My Semester with SustainRT: Serendipity, Hard Work, & a New Perspective

Post by Dani Scott, ALA SustainRT Intern 2019

As I finish my last semester of graduate school with Simmons University’s LIS program, I can say, without a doubt, that my internship with the American Library Association’s Sustainability Round Table was one of the most rewarding experiences of the entire program. How it all came about was a bit of luck: I was in conversation with a member of SustainRT to intern specifically with her. However, we couldn’t quite make that work, so I reached out to the round table’s board and asked, “Hey, do you know of any internship opportunities regarding sustainability?” As a matter of fact, they did—involving the entire round table! The structure of the internship was fantastic. Committee chairs were asked if they could use the help of an intern on any projects. I was then presented with these projects and selected the ones that best matched my interests and abilities.

All told, I ended up working with the Book Award (soon to be called the Book List), Membership, Online Education, and Outreach Committees. My time with each supported my growth as a librarian, collaborator, researcher, and presenter. With the Online Education folks, I was given the opportunity to moderate webinar question and answer periods, something that is much harder than you’d think when scrolling through fast moving chat boxes! It was certainly a lesson in quick thinking, patience, and concisely communicating a lot of information. I was also given the chance to present a webinar on the link between mindfulness and sustainability. This project grew unexpectedly out of a conversation between myself and the chair of the committee on our very first meeting. That kind of spontaneity was one thing I loved about working with all of the folks in SustainRT. There was never a sense that I was the intern who would just do the tasks laid out for me; rather, there was a collaborative, organic feel to projects which allowed them to transform as new ideas arose.

With the Membership Committee, I supported the design and launch of the SustainRT Mentorship Program. (We’re looking for mentors and mentees, so apply here!) The program matches sustainability-engaged librarians with LIS students or new librarians (within their first three years of professional work) to offer support and guidance. As part of the design of this program, I was in touch with librarians all over the country. This led to a fantastic conversation with Sharrese Castillo, the mentorship coordinator from the Hawaii Library Association, and Julene Jones, the past chair of the Library Leadership And Management Association mentorship program. As a student who has little time to attend conferences and meetings, there is limited opportunity for networking with other librarians, but SustainRT illuminated the national picture of what it means to be a sustainability-engaged librarian.

As part of the Book Award Committee, I designed the list of Sustainability-Themed Children’s Books for 2019. (Note: this committee is deciding on its charge and may change its name to the “Book List Committee” soon!) Committee members had spent time reviewing and choosing books, and, after much editing, seeking feedback, and yet more editing, we met our goal by publishing the list in time for Earth Day. This process was a great way to observe the “inner workings” of consensus-building—it takes time, patience, a willingness to negotiate, and trust in your fellow committee members. After witnessing all of this, I have a much deeper appreciation for, and understanding of, what collaboration really looks like.

That collaborative spirit is also a big part of the Outreach Committee. There is a deep sense of the collective with these folks, with lots of care given to everyone’s opinion and voice. This blog post is part of my work with them, in fact, and, as a little plug, the Outreach folks are always on the lookout for new blog post authors. If you have something to share about your sustainability-related work (or really anything sustainability related), get in touch with them!

I was a member of SustainRT before my internship. (Membership is free for students, and only $10 after that!) Now I feel like part of the SustainRT community. It wasn’t just the projects that meant so much to me—it was the care and interest that each member showed me. The folks in SustainRT are dedicated, knowledgeable, and generous. My time with the constellation of committees I interned with brought me a greater understanding of committee work and librarianship, sure, but it also gave me a much deeper understanding of what sustainability means and looks like. I now feel empowered to do more than push recycling programs or run discussions on climate change (although those are important, too!), and supporting others to understand this connection between mindfulness and sustainability has become a goal for me. The importance of community and recognizing the intersectionality of sustainability with the myriad power structures in place, and how these affect our fellow humans is another giant leap in my understanding of what it means to be sustainable. The lists of gifts I’ve received from this internship could go on and on. My view of what’s possible in the library world is forever changed, and, though I have no idea where it might take me, I feel thankful to everyone who supported me through it. To fellow LIS students passionate about sustainability and in search of a fantastic internship experience: reach out to SustainRT, or other groups whose mission makes your heart sing! You never know where that inquiry may lead you.

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