From A Cup of Coffee to Connecting in Community: A First Year Experience with Atla
by Karen Adjei/
December 02, 2022
My introduction to Atla began before I enrolled in the MLIS program at the University of Maryland. As an incoming first-year MLIS student at the University of Maryland who was admitted one year well into the COVID-19 pandemic, I was not only seeking professional experiences that could keep me busy and focused before I started my graduate career, but I was also seeking community in organizations any way I could, even online, to be a part of and learn from.
As a person of faith in the Christian tradition interested in studying other faith traditions, I was intrigued that there was a library membership association where I could combine these interests and life experiences with librarianship. Even though I was a bit intimidated at first, wondering how I could get plugged in, I appreciated that Atla provided programming and online community in the middle of a global health crisis. When signing up to join as a student member, I especially appreciated Atla’s 75th Anniversary translucent coffee mug that I could add to my own growing collection. I was hooked!
Even though I was a bit intimidated at first, wondering how I could get plugged in, I appreciated that Atla provided programming and online community in the middle of a global health crisis.
In acquainting myself further with Atla virtually through its website, I also came across the theological librarianship course offered through the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I was extremely excited that not only did such a course exist and that I could enroll in it within my first year, but that it would be great opportunity to dive deeper into my interests in religious studies and library service. I was able to take the course in my second semester of my graduate school program, and I found it to be a deeper layer of community. Although virtual, the synchronous class structure provided an added dimension of connection with fellow classmates from various backgrounds and with varying degrees of exposure to and involvement in theological librarianship.
The course allowed me to better understand the history of Atla and theological librarianship in North America, and I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to learn more about theological librarianship in other regions of the world. Guest speakers helped me to better see what is possible in the field, and the various ways that I could contribute. Class engagement with peers from different faith traditions enriched our discussions. What I appreciated most from the class were discussions on hospitality, and how librarians can embody this in their own work to help guide students and scholars on their educational journey into deeper spiritual formation.
What I appreciated most from the class were discussions on hospitality, and how librarians can embody this in their own work to help guide students and scholars on their educational journey into deeper spiritual formation.
During this time, I was accepted into ARL’s Kaleidoscope Program and paired with a mentor, Jamie Lin, who is Atla’s Education and Professional Development Manager. This mentoring relationship further enriched my experience with theological librarianship, as I gained a better understanding of what Atla does while also receiving professional support in making the most out of my graduate school and professional organizational experience. Jamie encouraged me to attend Atla Annual 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland, and apply for a travel grant, and this was the catalyst needed that led to a wonderful experience at the conference.
Atla Annual was the first in-person conference for a library professional organization that I have experienced, and I was so thankful that my mentor encouraged me to attend. I immediately recognized the warmth and genuine welcoming spirit that hosted me as a student new to the organization. I thoroughly enjoyed the newcomers’ bingo icebreaker, and even won a prize (competitive games are not my forte, so this was a big deal to me!). Even better, I got to meet my mentors, Dr. Berryhill and Jamie Lin, in person! I also met someone who had recently attended the California Library Association Conference, an event I had been considering for a while, and was reassured to go in the future. And in extraordinary circumstances, I was introduced to a fellow newcomer who just so happens to be working at a seminary library in Japan, an area in which I hope to one day practice theological librarianship to some degree.
Atla Annual was the first in-person conference for a library professional organization that I have experienced, and I was so thankful that my mentor encouraged me to attend.
One of the first workshops I attended focused on the job application process, Navigating in the Fog: Shining a Light on the Library Job Search Process. This workshop literally demystified the general confusion I had about what my final year of graduate school would look like while applying to jobs, and I now feel ready to make the most out of that process. This workshop has also led to a library apprenticeship through a connection with Megan Welsh. In addition, I thoroughly enjoyed the Left To Our Devices: Playing with Spirituality Formative Media Discernment presentation, as it helped me to reflect on my role as a steward of information within digital realms in service of spiritual and educational formation. I especially appreciated the interfaith dialogue afterwards, which better informed my own understanding of the presented material within my personal faith tradition.
Another aspect of the conference that I enjoyed was checking out the vendors in between sessions. It was great to see the different areas of librarianship represented, and I was pleased to find books that I could gift my friends and family while sharing the love of information with them. And of course, I enjoyed all the free merch! During the luncheons, I met alumni of the theological librarianship course, and I was inspired to learn about where they are now in the field. I appreciated finally being able to make in-person connections from the online course taken earlier in the year.
I especially appreciated the closing plenary address, Think about Christianity that Takes Pluralism Seriously, which touched on how Christian faith traditions can make space for and learn from other faith traditions as part of Christian hospitality and librarianship practices. This provided a much-needed space for reflecting on what I had learned in my theological librarianship course. I hope to touch further on this in a future blog post. I left the conference feeling inspired about theological librarianship, better connected, and empowered to further explore how I can make a difference in the theological librarianship field. And most of all, I felt that I had become part of an invaluable community of peers.
I left the conference feeling inspired about theological librarianship, better connected, and empowered to further explore how I can make a difference in the theological librarianship field.
Finally, I learned later in the year that I was a recipient of Atla’s Diversity Scholarship, and I’m thankful to be supported by Atla in this way. One aspect of this scholarship involves support in attending and possibly presenting at the Atla conference, and I am really looking forward to participating in Atla Annual 2023, as another way to contribute my observations and insights as an MLIS student to theological librarianship scholarly knowledge. I am excited to make further progress in my graduate program and contribute more to librarianship with Atla.
So, if you are an incoming or current MLIS student, or have an interest in religious studies and theological librarianship, I hope that you too can find a community and professional support in Atla. You never know what might happen!
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