Lifelong Learning and Leadership

Community Profile

“The public library plays a huge role in the larger framework of our society, and it is important for me to utilize my skills to become a leader in the public library realm.”

Kai Forsley
Volunteer Programs Coordinator, Presidio Trust
MLIS Student (Expected graduation Spring 2017)

From a Spectrum Scholarship to student chapter membership, Kai Forsley and ALA have formed a beneficial partnership.

Kai Forsley, native of Chicago, moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2008 for an AmeriCorps assignment. With a background in nonprofit work and an interest in the public sector, as well as two years experience at the Champaign Public Library in Illinois, Forsley started working for the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) in 2011. As the volunteer program coordinator, she was responsible for adult literacy and learning programs. 

“I realized that the changing face of the public library needs all types of skilled individuals,” Forsley says. “I had lots of community programming experience and I noticed that this was not a skill that many librarians had.” With co-workers talking about their iSchool experiences obtaining their MLIS, and her love of libraries at the front of her mind, Forsley naturally gravitated towards getting her MLIS degree.

“My background in community programming, systems management and developing educational curricula will be a valuable resource as a budding librarian. I had always had a goal of getting my Master’s degree,” Forsley adds. “When I recognized that even in my spare time I found myself in a library, I made the connection! The public library plays a huge role in the larger framework of our society and it is important for me to utilize my skills to become a leader in the public library realm.”

Forsley joined the San José State University School of Information MLIS program in Spring 2015. 

Enter the American Library Association

During her first semester, Forsley applied for and won an American Library Association (ALA) Spectrum Scholarship, awarded to students from traditionally underrepresented groups to encourage diversity in libraries.

“I felt such a passion towards librarianship and I knew my perspective was unique,” Forsley says. “I worked really hard to craft an application that showcased my passion for and experience in library world [and] my dedication to the profession. That scholarship really propelled me to be able to work towards my degree more efficiently.”

It also increased her confidence, encouraging her to research and apply for more scholarships, including the E.J. Josey scholarship awarded by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and the Louise Moses-Agnes Davis Memorial Scholarship given by the California Librarians Black Caucus.

Forsley has a deep commitment to education, and has witnessed how both libraries and patrons have shifted the delivery of information to meet the community’s information needs. “The future of library programming is instructional and will focus on lifelong learning,” she stresses. To continue building networks with local librarians and further her knowledge she joined the American Library Association Student Chapter (ALASC) at San Jose State, the student group builds the connection between graduate students the iSchool and the ALA.

As ALASC regional events coordinator, Forsley seeks out and organizes events that iSchool students would find interesting. “We focus on building student enrichment activities,” Forsley explains. “One of the highlights of the year was coordinating the ALA Presidential candidates’ forum.”

The ALA elections are taking place during April 2016, and the three presidential candidates, Christine Lind Hage, Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe and James G. (Jim) Neal gathered with ALASC to tackle questions that the ALASC board thought would best represent the candidates’ platforms. “We kept in mind the fact that our major audience would be students,” Forsley explains. “We wanted to ensure the candidates were able to give a broad snapshot of the work they have done and would do as the President of ALA.”

The forum was conducted via a Collaborate session, was open to anyone interested in the election and was a great success, Forsley reports. “The participants were engaged and we felt the candidates provided great information.” And in case you missed it, the session was recorded and is available here.

A Commitment to Lifelong Learning

To explore another leadership opportunity, Forsley got involved in iSchool Connext, the iSchool’s official student and alumni association where she is the current student-president. “I enjoy this position because I get to work with really nice colleagues as well as work to coordinate events,” she says. “Building professional contacts is important for individuals entering a new profession.”

This year, iSchool Connext worked with the Screen Actors Guild’s BookPals program for Read Across America Week, a partnership that supported local youth and their families. “On behalf of iSchool Connext, I was able to give BookPals 60 books to distribute to elementary school children.”

Although her aspiration is to eventually work in public library management and policy, Forsley doesn’t have a defined career pathway. “I like knowing new things as well as pursuing things I’m good at,” she explains. “And I’m always looking for educational enrichment.”

She recently surprised colleagues and friends by leaving her job at SFPL for an opportunity to coordinate volunteer programs at the Presidio Trust, the federal agency that manages San Francisco’s former military base, now home to beautiful coastal open spaces.

“My position with SFPL did have flexibility to get out in the field and visit other libraries and interact with the public in various venues, but I really wanted to get outside and commune with the natural world. Now, I get to do that every day,” Forsley explains. “I’ll definitely be back at the library one day.”

“I think the field of librarianship needs information scientists that are well-rounded and that have experiences that are cross-sector,” Forsley adds. “I’m using my experiences in the iSchool program as well as other volunteer and work experiences to be a candidate that stands out to employers. I think my iSchool leadership and library project management experience will make me a candidate that displays true library-community engagement.”

How You Can Get Involved

Many of the opportunities that Forsley has explored are available to the iSchool’s broader community of students and alumni. If you’re not already engaged, check out iSchool Connext, the school’s student and alumni association. “The organizations I am a part of want to be the best resource they can be for the student body,” Forsley says. “There are roles for leaders, supporters and everyone in between.”

Also, the American Library Association is another great association to be actively engaged in that offers tremendous opportunities to get involved, network and make an impact in the profession. One of the best ways to do that is by casting your vote in presidential elections. Check out this year’s ALA Presidential candidates via the recorded ALASC forum and cast your vote by April 15, 2016.