I’ve had the opportunity to speak with the American Library Association Presidential candidates almost every year for the past decade, and there are many similarities across candidates and across the years. But what’s it like from the inside to run for ALA office? I asked Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada, 2021-2022 ALA President-Elect, for her thoughts, and she gracefully accepted. - Steve
As I watch this year’s ALA Presidential Candidates share their vision for ALA, libraries, and library workers, I have a new sense of empathy for ALA presidential candidates. Watching them, paired with the excitement of what’s to come in just a few months, has given me the opportunity to reflect on my experience last year as one of three candidates. As an active ALA member, Councilor, and Executive Board member, when I decided to run for ALA President, I felt I had a good grasp on the stress and exhaustion that come with being a candidate. I’d watched numerous ALA presidential hopefuls run across convention centers and back again to share their vision for ALA with various member groups and to meet and hear from as many members as possible. I’d passed them standing at a table sharing flyers and swag with their name on it so that we would remember them two months later when it was time to vote. I’d listened to them give great speeches at the ALA Candidates Forum and thoughtfully pondered who would be the best person to represent our association across the world. I’d watched what honestly feels like an introvert’s nightmare, something that I knew would drain me, but after years of “training” at conferences, running from meeting to meeting, I thought I could handle it (and have the benefit of everything being virtual to save the soles of my feet).
And I did handle it, just like Emily and Kelvin are, but it was nothing like I imagined. I mentioned that I’m an introvert, a characteristic that I think deepened throughout the course of the pandemic, and one that really made a difference in how I went through the six-month campaign cycle. I had to learn really strong boundaries while also ensuring I was available for our members. I had to lean on those who offered help and support in a way that my hyper-independent personality never allowed me to before. And I was reminded of how lucky I am to have a strong network of allies, friends, and family who helped me every step of the way, from interview to be a candidate to giving my feedback on my speeches, to sending me pictures of cute pets and kids to distract me from the weight of the campaign and the future of our association. I was especially lucky that these friends also included the other two presidential candidates, Ed Garcia and Stacey Aldrich, giving us people to share this gruelling experience with and compare notes with afterward. Giving us people to check in with and ask if we were okay.
I don’t think I could have completed the almost fifty member visits and events I did without folks who shared my vision to make ALA the best that it can be for libraries, our communities, and library workers everywhere. Engaging with our members over the course of the campaign kept this introvert motivated and excited for the future. The passion our members brought to each interaction, question, and concern, and the desire to be our best was something I knew and had seen through my previous ALA work, but had not truly understood on a visceral level. The gruelling six months, although laced with many moments of “why did I think this was a good idea?” was laced equally with moments of “this is one of the greatest honors of my career”. Not to win, but just to have the opportunity to run and share in the greatness that is our association, our members, and our future members. Watching Emily and Kelvin go through this, I’m sure they have those moments, and I hope that they have a network as strong as I did to support them. Thankfully, I know that they have an association as strong as I did to help guide them, craft their visions, and get them ready for the ride of their career.
Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada is the Adult Services Assistant Manager at the Palos Verdes Library District in Southern California. She is also the current Executive Director of the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), a past president of APALA (2016-2017), and President-Elect of the American Library Association (ALA). She will assume the presidency after the 2022 ALA Annual Conference.