Published: July 10, 2023 by Kathrina Johnson
My name is Kathrina Johnson and I am currently an MLIS student at iSchool at SJSU. In August 2022, I received the happy news that I had been chosen as the recipient of the ALA Spectrum Scholarship. The Spectrum Scholarship Program recruits and offers scholarships to Native American/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 help them obtain the degree and leadership positions within the profession and ALA.
Although the scholarship provided two nights of hotel accommodation, airfare, and some meals, I knew I would need additional financial assistance to be able to attend the ALA Annual Conference and Leadership Institute in Chicago, Ill. Thanks to a travel grant from SJSU, I was able to attend the conference last June.
The Leadership Institute sponsored by the ALA Spectrum Scholars Program was held at the beautiful and historic Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago. It was an enriching and invigorating experience. On the one hand, it was exciting to meet my academic colleagues from SJSU and put faces to their names. It was also exciting to meet other Spectrum Fellows residing across the country.
On our first night there, we played bingo to get to know each other and shared “I Am” poems, which was more touching than I thought. Despite our many differences, there were commonalities that brought us together, and it was a great achievement. The following days we went to sessions on topics such as “Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School” and “Navigating Oppression in Difficult Times”. It was refreshing to know that others had gone through similar challenges to mine and that I was not alone. It was also great to network with seasoned professionals and learn from their experience. I know I have 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 booth in the ALA Annual Conference Exhibit Hall, held at the McCormick Place Convention Center. It was an awesome experience. Many former students stopped by just to say hello, and I told potential students about my experience. It was a great feeling to represent SJSU as a student ambassador and to meet some great people that I had only ever communicated with online, such as School Information Director Anthony Chow and student outreach Sheila Gurtu.
The showroom is an experience in itself. There are free books, bookmarks, stickers, and tons of information and speakers. It’s impossible not to learn something as you walk around taking it all in. There is even a post office available for everyone to send conference gifts to each other.
The highlight of my time in the showroom came while waiting for an autograph for the release of a new book, “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, touched my arm, and said, “I’m sorry I’m late for the line. This woman was Dr. Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first African American to serve as the Librarian of Congress. Needless to say, I didn’t mind that she held 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 encourage all MLIS BIPOC students to apply for the Spectrum scholarship. The opportunity and experiences were absolutely invaluable.
Editor’s note: SJSU iSchool strongly encourages students to attend professional conferences, but also realizes that it can be cost prohibitive. Travel scholarships are available to eligible students to help reduce financial burden and increase conference attendance. Kathrina Johnson, a student at iSchool, received one of these travel grants.