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Interview with Rachel Wells, 2023 Core Emerging Leader

Interview with Rachel Wells, 2023 Core Emerging Leader

Rachel Wells served as a 2023 Core Emerging Leader (EL). As one of 49 library workers chosen from across the U.S. and Canada, she participated in six-months of project planning work groups, networking with peers, and gained an inside look into the ALA structure. The program culminated in a presentation of the groups’ work at the 2023 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, IL this past June. The following is a recent interview with Wells about her experience in the ALA Emerging Leaders Program.

Tell us about your current position. What do you enjoy the most about it?
Currently, I am the Reference Librarian at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. I work with a wide variety of individuals to help them on dissertations, books, or any project they’re working on related to baseball. I love a lot about my job, but one of my favorite aspects is having so many different departments working together in one building. There are so many opportunities to learn about different aspects of museums, libraries, archives, and non-profits, and I leave work always having learned something new about my field.

Why did you apply for the Emerging Leaders program?
When I became a member of ALA, I essentially scoured the website to see what opportunities were available to me as a new member. I saw Emerging Leaders and immediately knew it was something that I wanted to participate in. Emerging Leaders seemed like a great opportunity to build leadership skills and to build my network.

What kind of (non-monetary) support were you given as an Emerging Leader?
My group received a tremendous amount of support from the Intellectual Freedom Round Table’s Director-at-Large Angela Ocaña, as well as IFRT Chair Elect, Amanda Vasquez, who were our team liaisons for this project. They were so helpful and were so motivating and supportive the entire duration of Emerging Leaders. I also received support from my manager at the Hall of Fame, who always was there whenever I needed to talk through a dilemma or challenge I was facing when working on this project.

What was the most challenging part of the program?
A trivial problem to have for sure, but coordinating meetings with team members and liaisons from all over the country made this a more challenging process. We had members of our team in a few different time zones and with different work responsibilities that made our meeting times fall between very specific windows. It made us focus on what needed to get done in meetings!

Did you have a project in mind while you filled out the application? Did it change once you got started?
I didn’t have a project in mind while I filled out the application, and I was ready for whatever project was thrown my way.

Please describe the project you did end up working on and its major findings, outcomes, and/or deliverables.
My team was assigned the Finding Silent Censorship project by the sponsoring organization IFRT (Intellectual Freedom Round Table). Our original challenge was to update the statistic that “82-97% of material and program challenges remained unreported”. Updating an unreported number was daunting, and with the guidance of IFRT liaisons, our group decided to work on identifying sources of censorship data and determine where there was potential for discrepancy between reporting data and potential areas for improvement.

We distributed surveys to every state’s Library Association and received responses from 36 of them. From the surveys, we found that 72% did not track challenges beyond what is sent to the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom, and each state differed in how it distributed, reported, and kept records of these challenges. We also found that there was not a consistent definition that all states used for “challenges”. Some classified challenges solely as challenges to print materials, while others included programming and internet-related challenges. From these results, we were able to create a list of formal recommendations to the ALA OIF on behalf of IFRT, as well as a list of potential projects for future IFRT-sponsored Emerging Leaders.

How did the Emerging Leaders program benefit your professional development?
The Emerging Leaders program was my first foray into conducting and presenting research, so I left with a whole new skill set! It also made me become more comfortable with how ALA works as an organization and expanded my network within ALA.  

Where do you see your career going from here?
If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that plans and predictions can change in an instant. I don’t have a specific job title or “dream” career path right now, but I know that I want to keep working and growing both professionally and in ALA. I would love to continue working in special libraries, but also stay involved in policies and issues that are affecting all libraries through ALA leadership.

Do you have any recommendations for a new Emerging Leader on how to get the most out of the experience?
Network, network, network! Emerging Leaders allows you to connect with so many new people from all over the world, and to talk to people who are part of many different groups and committees in ALA. I left Emerging Leaders having a much better understanding of the structure of ALA overall.