I am extremely conflicted about the ALA. Yes, I work at an American library, and I frequently associate with others who do so as well, but beyond that I've had a hard time seeing how the ALA benefits me--particularly as a school librarian, but even more so as an independent school librarian. Yes, AASL did just put out the Standards for the 21st Century learner, but the full documents are kind of pricey (even if I were a member), which is an interesting choice on the part of an organization that purports to prides itself on transparency. They also have a tendency to substitute letters for words (aka Learning4Life), which I find antithetical to education.
The ALA also tends to take positions on issues that have less than nothing to do with American Libraries. Look, I'm against the genocide in Darfur and the Iraq War, and I'm in favor of gay marriage and a public option in health care. But none of that has anything to do with libraries. When the ALA spends its time on such topics, it dilutes the main issue they should be working on--American Libraries. This lack of focus has consequences, and the ALA has not been particularly effective public policy-wise. Politicians love to show themselves as being pro-education, yet years of effort have not resulted in anything about school librarians (despite plenty of studies showing how we help increase standardized test scores) being including in education reform. And while I have decidedly mixed feelings about national education policy, not being able to jump on that bandwagon is just. . . weak.
However, the ALA Midwinter meeting was in Boston this year, and such events tend to have a few good speakers and plenty of free stuff, so I went.
The first event I went to was an author forum called "Page to Screen" or something like that, about the process of having a book turned into a movie. I found the real-time close-captioning more interesting than the actual discussion for a few reasons:
a) I only knew of two of the authors, had read none of their books, and hadn't seen any of the movies.
b) Real-time close-captioning is hard, and it was fascinating to watch--how quickly, it happened, the mistakes that were made, the sometimes instant corrections. It's really interesting from a Universal Design perspective, and I was trying to imagine what it would be like to only be able to read what was being said, without the benefit of hearing some of the things that were mis-represented in print.
c) Because I got there super-late it was easier to see the giant close-captioning screen than even tell there were people at the front of the room.
After that I hit the Exhibitions Hall. I should not be allowed in a room full of free books. I exercised little to no control (thanks again, Jen, for lending me a suitcase)--but, I managed to score ARCs of the third book in Michael Grant's Gone series, Christopher Moore's new book, and the new book co-authored by John Green and David Levithan. I also spent some money by signing up with the Junior Library Guild, which will probably get me in trouble with the CFO, but I should be able to smooth that over, as signing up there meant 24 free books.
Because I'm not an ALA member, and therefore not a member of committees or round tables or action squads or whatever else the ALA forms, I had nothing I *needed* to be at, which was nice. It also meant I was able to be near the front of the line, and get a seat third-row center, to see Al Gore speak. 2000 was the first presidential election I was able to vote in, and I voted for Al Gore. While the way that election played out was a little disillusioning, I have become an even greater admirer of Gore's and the work he's done since then. He's an excellent speaker, very funny, very engaging. And, he was signing books after his speech, so I:
a) got a book signed by Al Gore.
b) was standing within three feet of him
c) oh-so-suavely replied "Thank you," when he said, "How are you?"
Right after the signing I met Sara Kelly Johns, the former AASL president who's running for ALA president; this kind of pales in comparison to an Al Gore-encounter, but she actually knew who I was! Kind of. Obviously our names are very similar, but when she saw my name tag (we were both digging in our bags at the time) she said something along the lines of, "You're the other Sara Kelley! I see your name all the time!" Which is weird, and cool. Clearly the similarity in our names means she was more likely to notice it, but I didn't realize my name was out there enough for anyone to notice it at all.
Which--at the very real risk of making this post even more ridiculously long--brings me back to Friday night, when I ran into a colleague from CASL on the Exhibition floor. She's encouraging me pretty strongly to run for VP Intern of CASL (a position I would pretty much be guaranteed to win, as they can't find anyone else to run). As VP Intern they pay my way to all the national conferences--and I am expected to become VP and then president of CASL. While I like the idea of being president of a state-wide organization before turning 35, I'm nervous about taking such a task on. I'm going to be writing and implementing a new research curriculum next year as part of my new job description (more on that in another ridiculously long blog post to come, I'm sure). My full-time job keeps me pretty busy as it is. Is it reasonable to think I can take this on?
On the other hand, I think being a leader in my field is important--not so much in the sense of being on the cutting edge of everything and saying "this is how you do it," but in the sense of helping shape the direction my field goes in and bringing colleagues together in order to make that happen. CASL is in need of leadership, and I'd feel like something of a hypocrite if I didn't step up to the plate. The colleague I was talking to--a former CASL president--was very encouraging; she said that she thought I'd be great at it, and that I had an "aura" of a leader about me. Which is pretty awesome, if overwhelming.
I'm leaning towards taking this on. It's something I wanted to do eventually, but it's also one of those things that there's always a good reason to put off--next year when it's not so busy, in two years when things have quieted down, in X years after X, Y, and Z projects are done. There's never a perfect time.
I have more thoughts on this, but I'll spare you. For now.