Gather round, friends, for I shall tell you a tale:
Last February was a bleak time. Thanks to Facebook’s incessant “memories” feature, I can see that on this day, last year, I broke down and took a “mental health day” from work. Here’s why: I am located in Denver, Colorado, I am fast-tracking my degree, and I was taking four classes including the legendary one-two-punch of simultaneous 510 and 520. My work schedule is on a two-week rotation, which means that half the time I have Saturday and Sunday off and the other half of the time I work Saturday and Sunday from 8:30-5 and don’t have two consecutive days off. I’d pulled my first all-nighter since undergrad and tried to soldier on. I was breaking down. It was the Winter Quarter of my Discontent.
At this point, I pretty much deleted any and all emails about the upcoming student elections on sight. Who has time? I thought. Leadership is for the less jaded. At that time, I thought I was the only MLIS student in Colorado (there are at least four of us spread apart). Some of my cohort-mates met over Google hangouts. We were all sick and sad and worn out. I felt completely isolated: no one around me knew what I was going through and no one who knew what I was going through was around me.
Elections came and went. I don’t think I even voted. And then on February 29, the now-defunct MLIS News listserv got an email. It was from the VP/Treasurer of sALA. I couldn’t remember if I’d met this person at Orientation. What was sALA again? Did they buy me some nachos a thousand years ago in the Seattle summer?
The email said that sALA was in danger of going extinct: no one had stepped up to any of the major leadership positions. There was an explanation of what sALA does, why it would be sad if it would go away, and ultimately a statement that maybe it was time for sALA representation at UW to end if students didn’t want it. There would be a write-in or the org would die.
That email really affected me. I don’t know if it was the onset of spring, the offset of the assignment load, or the outset of the realization that I’d be starting to apply for Big Girl Jobs in a year.But something now was telling me: reply to this email. I was feeling isolated, but the online events I’d gone to had helped me feel less like that. So…why couldn’t I be the person who helped create these events for fellow far-flung folks?
I volunteered to be co-president. There was no competition so I really bypassed the whole election process. But I’m really glad I did. Here’s some things I’ve taken away over the past year:
sALA has the perk of being national. We have a lot of really awesome student organizations and they all do great work. One awesome thing about sALA is that there is a national network of other sALAs and you have support from the ALA. Every year, sALA has an opportunity to send a student to the ALA Annual Conference with most expenses paid. There’s the possibility of doing a student exchange with chapters in Portland and/or Vancouver. There are great networking opportunities because you have the support of the local New Member Round Table. This is all very rad. If you haven’t been getting your network on, sALA is great for that, whether you’re local to Seattle or not.
You create cohort cohesion. This year our leadership team was coast-to-coast. I really got to know some very cool people over the course of the past year. In addition to getting to host fun things for the student body (like our upcoming panel, “The Post-Truth is Out There”), I got to, like, actually get to know people. I feel much more connected to my cohort and not quite as isolated after being a part of sALA.
That group project thing is no joke. I already worked in the library world so I thought I was immune every time professors trotted out the ol’ “once you graduate it’s all group work” argument. The difference between writing a paper with three other people and being part of a student leadership team is that running a student org is much closer to the professional realm. You all have the same goals but you’re very different people and you achieve those goals in a different way. You’re working on projects that require using your team’s best skills to provide something for your fellow students, not just your beleaguered TA.
Leadership experience is invaluable. In high school, I’d stepped up to leadership sometimes and been disastrous. In undergrad, I’d dropped out of student organizations when pressured to take up the mantle of leadership. After being in sALA I actually applied to a leadership institute through my state library association. You don’t lead only by being in a leadership position: you have to acquire and hone these skills. But once you have them, you’ll be better equipped to lead from where you are and you’ll have more opportunities available to you if you want to move up.
Sometimes all you can do is your best. I’m a perfectionist and a chronic over loader. Did sALA do everything I had envisioned us doing? No. Was a lot of that my fault? It absolutely was. But I’m happy with what we have accomplished. We facilitated a tour of SPL, we did a trivia night, we’ve done an online happy decompression session, we’re hosting a really rad panel next week, and we’re sending one of our own to the national conference. And on a self-involved level, I’m very proud of myself for being able to roll with the punches and not dog myself for not perfectly executing my vision. I’ve always been very self-critical and after being a part of this organization I can finally cut myself a break.
So there you have it. If you think you can’t lead a student organization, trust me, you absolutely can. And you should. This chance won’t come around again. Even though it was an impulse for me, even though I was already spread pretty thin, it turned out to be a really great decision. So please: take our jobs! Keep the wheels of sALA turning!