United for Libraries + Emerging Leaders 2018

I was a member of the 2018 class of ALA Emerging Leaders: a crash course in all things ALA and leadership. The five month program consists of working with both an ALA division and a project team. Each project has an end goal of a poster session at ALA Annual. Before ALA Midwinter, a sort of medical school match day ensues. Both individuals and divisions' projects choose their favorites, ultimately creating teams.

My team comprised Lina Bertinelli, Madeline Jarvis, and Tess Wilson. Our project, with United for Libraries, focused on increasing millennial engagement in civic library leadership.

The problem

Pew Research identifies Millennials as the top generation of library users. United for Libraries recognized from their own anecdotal knowledge that this was not true for boards: Friends, Trustees, and Foundations. The translation from heavy users to board members was not happening with Millennials.

United for Libraries gave my team carte blanche control of the project. Our goals were to identify why Millennials were not serving on library boards, and to come up with strategies to solve the issue.

The Strategy

We conducted 12 interviews, 2 conference discussions, and released a nationwide survey that covered 866 respondents from 41 states. We heard from every generation at least once, and received the most responses from trustees.

word of mouth

From the survey responses, we learned that fewer Millennials are being told of board openings than their older counterparts. Around 62% of every other generation were told of the opening that became their position, whereas for Millennials the number was 46%.

We discovered early on that this may be affected by a preconception by other generations that Millennials only would participate to “pad” their resumes. Through our research, we discovered Millennials’ reasons for volunteering are actually nearly identical to older generations (community involvement, love of libraries and reading, work in libraries, etc.). The only difference was that many Millennials had found themselves drawn back because their children are active library users. One rural, Millennial trustee said, “I wanted to make sure it stays current and updated for young families.”



Often boards look for someone who is able to fit their current administration styles. This includes meetings scheduled during work hours and meetings that can be seen as inefficient to younger generations.

“[When looking for a board candidate we need,] for those employed, a flexible work schedule so [they] can attend meetings” -Rural, Silent Generation trustee

“Volunteer board service can be difficult to squeeze in along with full-time work and child care...For me, it feels very important that our work together as a board is managed efficiently, so time away from my young kids is not wasted... Makework for the board (e.g. inventing new policies we need to keep us busy... do we really need to debate a 3D printer policy for an hour?) is the kiss of death.” - Rural, Millennial trustee