Get to Know ALA: Mimi Lee

Mimi Lee

Mimi Lee
New Jersey State Library
Diversity & Literacy Consultant

Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT)
Immediate Past Chair (2018-2019)

Describe how long you have been on the committee and what initially interested you in joining.

My first encounter with ALA was back in 2001 when I attended my first ALA Annual Conference as I was nearing graduation from library school. It was an overwhelming but exhilarating experience to meet so many like-minded people sharing and working for common goals and aspirations. I didn’t become active with ALA until much later but have remained intrigued by the work of ALA and people who serve the association ever since.  

I cut my librarian teeth at one of the nation’s busiest multi-branch urban public library systems providing life skills programs uniquely designed for local immigrants. Through this position, I found and fell in love with the endlessly fascinating world of library programming and outreach services to users from ethnic and multicultural backgrounds. While my career took me to different library settings over the years, my professional concerns have been centered around helping immigrants and new American patrons feel welcome and valued in the library.  

Joining EMIERT and the Office of Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS) Advisory Committee was a natural choice for me for these reasons. Originally began as a subcommittee of Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT), EMIERT has been an active force in ALA since 1982 in promoting and sharing information on library materials and resources for ethnolinguistic and multicultural communities. It is also the administrative home of Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Awards Committee. I served the Vice-Chair/Chair/Immediate Past-Chair role for EMIERT and OLOS Advisory Committee. I also served the Office of Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services (ODLOS) and International Relations Committee (IRC) in various capacities and belong to the Association of Specialized, Government, Cooperative Library Agencies (ASGCLA) and Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA).

What has been your favorite project to work on during your time with OLOS and ODLOS?

As Chair of the OLOS Advisory Committee, I assisted in the effort to reconstruct the current ODLOS Advisory Committee following the merger of the Office for Diversity and the Office of Literacy and Outreach Services. I worked with a group of superbly talented colleagues during this process and learned a great deal about the inner workings of ALA and how such administrative changes were made in an organization as complex as ALA. Since that merger, the ODLOS Advisory Committee, together with the amazing ODLOS staff at ALA Headquarters, have been effectively building diversity, literacy and outreach education, and communication across the organization and within the profession. It has been a joy and pride to watch this group continue to excel and evolve. Knowing that I was part of and contributed to the successful transition is a great reward.

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

One of the great things about ALA is that you can find a committee or round table in pretty much any subject matters you care about and that most people are welcoming, encouraging and willing to offer guidance. Follow your personal and professional interests and aspirations. Find the group(s) whose missions are in line with what’s really important to you and your purpose, not just based on what the current situation pulls you toward. The decision should also be made based on personal circumstances — finances, career goals, academic preparations, institutional support, the level of commitments you can realistically make, etc.   

Once you find your (almost) perfect fit within ALA, it might still take time to get to certain levels. It took me several years of active learning to comprehend ALA as an organization. In trying to get involved in ALA, each individual’s context, goals, personality etc. are very different. I think what matters most is the sincere desire to learn, grow and contribute.

What are some ways that committee involvement can be beneficial?

The opportunities I’ve had through working with ALA have been a powerful force in my leadership and professional development. I believe ALA provides the magnetic place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together at best. I also find my work in my home state and in ALA mutually beneficial.

As a public library consultant, one of my primary responsibilities is to coordinate statewide planning and implementation of continuing education and training programs. Similarly, through EMIERT and other ALA groups, I participate in developing CE/PD offerings as well as a variety of awards and grant programs.  

Serving in this capacity requires much care and skills on assessing library needs and concerns, working with a wide array of people both inside and outside of the library field, working with grants and exploring different modalities for content delivery, just to name a few. Additionally, you become masterful in all aspects of leading teams and projects — setting goals and agendas, facilitating meetings, involving members who don’t report to you, producing results within timelines and budgets. ALA provides excellent outlets for these skills, talents and experiences to be gained, refined and applied to.

What advice would you give to new librarians from underrepresented groups on becoming involved with committees?

A few years ago I joined 20 million foreign-born individuals who became naturalized U.S. citizens that year. From my journey to US Citizenship as one both providing and receiving libraries’ immigrant services, I have come to a deeper understanding about immigrant integration and community building — a dynamic, two-way process in which newcomers and the receiving society work together to build secure, vibrant and cohesive communities. When immigrants can express themselves and are comfortable doing that, when they can work in groups around issues and ideas for which they have a great passion, it leads to a kind of civic engagement that goes beyond voting on Election Day. A sense of belonging to the community has to happen first in order for engagement to occur.

I reflect often on these lessons in relation to building strong and inclusive communities within ALA, our libraries as workplaces, and all other organized groups that we belong to. It may sound too philosophical, but the fundamental condition to achieve long-term success, longevity, fulfillment and joy as new members come  to ALA to serve and engage with is finding something to drive purpose within ALA and within the broader library profession – personal and professional goals that are in line with who they are, what they value, and what they believe to be their purpose or mission. As ALA continues to play a vital role in providing educational support for library workers at all levels, each member’s finding meaning and connection will help build the kind of ALA community we all want to belong to — a space for reflection and self-exploration and where every person is inspired to grow creatively.       

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