Snapshot: Courtney Young '97LS
posted March 15, 2013 3:29 PM
Simmons GSLIS alumni Courtney Young '97LS is running for the American Library Association's (ALA) presidency. As the head librarian and associate professor of women's studies at Penn State University, Young brings 15 years of library expertise and ALA leadership experience to her campaign. Learn about how she plans to connect ALA with members, schools, and the world.
Q: Why did you become a librarian? Why did you decide to go to Simmons College?
My career path came about organically. I have spent my entire working life in libraries. My first job was shelving library books in a public library and I continued to work in them throughout my undergraduate studies. Half-way through my sophomore year, I decided to become a librarian. Library colleagues offered their instant excitement and mentoring. After completing my undergraduate studies, I went straight to Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences School (GSLIS).
Growing up in a military family, I attended several small public and private schools. When I reviewed Peterson's Guide in my research, Simmons appeared to be the perfect fit. I chose Simmons GSLIS because of the diversity of the faculty, its cutting-edge curriculum, as well as the welcoming environment associated with a small school while simultaneously offering the amenities of a metropolis. I attended school full time and worked full time as a circulation assistant at a theological college library in Cambridge. It was one of the best years of my life. Since I completed the program in one year, being ALA president should be a walk in the park!
Q: What do you perceive to be the three biggest challenges facing libraries today? Likewise, what do you perceive to be the three largest opportunities for librarians today?
Many challenges are facing libraries today. Issues at the forefront involve fiduciary challenges, employment, and professional development, as well as keeping up with technological innovation. First, fewer opportunities are available to secure grant funding. Local, state, and federal funds have decreased while there has been an increased demand and cost for resources. We are still trying to find ways to do more with less. In addition, new graduates and students in the field are concerned about their employment prospects. Simultaneously, succession planning involving mid-career and executive level librarians needs to take place as we deal with the issues associated with the graying of the profession's upper level management. Who will replace the deans and directors? Will they be prepared? The skills needed to be successful as a 21st-century librarian are increasing. Staying current with the latest technological innovations poses challenges and opportunities to reach members and provide services in a crisis.
With respect to opportunities, technological innovations are allowing libraries to participate in community disaster management, such as with Hurricane Katrina. Communities are recognizing libraries can be first responders in a crisis. Collaboration is growing and strengthening with community, cultural, health and human services types of organizations inside and outside the profession. Leadership in libraries today also draws from great ideas based on research. Library leaders today are ready to take risks and try new things, recognizing that we are not only partners in offering services, but also leaders guiding communities. In addition, instructional services are still in high demand as libraries are charged with educating people about e-books and various mobile devices.
Q: Why are you running for ALA president? What areas would you like to address specifically?
First, I was honored to be nominated by ALA's Nominating Committee. It was an offer I couldn't refuse.
I am passionate about ALA's strategic efforts to make its mission a reality. As a member-driven organization of 60,000, ALA has some of the smartest and most dedicated people who aim to do the right thing and want to do it well. As president, I want to address how ALA is relevant to libraries. Surprisingly, only a handful of people know everything there is to know about ALA. I want to assess and learn how to educate members about the variety of divisions, committees, networking, and learning opportunities. For librarians, ALA should aim to offer an unprecedented number of cutting-edge, online career development and engagement outreach opportunities, as well as a diverse nationwide network of colleagues. It also offers a hub for leadership dialogue that addresses information entrepreneurship, open access challenges, and as yet uncharted territories. Building upon Maureen Sullivan's efforts, I want to help our members tap into these resources and realize the full value of membership. In addition, I want to increase the emphasis on the partnerships between ALA and library and information science schools. For example, we need to strengthen our connection with student chapters, as well as increase awareness of the ALA privileges that are available to students at lower membership rates.
Q: What does the ALA president do?
When I reviewed the position description, it advised to treat the presidency like a part-time job with no salary. However, I want to be elected for president because the work is important and worth the sacrifices. The ALA president develops an organizational vision for implementation. In addition, the president is the chief spokesperson along with the executive director and association leader. The president presides over executive and council meetings, as well as presents awards.
Q: Why should the GSLIS community vote for you?
As a front-line librarian, I am involved in the daily duties and responsibilities associated with today's libraries. There is value in knowing how reference services, instruction, and technology are affecting what services we should be offering.
In addition, I have ALA leadership experiences that prepare me for the position. As the New Members Roundtable president and an ALA executive board member, I have collaborated with other professionals and achieved goals on several committees. My social media and networking experiences also represent another opportunity to inform and connect with members. Online participation will keep people engaged, even if they can't to come to events physically. I recognize the need to build bridges between school programs and employers so they understand the abilities of librarians and information specialists.
I also know it is sometimes best to participate in a dialogue by listening. Prioritizing and multi-tasking enable me to respond to a variety of queries, including answering an executive ALA query to responding to a student information request at the point of need. I always aim to meet deadlines, and it is important to do things well and see that others are happy with my results. "All of your rewards are in heaven," a colleague once told me.
Q: In addition to watching NFL games and a good day of shopping, what else do you like to do in your spare time?
Since my staff is food-motivated, it helps that I enjoy baking. I also enjoy sewing, which I learned to do after reviewing several reference sources. Being a librarian has helped me to identify and appreciate a universe of opportunities and activities.
Interview by Jennifer Moyer