Attending the ALA Annual Conference was ‘Absolutely Priceless’
MLIS BIPOC Students Encouraged to Apply for Spectrum Scholarships and Travel Grants
Published: July 10, 2023 by Kathrina Johnson
My name is Kathrina Johnson, and I am a current MLIS student in SJSU’s iSchool. In August of 2022, I received the happy news that I had been chosen as a recipient of the ALA Spectrum Scholarship. The Spectrum Scholarship program recruits and provides scholarships to American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern and North African, and/or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students pursuing a graduate degree in Library Science to assist them in obtaining the degree and leadership positions within the profession and the ALA.
Although the scholarship provided two nights’ hotel, airfare and some meals, I knew I would need further financial assistance in order to be able to attend the ALA Annual Conference and the Leadership Institute in Chicago, Illinois. Thanks to a travel grant from SJSU, I was able to attend the conference this past June.
The Leadership Institute sponsored by the ALA Spectrum Scholarship program took place at the beautiful and historic Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago. It was an enriching and invigorating experience. For one thing, it was exciting to meet my fellow SJSU scholars, and put faces to their names. It was also exciting to meet other Spectrum Scholars residing all over the country.
On our first evening there, we played Bingo to get to know each other, and we shared “I Am” poems, which was more emotional than I thought it would be. Despite our many differences, there were threads of commonalities that drew us together, and that was a beautiful realization. In the following days, we went to sessions on topics like “Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School” and “Navigating Oppression in These Challenging Times.” It was refreshing to know that others had been through similar challenges to my own and that I was not alone. It was also great to network with seasoned professionals and learn from their experience. I know I made friendships at the Leadership Institute that will last throughout my career!
In exchange for the travel grant, I volunteered two hours of my time at the iSchool’s booth in the Exhibit Hall at the ALA Annual Conference, which was in the McCormick Place Convention Center. It was a great experience. Many alumni stopped by just to say hello, and I spoke to prospective students about my experience. It was a great feeling to represent SJSU as a student ambassador and meet some awesome people I had only ever communicated with online, like School of Information Director Anthony Chow and Student Outreach Specialist Sheila Gurtu.
The Exhibit Hall is an experience in and of itself. There are free books, bookmarks, stickers, and tons of information and speakers. It is impossible to not learn something as you are walking around taking it all in. There is even a post office available for everyone to mail themselves goodies from the conference.
The highlight of my time in the Exhibit Hall came when I was waiting for an autograph for a new book release, “Loud and Proud: The Life and Times of Shirley Chisolm” by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by Kaylani Juanita. The line was very long and moving slowly. A woman came up to me and touched my arm and said, “I’m sorry I held up the line.” That woman was Dr. Carla Hayden, the first woman and first African-American to be the Librarian of Congress. Needless to say, I did not mind that she held up the line.
The ALA Annual Conference was a great learning experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone studying to become a librarian. Additionally, I’d encourage any MLIS BIPOC students to apply for the Spectrum Scholarship. The opportunity and experiences were absolutely priceless.
Editor’s Note: The SJSU iSchool highly encourages students to attend professional conferences but also realizes that it can be cost prohibitive. Travel grants are available to eligible students to help lessen the financial burden and increase conference participation. iSchool student Kathrina Johnson received one of these travel grants.