Working ALA – The Student-to-Staff Program

The ALA Student-To-Staff program is open to currently enrolled students who are members of their student ALA chapters. Only one student per school may participate and there are only forty slots available in the program. School representatives are selected on a first-come, first-served basis (so watch for the announcement like a hawk!). More information about the program can be found on its website.

Each school has a different selection process for determining its Student-to-Staff representative. Some schools require a formal application, which is then reviewed by a scholarship committee. Other schools choose their representative through random drawings or essay contests. Still others select from among their chapter officers. At many schools, the faculty advisor to the student chapter must send in the official notice of the selected representative to Don Wood, the program director.  Check with your graduate program to see how it works there — or even to form your own Student Chapter!

As a member of the Student-to-Staff program, involvement is initially focused on communicating with other participants. Information is distributed through the email listserv and Facebook group. Each member is responsible for contacting and keeping in touch with their assigned ALA unit (with additional help from the program director, Don Wood, who is AMAZING!).

This year, in the weeks before the convention, everyone connected with their roommate on Facebook/Twitter, etc. Together, we coordinated group arrivals and departures using a Google spreadsheet and planned a few other fun social events, such as a dinner meet-up on the first night of the convention.

Once at the convention, each member’s responsibility is to fulfill their duties with their unit and then soak up the magnificence of the convention through events, lectures, programs, signings, and parties. Here’s a summary of each of our experiences:

 Amanda: I had an email correspondence with the director of my group– Office of Information Technology Policy (OITP)– about my duties. I got lost twice trying to attend meetings since the hotels sent me off to another of their locations. My main duties were to haul materials between rooms to hand out for sessions that OITP wanted to have a presence at and to take notes at other meetings. The OITP meetings were fascinating and I wanted to step in and offer a new professional’s perspective to all these library directors and important people. Instead I kept quiet and indicated my ideas through the use of italics on my notes.

The most embarrassing but thrilling part was when the OITP director personally introduced me to several important speakers. Before my OITP person arrived to one meeting, Karen Starr, LITA’s President, came over to chat me up. She also told me that LITA really wants new librarians to be part of their offices. Overall, the experience was rewarding. We spend a lot of time in library school talking about abstract topics, but to hear professionals–ones high up the ladder–discussing real world challenges and how we can meet the every day employment, education, and community needs of our users really brought home the importance of our profession to me.

Eliza: The ALA Conference is an amazing but overwhelming experience. So to avoid total brain-drain, I approached the conference committed to learn a little something and to have a little fun. My unit, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), did not disappoint on either front. As YALSA’s mission is focused on providing teens with the best resources and tools, my work at Annual revolved around setting-up panels and programs to educate YA librarians (and then staying for the learning experience!). But set-up usually included greeting a program’s “dignitaries,” which very often meant meeting YA authors and experts. It was incredibly gratifying to meet these people as everyone was incredibly upbeat and passionate for their work; many said that their relationships with teens and librarians were driving forces behind their careers. I believe this feedback loop between librarians, authors, and YA experts will prove essential for maintaining positivity and forward moment during this distressing period for libraries.

One of the most tantalizing incidents with an author occurred when I asked Lauren Myracle why her hair was sparkling at a morning event. She eagerly explained that she had “glimmers” in her hair—essentially tinsel for hair. Then she proudly stated that if I found her later, she would put the glimmers in my hair. I did indeed find her lately and she happily fixed a glimmer to my hair! But better than the sheer cool factor of meeting celebrities was connecting with active, excited, engaged young adult librarians. Library school can all to often feel like a vacuum and these contacts are essential to finding your footing as a professional. I was able to share my fears and enthusiasm with a great many of my colleagues and I know I am stronger having done so.

Jenny: The conference would have been overwhelming without the built-in network of the other Student-to-Staffers. It was helpful to have this group of people who could all help each other out, both with logistics and with recommendations of interesting programs to attend. I had made a schedule for myself beforehand by going through the (immense) conference schedule, but I went to a few panels and other events with S2S friends that I would have missed otherwise.

The highlights of the conference for me were really the programs I got to attend – Sue Gardner’s talk about Wikipedia, Dan Savage’s opening speech, the LITA Tech Trends panel, and two YA panels (one on series, one on book ratings). I was signed up to work with the Public Information Office (PIO), which was paired with the Press Room, so my work hours were spent registering reporters, journalists, and photographers, or handing out pamphlets for the @yourlibrary campaign. The PIO and Press Room staff were incredibly friendly and fun, but I wouldn’t say it was much of a learning experience – I didn’t get to sit in on meetings or sessions about library advocacy or anything of that nature.

John: I was assigned to ALA’s Governance Office: the people who assist the Executive Board and Executive Council in their operations and, from what I can tell, keep ALA up and running. There are thousands of individuals that make ALA happen, but the staff of the Governance Office are steering the ship. Working here gives you an opportunity to see ALA from the top down.

Essentially, it was my responsibility to be present for whatever they needed. This mostly involved being on my feet the entire day and ready to run if something needed to get done quickly. I worked back stage during the opening general session and had the opportunity to meet the Mayor of New Orleans and Dan Savage. I was invited to attend receptions almost every night and had the chance to talk to some of the greatest minds working in our field. For every mundane task I was asked to perform, there was a great conversation waiting for me in return. I could not have asked for a better assignment, for a better group of people to work with than the Governance Office. I would do it again in a heartbeat and cannot recommend it enough.

 Kelly: Before arriving at the conference, I felt quite overwhelmed by the multitude of exciting events, workshops, and panels that filled the online scheduling system.  However, I soon found that the conference became more manageable with the support of the Student-to-Staff program.  The program provided its participants with fellow student-attendees as well as professional connections to offer aid and suggestions about navigating the conference.  I also learned that while making a schedule ahead of time was helpful, being flexible and open to unplanned opportunities was even better.

As a Student-to-Staff intern with the Staff Organization Round Table, I had the unique and exciting opportunity to assist with that group’s primary conference event: walking tours of the historic French Quarter.  For several years, SORT has run walking tours of the hosting city during conference as a fundraising event.  I communicated with my supervisor ahead of time via email and old fashioned snail mail; about two weeks before leaving for New Orleans I checked two well-recommended guidebooks of the city to supplement the basic tour information I received from SORT.  I was nervous about co-leading tours of an unfamiliar place but we walked the route Thursday evening and my first tour the next morning was both successful and enjoyable–despite the heavy humidity and heat!  In addition to my bonus time exploring the French Quarter, I also greatly enjoyed the wonderful programs I attended (such as Dan Savage’s opening speech, a great panel on e-content for school libraries, a session on serving teen parents, and panels addressing young adult and childrens’ series and labeling in books for youth).  Since I am interested in youth services, I found the panels and special events (such as the Young Adult Authors’ Coffee Klatch) that focused on teen services and young adult literature especially exciting.

Lindsay: As a Student-to-Staffer for the Public Library Association, I was asked to monitor several PLA sessions and provide a short report on each program.  In total, I helped at 5 sessions ranging in topics from creating a mobile website to establishing early literacy models.  This role allowed me to put on my host hat and greet attendees with a smile. At the same time, I made sure the presenters had everything they needed for a successful session, including the proper technology setup. With 3 Student-to-Staffers hosting and monitoring, I’m positive that the PLA sessions stood out from the crowd, making attendees feel welcome and presenters feel prepared for anything that might arise. The reporting I did for the sessions will help PLA spread the word to its members, giving them an insider’s look into the issues facing public libraries according to ALA Annual presenters. 

Finally, here are some tips that we recommend if you participate in the program. These, of course, are good things to keep in mind at any conference!

1. Talk to everyone: Introduce yourself to everyone you meet — in programs, in lines, on the bus, in your hotel. Your colleagues are among the friendliest people on earth and putting yourself out there with earn you new friends and a growing professional network. And get to know the other people in the Student-to-Staff program. It’s great to talk to other LIS students from around the country and exchange ideas. People are on different tracks — school libraries, public libraries, academic, special — and have different interests and areas of expertise. Plus, they will be the ones climbing up the library ranks with you in the future so making these connections early can be beneficial down the line. What’s more, students are fun to hang out with!

 2. Take notes and share: Take notes on the events you attend and share them with your program. ALA is an exercise in information overload and you will have trouble remembering that level of detail (direct quotes, references, recommendations, etc.), but you can blog, tweet, or go old-school and write it all down. Just find a way to capture all that data and share it with everyone who wasn’t able to attend the conference.

 3. Volunteer to work overtime: Volunteer to do more than your 16 hours of work and you will open up a world of opportunities. Just showing an interest can get you access to great conversations, behind-the-scenes events, and, often, free food, the latter which is surprisingly important when you completely pack your day with programs, events, and the exhibits floor.

 4. Make sure to have business cards: No matter your employment status at the conference, be ready to share and collect business cards from your fellow librarians. Include the basics of your name, degree/specialty/certification, graduation year, and contact email. The simple exchange of business cards could be pivotal to your future!

Special thanks to all the participants of the Student-to-Staff program for additional contributions to this article.

Author Bios:

Jenny Arch worked at a literary agency before returning to school for her MLIS at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College. She will graduate in December 2011, and is interested in technology and usability. She blogs at

Lindsay Cummings is a recent MSLIS graduate from the iSchool at Drexel University. She is an aspiring youth services librarian, loves kid/YA literature, and tweets at

Kelly Dickinson: Kelly has just completed her MLIS at the iSchool at the University of Pittsburgh and, starting in August, she will be the assistant librarian at the National Cathedral School for Girls in Washington, DC.  She blogs about young adult literature and teen services at and tweets at

Eliza Farrell is a recent MLS graduate from St. John’s University. She focused her studies on serving youths and school media but is now working as an embedded librarian within the federal government. She hopes to find time to pick up blogging again at

Amanda Goodman: Amanda is the User Experience Librarian at the Darien [Public] Library in Darien, CT. She was a MLIS student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She can be found on Twitter at

John M. Jackson: John is an MLIS student at San Jose State University and a cataloger at the University of Southern California. He blogs at and tweets at

10 replies

  1. Excellent resource! I was a Student-to-Staff rep for my chapter at ALA 10 (in D.C.) and it was all-caps AMAZING. Like all of you mentioned, I was so appreciative of how eager library leaders were to have my perspective. It really informed my last year of library school, and reinforced my commitment to being involved in ALA and my local library association.


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