Disclaimer: My views are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Library Association or its divisions. This post concerns the proposed ALCTS/LITA/LLAMA merger.
When I started librarying, I got one piece of advice from a trusted mentor. She told me that the best way to network and get my footing in libraries was to get really involved in an American Library Association (ALA) Division. She explained that going national was a smart idea because geographic constraints would hurt my ability to find a first professional position. When I expressed how overwhelmed I felt by the many choices of organizations,divisions, round tables, and beyond those, sections and interest groups, she offered concise descriptions of the ALA divisions she thought I might consider. This is how I remember it.
“You will probably want to focus on just one division. There’s the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and that’s a giant, competitive free-for-all of academic librarians, mostly public services focused. You like technical services, so the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) is a natural fit for you. The Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) is good if you decide you want to get into management, you may want to check on that a little later in your career. And the Library Information Technology Association (LITA), they’re ‘technologists.’ LITA’s a little different.”
At the beginning of my career I didn’t have a ton of money to throw at my first non-student ALA membership. Picking a division was a really big deal! I took a gamble and joined both ALCTS and LITA- it was a splurge. I got lucky and met LITA folks who helped me get committee experience and the opportunity to write for the LITA Blog, which I would eventually edit.
In this respect I found LITA to be a lot different- by which I mean it was easier than my experience in trying to become involved in other divisions. It’s worth noting that this is not everyone’s experience! But I found LITA people were incredibly welcoming and open. I found a community of people who wanted me to succeed. I had concerns I wouldn’t be “tech” enough for LITA, but I was. And I learned a lot about tech through my involvement- I learned about visualization techniques that transformed my approach to collection development and assessment.
In 2017, my career had just gotten an injection of rocket fuel. I’d been selected as a Library Journal Mover & Shaker . I was elected to serve on the Board of my beloved division of ALA, the Library Information Technology Association. By that time, I was SO EXCITED and SO HONORED and SO READY to help lead LITA from the Board.
So it came as a bit of a surprise when I heard that most of my work on the Board was going to focus on investigating and supporting a potential merger with ALCTS and LLAMA. I had a sad about it, because I had come to consider LITA a part of my professional identity and because I had come to the position with my agenda in mind. I worried about what would be lost in the merger.
But then I got excited, and I have stayed excited, because the potential of the merger is the potential of de-siloing so many individual ALA experiences. When I got into libraries, I had to choose, and the choice was motivated not just by interest but by cost. What might happen if we didn’t silo our major professional membership organization like we do our workplaces? If we didn’t ask our members to pick ONE THING to focus on at the expense of the bigger picture? Where is that thin and blurry line between technology, technical services, and management any more- and was it ever really there anyway?
What would happen if we combined our powers and resources?
There are endless possibilities. More and better could happen. But obviously, there are challenges to address.
It’s been a busy and intense year working with representatives of LLAMA and ALCTS to get a plan of action together. Even now, there’s the possibility the merger may not happen. UGH, the added anxiety of that. The uncertainty of it is sometimes overwhelming. But the process and struggle has been its own gift. In particular, I think of this unique opportunity I have had to be grateful for and inspired by my colleagues and to potentially steward a powerful transformation.
It’s also been incredible to learn more about all the amazing work that LLAMA and ALCTS do. Building awards! Preservation week! Standards management! Communities of Practice! I had no idea these many incredible initiatives were happening, and it’s thrilling to think of being able to take part in them. I have been truly awed by some of the cool and innovative approaches in place in each of the divisions. I am passionate about LITA- my division- and the representatives I have worked with from these other divisions are equally passionate about the work and character of theirs. There’s a parity of engagement that has made the potential merger an even more exciting prospect. It makes the sharing and compromise required less sad, though it remains at times challenging.
Knowing that change is coming has made me more ready to reflect on and actively appreciate what LITA did for me, and more ready to consider what a merged organization could do for all of us. Upon reflection, I realized that the old adage, “If you love something, set it free,” is the one that I think of most as I have been supporting this massive process in my small way. Ownership- and the kind of love or community we feel for our divisions can be that, silos can be that- is often to the detriment of collaboration and growth. By setting LITA free- and I mean by relinquishing MY sense of ownership of it and its character, setting aside MY agenda- I can help to spread its influence and ensure its sustainable future. The culture and knowledge I loved when I got started at LITA will not go away- what I let go of is hoarding that for a smaller number of people instead of sharing it out with a broader membership and setting it free. I unselfished my librarianship a little this year, is what I mean to say.
Whatever the end result of this process of investigating and initiating this merger, the lessons in change management and leadership have forever altered my approach and perspective. Working with the LITA Board and colleagues at ALCTS and LLAMA through the process has offered me many new role models and collaborators and that is just another gift LITA involvement has given me.