Emerging projects: My experience as an ALA Emerging Leader

Posted on 18 July 2014 at 11:55 am in Career, Musings.

Several people, perhaps considering their own 2015 applications, asked me about my experience as a 2014 American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leader and how I felt the program helped me develop my leadership skills.

This prompted a bit of reflection on my part. I’d say that the line between the Emerging Leaders program and leadership training is actually an indirect one – but that’s a good thing.

There are other opportunities ALA provides – such as the ALA Leadership Institute – more directly focused on traditional leadership training, if that’s what you are interested in. The structure of Emerging Leaders is more in line with another subject I was interested in this year: project management.

Project Management

[A project is] a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result. A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.

– Project Management Institute

My 2014-2015 professional development goals at my place of work included gaining project management skills. My official vehicle for achieving that goal was attending a wonderful CARL preconference session led by California academic librarians Margot Hanson, Annis Lee Adams, Andrew Tweet, and Kevin Pischke. But the convergence of the preconference session and Emerging Leaders was perfect, as the experiences complimented and built on each other. Emerging Leaders gave me the practical opportunity to work on a project team and implement the concepts I learned at the preconference.

Emerging Leaders is structured as a team-based project that checks off all of the definitions of project management: a temporary group activity, designed to produce a product or service, with a defined beginning and end, and a defined scope and resources. Various divisions and roundtables of ALA propose projects. Four-to-six member teams of Emerging Leaders are assembled around those projects and given a discrete deadline (a poster session at ALA Annual) when they reveal their final products.

I was part of Emerging Leaders “Team C,” along with the wonderful Mari Martínez, Annie Pho, and Kyle Denlinger. We were asked by ALCTS, the ALA division for library collections and technical services, to deliver a white paper on social media practices with recommendations for how they can improve their outreach to early-career professionals. Beyond that straightforward request, we could develop the project as we saw fit.

Team C(at) with our project poster. Here we are later with our hair down.

We dealt with several moving parts: we had to investigate social media best practices for professional organizations, analyze how ALCTS is currently using social media, discover how ALCTS members and potential members would like to interact (or not) with ALCTS online, and put everything we learned into a cohesive “white paper” (we actually developed a website) that ALCTS leaders could refer to. The camaraderie we developed kept us accountable to each other, despite not having a traditional “leader” or supervisor. The four of us lived in different areas of the country, and would not actually be in the same room between Midwinter and Annual, making coordination crucial. It made for a perfect little capsule – it was petri dish project management. We had fun and put out a product we believed in.

Emerging Project Managers

I opened with the suggestion that the line between Emerging Leaders and leadership training was indirect, as there is not a special focus on the skills of individual leadership, or advancing into management roles in our professional careers. But I do think project management skills are very applicable to a different kind of leadership needed in our workplaces.

Our work as librarians invariably involves team-oriented, discrete projects: implementing a new service, redesigning a library website, and so on. We often will work on teams with no designated “leader.” To be able to work as a team, with a cohesive plan, without creating unnecessary workplace friction, is a valuable and necessary trait for librarians, and applying the principles of project management can be the key to success. That is the type of leadership we need as a profession moving forward.

I still wouldn’t suggest renaming the program “the ALA Emerging Project Managers.” Emerging Leaders has a better ring to it. And also a ring of truth.

Further reading:

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback by Writing your ALA Emerging Leaders Application | cat lady librarian on July 18, 2014 at 2:01 pm.

    [...] Emerging projects: My experience as an ALA Emerging Leader [...]

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