By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS
I joined Brodart in 2016 after 20 years as a public and academic librarian. Over the course of my career, I have attended numerous library conferences of all types. But until last week, I had never attended the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference. I thought I would be intimidated by the size and scope but I felt very at home. Despite its numerous celebrity/author signings and the myriad opportunities to rub elbows with the rock stars of our profession, this mecca of all things library struck me as surprisingly low key and collegial.
ALA is a microcosm of the industry: Public, academic, school, and special librarians representing institutions both large and small, from areas that are rural, suburban, and urban, come together to be the best they can be.
I always find conferences energizing. The validation of being surrounded by thousands of like-minded individuals is palpable and undeniable. Taking in the crowd at McCormick Place, I was reminded of Kyle Cassidy’s “This is What a Librarian Looks Like.” Of course, there is no commonality of appearance, but I do believe there are shared values.
Sometimes it’s all too easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of being a librarian: juggling the priorities of boards, administrators, and staff, not to mention the demands of working with the public. Days are filled with managing public service schedules; calculating circulation, reference, and programming numbers; analyzing collections while keeping up with weeding and ordering; getting quotes on furniture, supplies, and building repairs; attending meetings; etc. When managing the day-to-day library operations, losing sight of the big picture is an ever-present potential pitfall. That’s why it’s so vital that we remain aware of what drives us and remember why we became librarians in the first place.
My first career choice was journalism. I was motivated by a love of writing and the written word, along with a desire to make information understandable. From there, it was a pretty natural transition to library science. I decided I didn’t necessarily need to be an information creator. I found I preferred pointing people to all that’s available and letting them choose the best source for them. The ideals of librarianship really appealed to me – the importance of trust and fairness in information and bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots. This is still very much in the back of my mind as I help librarians with collection development.
I once attended one of Library Journal’s “Lead the Change” workshops, where attendees were asked to rate a list of terms to determine: “What drives you?” I discovered that my personal core values revolve around health, family, freedom, and independence. Professionally, I am driven by curiosity, communication, creativity, and personal growth — not just for myself, but for the greater good. This exercise really stuck with me. It was great to be reminded of why I do what I do. Ultimately, I want to help others. I think that’s a quality I share with most librarians.
I think what I enjoyed most about ALA Annual was the air of curiosity and helpfulness among the conference-goers. In the same way that librarians serve library users, they are eager and happy to help each other. Throughout the programs, roundtables, and exhibits, one could see the unselfish exchange of ideas: showcasing the great things they are doing and teaching others how; talking openly about problems and providing potential solutions. Even though I no longer serve the public directly, I take my role as consultant very seriously as I am supporting fantastic people across the country who have made this their life’s work.
I would love to hear your impressions of ALA, your thoughts on the field of librarianship, and what led you to this profession.
What drives you?
Stephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.