On Finding Your Tribe (and the TSA Agent)

This past September, I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 ALSC Institute in Indianapolis. It was an amazing experience and I learned something new from every program I attended. But I also had some great “aha” moments outside of the scheduled workshops, and I am finally getting around to writing them up over the next few months!

I was very careful when packing for the ALSC Institute, separating out what I wanted to put in luggage to check and what I wanted to carry on to the plane. I kept our presentation notes and supplies in my carryon, just in case my checked luggage didn’t make it on time. And I remembered to put my shampoo and contact solution in the checked luggage, so I could sail through security.

Well, I got held up in security anyway; apparently the person at the X-ray screen couldn’t figure out what I had in my bag…can you?

I got taken out of the line so an agent could physically open it up and make sure everything was okay. She was a little surprised to see a bag of hand puppets! She told us, “Huh, I don’t know why they wanted to look at these…maybe they looked different on the screen. You’re okay though, you can go.”

Of course they looked different on the screen! How many times this year did that screener see a mashed-up bag of felt tentacles, antennae, and legs? Completely not what they were expecting, completely not normal, and very understandable that they would want to double check.

I started to kick myself for not thinking about packing my puppets in my other suitcase, but then realized, why would I have thought of it? In my life, a bag of strange-looking puppets is something to be expected, something completely normal. And besides, I was already looking forward to getting to the conference and having a funny anecdote to tell, because I knew everyone there would be living on the same bug-puppets-are-normal-carryon-items planet as me.

The whole weekend felt the same way–that I was on a planet with my own people, with my tribe. It was so much fun, and so energizing, and so affirming. Everyone had a story that I could directly connect with and learn from, everyone had interesting and helpful and relevant comments or suggestions to share. I can’t wait to go again.

But the great thing is I don’t have to wait for the next out-of-town special-interests conference to connect with my colleagues! Every day I have an opportunity to spend time with my tribe, and to keep learning and growing. Here are the top two ways I stay in touch:


For the last several years, my number-one way to connect with children’s librarians outside of my own library is Twitter. Are you new to Twitter? Anna wrote an excellent post on getting started. Have you been using Twitter but aren’t connecting the way you’d hoped? Try following a lot of new people for awhile: I have over 200 youth services library tweeps on my Youthlibrarians list if you need a few ideas. Or you could jump in on a Twitter chat or two by following a chat hashtag. ALSC hosts a chat on the 2nd Thursdays of every month, 9PM EST. Join the conversation with #aslcchat and you might discover some amazing folks to follow.

(PS. Need more help with any Twitter stuff? Just let me know! Not interested in Twitter? Keep reading!)


I gave this topic extra exclamation points because I know not everyone loves committee work as much as I do. And committees have a sometimes-deserved reputation for being places where time and creativity go to die. BUT! It’s also true that the committees I’ve served on over the last few years have been incredibly valuable experiences. I have collaborated with great colleagues across the state; I’ve been pushed outside of my comfort zone and learned new skills; and I’ve broadened my perspective on libraries and library services.

Where could you look for committee work? Within your own district is one place to start: is there an all-staff committee? Or a summer reading program committee? Or maybe you could help plan your state’s library conference. I helped select programs and workshops for our conference a couple of years–THAT was eye-opening, and I was able to meet a variety of librarians from all over the Denver metro area. A friend of mine volunteered to read grant proposals one year. Or maybe it’s time to get involved on the national level? ALA has approximately 8,426 committees and interest groups and is always looking for members to help out. I’m just getting started with ALSC committee work this year; all the work is via chat conferencing and emails so it’s very manageable.

What else?

But there’s lots of other ways to be engaged with the greater library world. If your program ideas are feeling stale, or you have a knotty storytime problem you can’t solve, or you’d like to learn more about youth services issues, try one of these other ideas to help find more of the great people in our tribe:

  • Attend your state’s library conference, even just for a day.
  • Investigate to see if your state library has a youth services workshop scheduled near you, or a youth services interest group that you could join.
  • Do you do storytime? Are you on Facebook? Check out the Flannel Friday group and add your two cents when someone asks for help.
  • Check with your state library to see if there is a youth services listserv for your state. Yes, listservs may seem a little paleolithic compared to your new favorite social network, but they can be a very efficient way of swapping information among a particular set of people. (Colorado has CYS-LIB.)
  • Running errands in the next town over? Stop in and introduce yourself to your counterpart in that library. Maybe you can find a time for lunch or drinks, or collaborate on planning a program that you can offer at both libraries. Community partnerships don’t always have to be with non-library organizations!

What are your favorite methods for getting out of your library and engaging with colleagues?

This entry was posted in Training and Mentoring. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On Finding Your Tribe (and the TSA Agent)

  1. I also connect through reading blogs (which is no doubt obvious because here I am). Perfect timing on this post! We are starting our final online lecture on professionalism next week for my SLIS course and this will reinforce the messages I am encouraging my students with. Thanks Mel!

  2. Melissa says:

    Whoop! Happy to help! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *