When I started at the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University (ESU), I was a Graduate Teaching Assistant at Emporia High School Library. I began with the cohort in Overland Park in January 2014. I remember being excited to start this new adventure in a new town with the prospects of a new career before me.
After a semester at Emporia High School Library, I became a Graduate Administrative Assistant with SLIM working primarily in records at the front desk. In my last semester, I transferred to a Graduate Research Assistant position with Dr. Sarah Sutton, and today we are still research colleagues working together on a couple of studies that examine the awareness and usage of research impact indicators among LIS professionals. All my GA roles have shaped me positively in their own way, and I have become a more professional and organized individual as a result.
I began serving the Student Chapter of the American Library Association (SCALA) at ESU in January 2015 as the Vice President. I remember being slightly apprehensive about being in a leadership role. Why would people want to listen to me? What do I have to contribute?
It turns out that I had a lot to contribute. After serving as the Vice President for that spring, I served as President until I graduated in December 2015. Without getting into all the coordination and organization details or reporting a laundry list of accomplishments, I will describe what I experienced during my time as President and Vice President of SCALA.
First of all, though I’ve had experience in the past as a supervisor and a teacher, this was a completely different experience. I got to know a lot of different people in the program and outside the program by becoming involved in SCALA. For me, the networking and communication aspects of SCALA were the most beneficial aspects.
I think the most challenging aspect of serving SCALA was the distance aspect of the SLIM program. SCALA officers are responsible for reaching out to students in the program to get them involved, offer professional development opportunities, and organize networking events. And while SCALA tries to take advantage of the weekend classes for face-to-face networking, I found that it was a challenge to balance the organizational side of a SCALA weekend class lunch, for example, while also reserving time and energy for speaking to students and talking about opportunities within SLIM, SCALA, and beyond.
As far as online interaction and outreach, it also had its challenges. Don’t get me wrong – I sent emails. A lot of emails. I sent them through the program directors at all regional locations and liaised with our representatives in those locations, but emails are difficult to personalize. I also used the SCALA website and social media for online outreach.
I had to also take the responsibilities in stride and understand that people are busy. Many students in the SLIM program are working full time jobs (or what I consider to be “full-time-jobs-plus-some”), are raising children, and trying to keep up with all the school work of a Master’s program. It could also be challenging to organize meetings with all the SCALA officers and representatives, with everyone living in different cities and states, but somehow, we always made it work.
SCALA helped me become more interactive and outgoing. I’m not necessarily shy, but I’m a bit more on the introverted side, like a great many librarians. Interestingly, as I became more involved with SCALA, my Myers-Briggs personality test results went from INFJ to ENTJ, and now it’s sort of swung back to INFJ. I was forced to be more outgoing and talkative, and like a chameleon, I convinced my internal self that I was extraverted! To be fair, I am somewhat balanced on the extraverted/introverted aspect, but nevertheless, the test swung much stronger towards extraverted while I was involved in SCALA.
I also became more innovative while I was in SCALA. I started trying to find unique ways of outreach and communication. For example, I helped start the SCALA Twitter chat events, in which students follow a hashtag during a specified hour and discuss specific topics related to the LIS profession. (Thanks to Dr. Robin Kurz for this idea.) These Twitter chats were in their initial stages when I graduated, but I think they helped bring people together.
Outreach and coordination aside, I think it is also challenging to develop a sense of community within any distance education program. I was hard on myself when I was the Vice President and especially when I was the President. I kept thinking, “I can do better. We should be able to reach more people and make more of an impact.” However I looked at it, I wasn’t successful, but looking back, I can clearly see what I’ve accomplished despite all the obvious challenges.
I was happy that I got to experience a leadership role in SCALA, because it definitely helped prep me for a career in academic libraries, where I often serve on multiple committees and task forces at once. It is not as though I sit down at my desk every day and open all projects I have going on like a maniac. I don’t “multitask.” What I’ve learned to do, and what involvement in multiple groups and projects has taught me, is to become better organized, prioritize tasks, set deadlines, and communicate, communicate, communicate to everyone around me.
Trust me, involvement in SCALA, especially in an officer role, will also help for those entering the field in school, public, and special libraries. Honestly, if it had not been for my involvement in SCALA, as well as my involvement in the Student Ambassadors program with the Special Library Association, I would not have been as prepared for my role as a Digital Scholarship Librarian at Kansas State University. And, who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have landed this job at all without my SCALA involvement and leadership roles.