Reflections on the ARL Leadership Symposium

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go to Chicago to attend the Association of Research Libraries Leadership Symposium. It has taken me a while to process all the learning that took place there, and quite honestly, I’m still working on it, but I wanted to share some of my experiences with the HLS family.

First, I would be remiss if I failed to encourage all of you to apply for any and every opportunity that speaks to you! I was able to attend this program as a member of the ARL Career Enhancement Program, which is a diversity initiative designed to jump-start the careers of MLIS students from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups. If I had fallen prey to the dreaded impostor syndrome and neglected to apply, I wouldn’t have been able to attend this program, meet all the wonderful people there, and get some really great information about hiring, scholarship, and the state of diversity in research libraries. So really, y’all, apply! It can’t hurt.

Now, since this wouldn’t be one of my posts if there weren’t a list in it, here we go:

  1. I learned that I really can live somewhere cold. It may sound silly, but I was very worried about going to Chicago in the middle of winter. I’ve always lived in sunny, temperate Georgia, and when it snows here, the whole state shuts down. (And honestly, that’s only a moderate exaggeration.) But as I went on an hour-long walking tour of Chicago in my heavy coat and gloves, I found myself thinking, this isn’t so bad. It’s important not to confuse unfamiliar with bad—you might miss out on new and invigorating experiences. Plus, snow is really beautiful.
  1. I built on what I’ve learned in school. Regardless of where you go to library school, you won’t be able to learn everything there is to know about libraries, especially when it comes to current issues. From the discussions about emerging roles in the profession, I was able to fill some gaps in my library knowledge and better understand what job ads really mean. There are so many acronyms in libraryland—you’ve got ARL, ALA, OER, OA, IA, CBIR, RDA…the list goes on and on. And when you see this stuff in job ads, you think that you can’t do the job because you’re not familiar with the terminology, and that’s false. For instance, I had never heard of Open Educational Resources before attending the symposium, but I was very familiar with and passionate about the principles behind these resources, namely access, teaching, and learning. Unfamiliar shouldn’t be confused with unattainable, either.
  1. I met other people like me. And that’s HUGE. At this symposium, I was I able to sit in a room that looked the way I think academia should look, a room that actually looked diverse to me. I’m so used to being the diversity in the room that it was really amazing to be in a room filled with library people of so many different ethnicities and races. It’s nice not to stand out because of my color. Also, everyone there was really talented and smart and deserving, and that’s an important message to remember. Diversity programs aren’t about “giving someone a shot;” they’re about bringing talented professionals together and building a community that will support them throughout their careers. In keeping with my theme about the unfamiliar, I realized that this group of strangers felt very familiar to me, both in the sense of having known them before and in the sense of being like a family. Sometimes, the unfamiliar isn’t unfamiliar at all. Sometimes, it’s just what you’ve been looking for.

You’ll notice that everything I’ve mentioned about the symposium has been very general, and that’s on purpose. This symposium has to be experienced—it can’t easily be summarized in a blog post. But if you have any specific questions or if any fellow Fellows would like to chime in, feel free to chat with me in the comments below or on Twitter @iamandahope.

6 replies

  1. Amanda, thanks for writing this. Especially feeling your point about the unfamiliar v. the unattainable, which also speaks to how language and terminology can be tools for inclusion/exclusion. (Pretty sure we’ve all experienced both sides of that one.) Sounds like you have an excellent cohort and support system through the ARL program, worth holding onto and paying forward.


    • Hi, Amy! I’m glad you liked my post. We talked a lot about language at the symposium, and one thing that kept coming up was that you can’t fully understand or experience something unless you have language for it. For instance, we took the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment, which names your top five strengths. A lot of us were saying that traits that we had always viewed as weaknesses actually turned out to be our strengths. Changing our language changed our thoughts about these characteristics…it’s funny how that works!


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