My Emerging Leaders application

I was thrilled to find out yesterday that the American Library Association selected me as an “Emerging Leader” for 2015. Still waiting for the official announcement to share on my library school’s website, but I wanted to share some parts of my application, since I would have felt more confident that I was on the right track had past participants posted theirs. I’ve taken out a couple of paragraphs that were a little personal.

(Quick note: I don’t post my CV online, but I think this worked pretty well in conjunction with it. If you’re applying to Emerging Leaders, I’ll send you all my materials and look over your work if you’d like.)

Thanks to everyone who looked this over for me, especially my professors David Shumaker and Nathan Putnam (Emerged Leader), and to the fine folks who helped round out my package with what I’m sure were stellar recommendations (shout out to my boss for supporting me in this endeavor after knowing me for about 2 weeks). Thanks also to the ALATT people who have been ridiculously supportive in helping me brainstorm how I’m going to get the money to pay for my airfare to Chicago and San Francisco. It was exciting to hear from 2 other Emerging Leaders so far on twitter/FB, can’t wait to meet the rest of our cohort!

By the way, the divisions I applied to for sponsorship were: ALCTS, ALSC, LLAMA, LITA, PLA, RUSA, YALSA. If you’re involved with any of these and can tell me about other potential sources of funding, I’d appreciate it. Because I’m a serial complainer, here is a quick outline of my downer thoughts: I’m less than pleased that we’re being charged for registration to the meetings – it seems like ALA should waive the registration fee as a courtesy to applicants who didn’t receive $1000 from a division. The notification should also be done sooner – we applied in July and an earlier announcement would have given me time to apply to other funding sources without feeling like I was potentially taking an opportunity from someone else. Also, I think ALA needs to revisit how people are selected: I’m inclined to think that all sponsored slots should be reserved for minorities, or that people who are located in the city where a meeting is happening that year should only be eligible for a partial financial award. And, I think when practicable, applicants from an institution that hasn’t had an Emerging Leader sponsored recently should take precedence. I feel kind of unwanted by the sections that I applied to for sponsorship – maybe a solution would be to make the award amount to sponsor an Emerging Leader smaller so that everyone can receive the same financial benefit?

On a more positive note: RUSA gives out free student memberships, and that’s pretty cool. I encourage people to take advantage of this – it’s really painless and I’m really digging the MARS reviews of reference tracking software. It meant a lot to me to feel supported in this small way and I’ll definitely pay it forward when I graduate and have some money again!

Anyway, here goes:

Please describe your leadership, community, civic, and volunteer experiences:

I was an active Girl Scout from ages 6-15, so that should tell you a little bit about my propensity for do-gooderism. I’ve taught Sunday school nearly every year since 9th grade, and have likewise been a regular volunteer at food pantries. In high school, I was on yearbook and was president of the student body. I don’t generally talk about high school on professional applications, but my experience in student government is directly related to my current career path and illustrates my long-term engagement with creating learning communities. There are two accomplishments that give a snapshot of my leadership approach. First, I created a school-wide Blackboard course that we used to gather student feedback using Blackboard’s Discussion Board feature. The success of this initiative was such that the student government continued to use Blackboard after my graduation, and I’m currently in discussions with my university’s Special Libraries Association chapter and the dean of the library science department to create a Blackboard course for all students in our department. My second initiative was to award surplus student government money to student groups in a competitive “grant” process. I created a form that students used to propose special programs or equipment, and assembled a panel of student reviewers. This panel invited promising proposal writers to present their projects, and subsequently voted on which projects to fund. We also brought particularly innovative projects to the Parent Teacher Association and were able to secure matching funds on several occasions. This program has continued for nearly 10 years and continues to provide students with opportunities to practice grantwriting and public speaking.

I’ve stayed involved with my high school after graduating. As an alumni, I volunteered to plan my class’s 5-year reunion. I worked with a close friend from across the country, collaborating over email and Google spreadsheets to organize the most successful 5-year reunion to date. We had over 150 people out of a class of just over 400 attend, managed to raise several thousand dollars (enough to pay for a private venue that allowed us to bring in our own liquor to stock an open bar) and made a $500 profit.  I think this experience would translate closely to the kinds of remote projects that Emerging Leaders work on.

I worked to put myself through college, so my extracurricular activities were limited to the student newspaper, where I was a paid contributor and eventually, the first in-house staff researcher. I’ve continued to explore my journalistic bent as a staff writer for Asian Fortune, a magazine focusing on DC’s pan-Asian community and I’ve built on my fundraising skills through volunteer work for various community organizations.

I have consistently demonstrated my leadership skills on the job. During my 2 years on staff at a church in Portland’s most diverse neighborhood, I organized focus groups and conducted research to identify the needs of young families at my church. Because of my focused listening sessions, I was able to receive a line item in the parish budget to hire a childcare provider during our most attended service. Next, I raised money and coordinated volunteers build a brand-new Montessori classroom. In the process, I doubled the number of volunteers active with our program and recruited several new families into the church. This included generating in-kind donations as well as formal grants. While I was a staff member, I also completed 20 hours of training for community organizers through the Industrial Areas Foundation. The IAF is a national community organizing network that is notable for its work with congregations. Although the network does not provide direct services, it provides an opportunity for community leaders from different organizations to work with one another to identify common goals. The organization has supported the creation of workforce development and affordable housing programs. Through this training, I learned how to conduct “relational meetings” with people. These are one-on-one conversations that build rapport between leaders and members of their communities. This formal training has taught me how to listen without an agenda, and how to tap into the passions and interests of individuals to forge a stronger community.

My biggest achievement as an undergraduate was receiving a fellowship from the National Science Foundation to conduct applied social science research at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. To my knowledge, I’m among the first recipients of a social science fellowship. I stepped into a leadership role on this project, taking responsibility for the IRB process and independently designing and training staff to conduct surveys. I also put together a proposal for a Hispanic community advisory panel, and modeled new statistics techniques for the department.

I am demonstrating my leadership capabilities now as the youngest person on the administrative staff of a major urban library system. As the “Data Analyst” for the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System, I’m creating a new position from scratch (this seems to be a recurring theme in my career) that blends my analytic and grantwriting skills.

Please describe your philosophy of effective leadership:

My philosophy of effective leadership has been influenced by my leadership training with the Industrial Areas Foundation. This training, and my subsequent readings of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, has helped me to understand that an effective leader ultimately empowers others. The other lesson I took from Alinsky is that leadership is ultimately about building relationships. In a nutshell, I believe that effective leadership boils down to creating effective relationships with a variety of people in order to motivate them towards contributing to a shared goal. This training helped me organize young parents at my church to advocate for a nursery and for changes to the format of our religious education programs (see my discussion of my Montessori classroom project under my “Leadership, community, civic, and volunteer experiences” section).

[paragraph about my observations of the culture at my current job – all positive things, natch, but I don’t like putting things about current jobs in writing. My system is hiring! Check out our opportunities here and please contact me if you are interested so that I can help you apply!]

This kind of strategic planning addresses another facet of my philosophy of effective leadership: vision. Effective leaders have a plan, are able to clearly articulate how each person in their line of responsibility fits into the plan, and persuade their employees of the value and sense of the chosen course.

Good leaders have plans and visions based on the needs of the people they are ultimately serving. I think this is accomplished by creating a culture of feedback by employees and patrons, and by ensuring that there is enough diversity among staff to prevent an echo chamber.

My personal leadership style is based on consistent evaluation. I think that clear, measurable outcomes need to be built into each new initiative. Because of my work as a museum evaluator, I’ve seen opportunities to measure learner outcomes in many settings. I’m particularly sensitive to how the emerging field of evaluating “informal learning” can be used to make a case for the continued value of public libraries in promoting literacy and lifelong learning.

At the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, my focus groups and surveys informed my proposal for the museum to create a formal “beta tester” program specifically for Hispanic families. The museum was able to continue a long-term relationship with families that I recruited for a short-term study, turning them into “OMSI Ambassadors” within their respective communities. It’s not enough to use data to drive programming: instead, responsive programming like the OMSI Ambassadors program should move our institutions towards being more culturally inclusive gathering places. As an emerging professional with a knack for grantwriting, I always see initiatives like these as potential stories to present to grantmakers. I know how to use data to move an organization towards its ultimate goals, and I know how to structure new activities in order to generate data for external funders.

How would you bring diversity to the next class of Emerging Leaders? You may consider any form of diversity:

[Snarky aside: I hope someone actually wrote ‘white male’ on here, because I’m pretty disappointed that I wasn’t sponsored and someone seeing that as ‘diversity’ is really the only explanation I can think of if there were ANY white people who were sponsored. Fortunately, most of the folks I’ve seen on twitter who are sponsored seem to be fellow POC, so I can’t hate.] Anyway, I don’t want to share my personal diversity statement here, but if you want to read more about my own diversity, you can read an op-ed I wrote about my experiences as a “twice exceptional” minority here. Here’s the rest of my essay:

My professional background in statistics and formal research should bring a diverse skill set to the cohort. I don’t know anyone else in my program who has applied for Emerging Leaders while still in library school, so I think the fact that I am still completing my coursework is another form of diversity. If I am selected, I think it would encourage other young professionals from my region to apply – I was surprised to see that there were no Emerging Leaders from DC or Maryland in last year’s class. I work in a majority African-American county and I’m proud to be a person of color serving such a diverse constituency.

A past participant told me that many applicants for the Emerging Leaders program work in public services, so I want to stress my technical services background. I have a broad background due to my work experience in special libraries and the National Archives, where I focused largely on digital projects.

How do you think participation in the Emerging Leaders program will affect your leadership abilities?

I’ve been interested in ALA since my first library job as a page. I read Public Libraries religiously and follow all the annual meetings on Twitter. There is no funding at my system for me to attend ALA, and this seems like the best way for me to enter the Association since I will have a structured cohort to prepare me for committee work in the future. ALA is huge and the structures are difficult to navigate – I’m a positive investment for the program because once I understand the various hierarchies of ALA, I’ll be able to shepherd my peers into the organization (I’ve already recruited a library school classmate to serve on a DC chapter committee with me).

I think serving on an ALA committee will absolutely help me develop my leadership abilities. [more stuff about my job] I think working within ALA will help me get perspective that I might otherwise lack because of my immediate transition from library school to library administration.

This will help me achieve my philosophy of effective leadership by ensuring that I have the perspective I need to chart a course of action based on the needs of public services staff.

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