Get to Know ALA – Interview with Lily Sacharow

Lily Sacharow
Research & Instruction Librarian
Berkeley College (NYC)

Association for Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA Division of ALA)

  • Membership Promotion Committee
  • Board of Directors

Describe how long you have been on these committees and what initially interested you in joining.

I joined ASCLA during my first term of library school—it seemed a natural fit when I realized that the majority of programs and groups that interested me within ALA were linked to that division (my primary interests are in libraries serving people with disabilities and universal accessibility). I filled out an online volunteer form and was placed on the ASCLA Membership Committee, which I was told was a common starting point for new members looking to get involved. I’ve now served on that committee for the past five years, chairing for the past two.

Because I began my role on the committee during a conference, I was introduced many different people serving ASCLA during its All-Committee set of meetings. ASCLA is a smaller division, so it was easy to speak with its leaders and learn more about their overall goals and values, which in turn helped guide my work with the Membership Committee. When you find a group that readily welcomes you, it’s easier to justify spending extra time serving their interests!

I’m pretty sure that the following is a fairly unusual chain of events, but things ramped up quickly for me: someone I met at an ASCLA function was excited about my enthusiasm, which led to a surprising nomination of me for a seat on the ASCLA Board of Directors. Even more surprising was that the lovely woman running against me that year (a seasoned ASCLA veteran) decided to withdraw herself from the race so that, in her words, I “could run unopposed and become a fresh voice to the division leadership”. As a result, I’m now serving my second two-year term on the ASCLA Board, which has been a wonderful experience for me.

The activities of my Membership Committee are focused more on internal, division-based projects and interests, whereas the Board is an opportunity for me to be involved with a part of the whole. Each division and round table board represents the interests of its members to “big ALA,” relaying information, ideas, and concerns to ALA Council, the Executive Board, and some of the larger committees and task forces in order to enact change within the organization and nationally.


What has been your favorite project to work on during your time with the ASCLA Membership Committee?

I have two “babies”…My first was creating ASCLA 101, an annual introductory program geared at new and potential members. I worked with ASCLA’s Executive Director and Programming Coordinator to develop the materials and provide things like refreshments and raffle prizes, and I’ve been hosting the program, which is both informational and social, at Annual Conference for the past four years. Last year we converted it to a digital webcast as well, for those who may not be attending conferences.

The Membership Committee’s current endeavor is a division-based mentoring program. After we conducted a survey of ALA student members in 2016, we determined that a small, tailored mentorship structure was something that was desired and that our division could provide within our areas of expertise. My committee of eight has been developing materials for over six months, and we are preparing to launch the first cycle of the year-long program in 2018.


What recommendations would you have for a new ALA member who is unsure about how to get involved?

From my perspective, being involved in a large organization like ALA means finding your niche and then defining your role in it. Take a good look at what programs and interest or discussion group meetings you find yourself gravitating toward at conferences or online. Is there a content-based theme? A library type or service type? Are they hosted or sponsored by a particular ALA division, round table, or affiliate group?

It will be naturally simpler to focus on one or two possible volunteer opportunities within those smaller sectors: interest and discussion group conveners rotate frequently; there are often chances to co-chair a group with someone else if you’d rather not go it alone; larger divisions and round tables break down into sections and working groups and task forces that need participants. Look for that “volunteer form” online—most groups have one, and if you aren’t sure where you might want to assist, you can often be placed where you’re most needed. Not all service requires in-person conference attendance, either, so you can take that into account when exploring what is available.

While not everyone will follow the sort of path I did (or even one similar), I have found that most people are receptive to those eager for the opportunity to grow and share their skills. Volunteer members are how things get done: web development, publications, awards, resource toolkits, programs and speakers, budgets and scholarships. Those initial service opportunities, though, are what lead to people knowing you, recalling your interests, and recommending you for related opportunities—perhaps ones carrying increased responsibility or participation—that could be up your alley.


What would you suggest for a new ALA member who is unsure about why they should get involved with a committee?

One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed staying involved in professional activities is that I actually find out a lot about what’s going on throughout ALA by participating in committees, interest groups, ALA Council forums, and especially board meetings. Wider ALA information—national policy development and legislation, large-scale organizational changes, stuff happening at the Executive Board level—tends to trickle down through various groups over time, and through such meetings I feel like I have a much stronger understanding of how ALA operates and what we as a whole are representing.

Most board meetings happening during ALA conferences are open to all members—if you’re able, I recommend sitting in during Midwinter in particular. For those not attending conferences, consider instead attending something like the virtual ALA membership meeting, which is usually in mid-June.

Word of mouth is also a powerful connector—many people you meet through ALA, in person or virtually, will have been involved in something somewhere at some point. I’ve found out about initiatives I never knew existed and resources I never knew were being created just by hearing about what other folks in my groups are up to.


How do you stay up to date on what’s going on with the wider profession?

Largely outside of my ALA involvement, I am a proud member of a small group called the Library Society of the World. One of its founders was my own college librarian, who inducted me while applying to LIS programs.

The members of LSW—librarians from around the U.S. and well beyond—are who I ask if I need an unbiased professional opinion; if I have questions about topics ranging from open access to instructional design to collection management; if I’m looking for articles to share with my colleagues at work; if I need to check whether a database is down at 2pm on a Wednesday for just my campus or for everyone; if I need to rant about broken technology; and especially if I need a virtual pick-me-up from an incredibly supportive group of peers. I am very fortunate to have these individuals on my side; they give me the daily dose of real-world practice that keeps me motivated and sane.

LSW, along with the twice monthly “Library Buzz” internal newsletter my college’s library publishes (including articles, conference recaps, and learning opportunities), are my main ways of staying grounded in the library and information field.

Social media has makes it easier to connect with professionals outside of one’s direct colleagues; many of those I interact with regularly are people I’ve never met in person or see less than once a year. Whether for you it means finding a few folks to follow on library Twitter, having a few key blogs or feeds you track, or even participating in an active listserv, I think it’s really important to find your people.

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