what I’m looking for in Emerging Leader candidates

One of my happier duties as a LITA Board member is reviewing Emerging Leader applications to decide whom the division should sponsor. I just finished this year’s round of review this morning, and now that my choices are safely submitted (but fresh on my mind) I can share what I’m looking for, in hopes that it’s useful to future Emerging Leader candidates as you develop your applications.

But first, a caveat: last year and this, I would have been happy with LITA sponsoring at least half of the candidates I saw, if only we could. Really the only unpleasant part of reviewing applications is that we can’t sponsor everyone we’d like to; I see so many extraordinarily talented, driven people in the application pile, and it’s actually painful not to be able to put all of them at the top of my list.

Okay! That said…

Things I want to see

  • People who have gotten things done.
  • People who haven’t just done an excellent job with duties as assigned, but who have perceived a need and initiated something to solve it.
  • People who have marshaled resources and buy-in, even though they are (as is the case for most EL candidates) in a junior position, or outside a formal hierarchy.
  • Letters of recommendation that speak to the things you can’t credibly address about yourself (communication, leadership skills), using specific examples.
  • Since these are specifically LITA Emerging Leader candidates, I want to see some kind of facility with technology. I’m very open-minded about what this is, but it must go beyond standard office-worker technology proficiency. I want to see that you can use technologies to create things, or that you can create technology. Tell me about that time you set up an institutional repository, or crafted a social media strategy, or did a pile of digitization, or used your video editing skills to launch your library’s marketing campaign, or automated some kind of metadata workflow, or taught yourself Javascript — seriously, I don’t care what technologies you’re using or whether you’re using them in a technology-librarian context, but you have to have some sort of technological proficiency and creativity.

Diversity is a specific (and large) part of the rubric I’m asked to use, and I’m going to give it extended treatment here. First, not gonna lie: most people in the pool are white women, and you have an uphill battle to prove your understanding of diversity if you’re one of them. (I am also a white woman, and the same goes for me.) Second, I’m not looking for evidence that you care about diversity or think it’s a good thing (of course you do. what are you, some kind of a jerk? no). I’m looking for concrete evidence that you actually get it. Tell me that you wrote a thesis on some topic that required you to grapple with primary sources and major thinkers on some diversity-related topic. Tell me about the numerous conference presentations you’ve done that required this kind of thinking. Tell me about the work, whether paid or volunteer, that you’ve done with diverse populations. Tell me about how you’ve gone out of your way, and maybe out of your comfort zone, to actually do something that deepens your awareness, develops your skills, and diversifies your network.

If you belong to a population that gives you special insight about some axis of diversity (and many white women do!), tell me about that, too. I don’t give full credit for that – I’d still like to see that you’ve theorized or worked on some sort of diversity issue – but it does give me faith that you have some sort of relevant insight and experience.

There are many kinds of diversity that have shown up in EL apps and there’s no one that matters most to me, nor do I expect any candidate to have experience with all of them. But you need to have done something. And if you really haven’t, at least acknowledge and problematize that fact; if you do this and the rest of your application is exemplary you may still be in the running for me.

Things I do not want to see

I had 20 applications to review this year. I am reviewing them as a volunteer, amidst the multiple proposals I am writing this month and the manuscript due in November and the course and webinar I’ll be teaching soon and my regular duties on two boards and helping lead a major fundraising campaign and writing code for a couple of clients and the usual housework and childcare things and occasionally even having a life and, this week, some pretty killer insomnia. Seriously, if you give me any excuse to stop reading your application, I will take it.

Do not give me the excuse to stop reading.

Some things that will make me stop reading:

  • If your application is in any way incomplete (didn’t answer all the questions, missing one or more references, no resume).
  • Significant or frequent errors of grammar, spelling, or usage.
  • Shallow treatment of the diversity question (see above).

I also might stop reading overly academic prose, particularly if it reads like you’re not 100% comfortable with that (admittedly pretty weird) genre. I do want to see that you’re smart and have a good command of English, but communication within associations is a different genre than journal articles. Talk to me in your voice (but get someone to proofread). Particularly if you’re a current student or a recent graduate: I give you permission to not write an academic paper. (I implore you not to write an academic paper.) My favorite EL applications sparkle with personality. They speak with humility or confidence or questioning or insight or elegance. A few even make me laugh.

I would prefer it if you spell out acronyms, at least on their first occurrence. You can assume that I recognize ALA and its divisions, but there are a lot of acronyms in the library world, and they’re not all clear outside their context. If you’re active in CLA, is that California or Colorado or Connecticut? Or Canada?

Some information about mechanics

Pulling back the curtain for a moment here: the web site where I access your application materials does not have super-awesome design or usability, and this impacts (sometimes unfairly) how I rate your answers.

Your answers to the questions are displayed in all bold letters. This makes it hard to read long paragraphs. Please use paragraph breaks thoughtfully.

Your recommenders’ text appears to be displayed without any paragraph breaks at all, if they’ve typed it directly into the site. Ow. Please ask them to upload letters as files instead.

Speaking of which: I use Pages. On a Mac. Your .docx file will probably look wrong to me. If you’ve invested time and graphic design skills in lovingly crafting a resume, I want to see! Please upload your resume as .pdf, and ask your recommenders to upload their letters as .pdf too. (On reflection I feel bad about this because it’s a famously poor format for accessibility. But seriously, your .docx looks bad.)

Whew! Glad I got to say all that 🙂 Hope this helps future EL candidates. I look forward to reading your applications next year!


4 thoughts on “what I’m looking for in Emerging Leader candidates

  1. Thanks so much for the information. I now get it that the time I spent putting my resume together into a beautiful format was lost on my mac friends. Macs were my first love (AppleIIe). Librarians make everything better.

    Incidentally, I loved reading this. Your prose sparkles!


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