The Library of Congress offers a variety of staff development opportunities, one of which is the popular Leadership Development Program (LDP). It is a 12-month competency-based training program for employees from diverse backgrounds who are interested in broadening their knowledge and developing leadership and supervisory skills. The program includes a supervisory detail opportunity so that the participants can practice the knowledge and skills they have learned from the program. The 2019 class accepted a total of 20 staff members.
This past May, the African and Middle Eastern Division cooperated with the Internships and Fellowships Program Office (IFP) and the Human Capital Directorate (HCD) to bring onboard LDP Fellow Amal Morsy for a 4-month detail. Amal was tasked to supervise three Junior Fellows – Chelsey Brown, Briana Gausland and August Kahn – who would assist the division’s reference specialists in developing African and Middle Eastern digital resources in the form of research guides and finding aids for public use.
As Amal’s detail is coming to an end, we conducted an interview with her to talk about her LDP journey and her supervisory experience with AMED’s Junior Fellows.
When did you join the Library of Congress and why?
I joined the Library of Congress on April 17, 2017. Before joining the Library, I was the library director of the Middle East Institute Library, which is located at Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.
Working for the Library of Congress has always been my dream. This dream originated years ago when I was a freshman in college studying Library Science at Cairo University, Egypt. During the first class I ever attended, the instructor began his first lecture titled, “Library of Congress, the World’s Leading Library.” Using a mechanical, dusty, antiquated overhead projector, he began talking about the library’s history, its system, and its role and impact throughout the entire world. I looked at the pictures on the screen of the astonishing buildings and allowed myself to dream that one day I would work at this amazing, prestigious library. That same evening, I wrote about my dream in my diary. After arriving in America years later, I worked in several library systems but never the one of my dreams. I returned to school and earned my Master of Library Science degree. After 14 years of applying to the Library, in February 2017, I received a phone call from the head of the Asian and Middle East Division – a division responsible for acquisitions and cataloging – to let me know that I had been offered a position as one of the Arabic librarians and that I would be starting on April 17, 2017. That morning at 7:00 am (two hours before my set arrival time), I was at the door of the Madison building with my diary in my hands. I opened it to the page where long ago I had written of my dream. With a red marker, I placed a check mark next to my words to show my dream had come true.
What is your regular job and what do you like most about it?
I am an Arabic cataloger for the Asian and Middle Eastern Division. I love my job as a cataloger. It is exciting and challenging and, at the same time, it gives me joy. With every book I catalog, I learn something a little bit more – about religion, poetry, law, history; the list is endless. I love my job, and I am getting paid for doing something I absolutely love!
Why did you join the Leadership Development Program and what do you think about the program?
I first learned about the LDP program in February 2018 from an email that was sent to all LOC staff. I was intrigued because I thought it would be a good opportunity to expand my learning in order to return to a managerial role. I applied and was accepted into the program. As I took classes, my whole understanding of the concepts being taught evolved. The program totally changed my life. It has allowed me to look at things from different angles and see them as clearly as possible. It turned out that, in addition to providing an opportunity to become a manager, this program gave me an opportunity to find myself. The LDP program leverages the very best of myself. It provided me with tools and techniques that allow me to listen more than talk. I learned that I don’t have to step in too quickly with solutions. Listening and giving others time and space to come up with creative solutions is a valuable part of team building. I learned that being right isn’t enough. I must convince others to believe it, too.
The MOST valuable thing I learned is that leadership is not a position that we seek; it is a mindset.
Please describe your current detail at the AMED. What projects are you working on?
In my current detail as a Junior Fellow mentor, I oversee three different projects for AMED. These projects were developed for AMED’s Junior Fellows prior to their virtual arrival on May 26. The three projects have two things in common: to help the Library connect with patrons and to extend the Library’s mission beyond its walls. The main goal is to make more resources freely available and to enhance public access to the Library’s online collections.
My role is to manage each project’s progress and ensure success. My Junior Fellows team and I are working collaboratively to build reference guides for the AMED collection. One of my main responsibilities is discussing guides techniques with my team, coming up with solutions to any problems they may encounter, building a working plan, and leading them to a successful outcome.
Working with my team of young Junior Fellows, I have enjoyed developing professional relationships. I am interested in talking to them about their future and am eager to hear their ideas. They have become an integral part of my day, and I know I will miss them dearly after their internship has been completed.
What advice do you have for new Library employees or LDP applicants?
When I first learned about the LDP program, I thought there was not much hope that I would ever be accepted into this prestigious program, especially because I had only been working for the Library for 11 months. Like my dream of long ago, I still kept my hopes up and decided to apply. I could not believe my eyes when I got the acceptance email months later. I have been told that out of 70 applicants, I was one of the 20 fellows that had been accepted.
My best advice to the future LDPs as you take your LDP classes is this: Don’t listen with your ears, be in it with your heart. It will change your life as it did mine. Trust yourself and your ability to reach your goal no matter how far and how hard it seems to you. Do your best and keep striving. You CAN do it, and eventually, you will reach your goal.
A tough challenge for new employees in general is figuring out how to blend into the new environment. New employees are often anxious to make friends and get others to trust them at the workplace. My advice is to avoid rushing this phase at least for the first few months. In the first four or even six months, your colleagues are observing you as much as you are observing them. Don’t spend a lot of time focusing on how to get your colleagues to like you. It will make things worse, and friendships will come naturally with time.