week.  I found the Sunrise Speaker series on one page and committee meetings on another.  I could’ve sworn I had read something somewhere about a happy hour for new members, but where?  Meanwhile, my email inbox filled up with emails from a hundred or two vendors who looked forward to seeing me in Boston.

When I got to Midwinter Meeting, I was very glad to be working on the campaign.  Not only was I supporting a candidate I believed in —Molly had been the Director of Libraries at Multnomah County Library for four years when I lived in Portland —but the campaign gave me a purpose for being at the conference.  The campaign table served as a home base for me throughout the week.   When I didn’t have any activities, I handed out flyers or talked with the campaign volunteers at the table.  It was an excellent way to meet established professionals in the field.

I was also very fortunate to have my advisor and former ALA President Loriene Roy eager to take me around to meet my colleagues; without Loriene’s help, I would have had no idea where to go and would not have met nearly as many people as I did during that week.  This is, in fact, the situation in which the few other students I encountered during the week seemed to find themselves.  Where should I go?  What should I do?  There were a few events geared toward new members, but I felt lucky for having even heard about them and I was ultimately unable to attend any of them.

My advice to students planning to attend the Midwinter Meeting in the future would be to:

  1. Get involved with something; create a purpose for yourself.  If not a campaign, contact the leaders of a few round tables or the planners of some events and see if you can help out.  Be clear about why you are there and what you hope to get out of it.
  2. If you have a professor, advisor, employer, or anyone else who is attending Midwinter Meeting and has attended before, ask for help planning your schedule and see if you can spend some time with them during the meeting.

The week was overwhelming as a newbie and people were there to get down to business.  So if you’re a student attendee, find yourself some business and someone one to join.  My hopes are that in the ALA will focus on increasing student attendance and involvement in the Midwinter Meeting in the future.  For students, the meeting is a great introduction to the field, a good way to meet colleagues, and an excellent opportunity to become engaged with ALA in a significant way.

Vote for Molly!

Ways to Involve Students and New Librarians

Ways to Involve Students and New Librarians in ALA

We need to encourage and inspire library students and new librarians to join ALA and participate in its activities.  When I was a library student at Simmons, the Dean, Tom Galvin, emphasized the importance of service to the profession through ALA.  He introduced me to ALA, and I credit him as a major influence in my decision to join ALA early in my career and become active immediately.  Today, we have 58 ALA Student Chapters, providing a way for people new to the profession to become involved even before they receive their degrees.  http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/affiliates/chapters/student/studentchapters1.cfm – contact

My first experience in this campaign with a MLIS student was Jim Holmes, who works at the Reed College Library here in Portland and is a student in the Emporia State Program.  Jim volunteered to set up my website and did a fabulous job.  A thank you to him is posted separately.  Jim encouraged me to get in touch with other Emporia students, and I am delighted to say that a couple of them will be helping me at the Public Library Association Conference here in Portland later this month.

As a presidential candidate at Midwinter 2010, I thought perhaps I could involve students and new librarians in ALA in unusual, if not unique, ways.

Since I knew I would be making presentations to 40 ALA bodies during the conference, I thought students and new librarians could take advantage of an opportunity to accompany me to my appointments.  Two Simmons students and one (relatively) new librarian from Utah signed up for “the tour” of ALA.   They witnessed the work of a broad range of divisions, committees, roundtables, and caucuses in a first-hand manner that would not have been possible otherwise.  They learned of the broad range of fields in the profession and units within ALA to which they could offer service.  I also learned from them, as they recounted their observations while we walked from meeting to meeting.

I also needed to staff a campaign table throughout the conference.  I thought this would be an opportunity, not only to provide students and new librarians with campaign experience, but to staff the table with one senior librarian and one student or new librarian for each hour.  At times, we were able to accomplish this mentoring team arrangement.  ALA Past President Professor Loriene Roy was instrumental in recruiting Jon Grass, one of her students at the University of Texas iSchool, to coordinate the staffing of the campaign table.  Loriene cranked out over 100 emails to recruit volunteers, and Jon did a terrific job managing and maintaining the staffing schedule.  They were the model mentor and student duo that we sought to replicate in the two-person teams assigned to cover the campaign table during the conference.

After the conference, I met with a group of students and faculty at Simmons to discuss current issues in the profession, the role of ALA and its components in the profession and in society, and the importance and benefits of service to the profession afforded through active ALA membership.

Finally, I asked Jon Grass to write a post for this blog about his experiences at Midwinter that could be shared with a wider audience, particularly fellow library students.  So, in the next post for this blog, you’ll find his thoughts.  For the more “seasoned” readers of this blog, I can’t resist saying …”H-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-rs, Jonny!”

Midwinter 2010 in Boston

Midwinter 2010 in Boston

Midwinter 2010 was unlike any other of the 35 previous ones I had attended.  As a candidate for ALA president, my time was fully booked.   In less than four days, I attended 40 meetings, virtually all of which required me to make a presentation.  There was no time for visiting with friends and colleagues over lunch or dinner.  Midwinter for a presidential candidate has become a time for presenting one’s platform and qualifications to boards, committees, roundtables, and caucuses.   For me, these meetings also provided an opportunity to hear from ALA members about their concerns and their expectations for the next president’s priorities in office.

It was gratifying to develop a platform (http://mollyraphael.org/) before going to Midwinter and then hear ideas and concerns that were consistent with the themes reflected in my platform.  In visiting with so many division boards, round tables, committees, and caucuses, I found that my presidential initiatives based on my campaign themes will serve very well as extensions of the priorities expressed by ALA members at these sessions.

For example, Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has hired a consultant to undertake a study about the value of academic libraries to their parent institution (http://www.ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pressreleases2010/january2010/researcher_acrl.cfm), research that relates directly to my particular platform focus on advocacy and our need to enhance and publicize the research that shows that libraries are essential for learning.  Another example related to my advocacy focus can be found in the work of such groups as Association for Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF) as well as the recently established ALA Committee on Library Advocacy and the Office for Library Advocacy.

The only “scripted” event was the one-hour candidates’ forum on Saturday morning with the two presidential and two treasurer candidates.  We each gave opening remarks, then responded to questions posed by members in the audience, and finally each offered closing remarks.  You can watch that event a this link:


What were the benefits of this grueling, four-day schedule?  For many parts of ALA’s current leadership, there was the opportunity to learn about candidates’ backgrounds, contributions to ALA and the library world, and proposed platform and priorities as ALA president.  As an ALA presidential candidate, I had the opportunity to reconnect directly with many, many parts of the association and to hear directly from members about heir concerns.  In addition, I actually had fun, listening to questions and responding.  In one case, I almost felt I was going through a job interview, which, in some ways, I guess I was.

When I finished the 40 meetings, which began at 11 am on Friday, and ended at 4 pm on Monday, I was exhausted, invigorated, grateful, and ready to plan the next few months.  It is an honor to run for ALA president in so many ways.  Having the opportunity to be a candidate means that I can put all that I have learned over the past 40 years as a librarian and active ALA member to work for an organization that I know can make a difference for the future of libraries and library workers.

Our collective voice, expressed through ALA, is particularly important in these tough financial times.  I urge you to vote when you receive your electronic ballot in mid-March.  The stakes are high, and your voice needs to be heard.

Thanks, to Jim Holmes

This website would not exist without the hard work of Jim Holmes, Instructional Media Center Manager at the Reed College Library.  He volunteered to build this website and has donated dozens of hours of his personal time to that end.   Despite the demands of a full-time job and pursuit of an MLS degree at Emporia State University, Jim has met impossible deadlines and countless additional requests for revisions and “just one more design tweak” with unflagging good cheer.  I am grateful for his generosity, skill, and dedication.

Thanks also to Vickie Hanawalt, Director of the Reed College Library, for facilitating my search for a volunteer website developer and for providing meeting facilities.