LIBRARIES: ESSENTIAL FOR LEARNING, ESSENTIAL FOR LIFE
We live in extraordinary times. Throughout the library world, reductions in our financial resources threaten our survival. At the same time, many libraries are experiencing large increases in demand and use. In academic, public, school, and special libraries, these challenges call for innovative thinking and forward-looking solutions.
The ALA president’s most visible and important role is to speak forcefully for all types of libraries and library workers. The successful president also leads by inspiring and mobilizing the support not only of library workers, but also the people we serve. Leading an organization as complex and diverse as ALA requires a president who has the experience, skills and talents to lead our effort to transform public perceptions of libraries from being “nice to have” to being “essential for learning and essential for life”.
My priorities as ALA president are: 1. advocacy; 2. diversity and inclusiveness; and 3. defending our core values.
The goal. We must transform the way people think about libraries, from being “nice to have” to being “essential for learning, essential for life”.
Recent studies such as The Knight Commission’s Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, the OCLC Report From Awareness to Funding, and Public Agenda’s Long Overdue all point to the time being right for changing public perceptions about libraries. When we couple this research with the economic threats to libraries and the way that people have fought back all across the country, it becomes clear that we have a golden opportunity to demonstrate the critical roles libraries play in our lives.
Library support for lifelong learning starts with public library early literacy programs. The key outcome is that children enter kindergarten ready to read, regardless of the economic circumstance of birth. School libraries offer direct learning support to children and youth as they progress through the K-12 years. To succeed, young people must develop 21st Century information literacy skills, skills that school library media specialists teach. Young people, their educators and caregivers continue to turn to public libraries to build literacy skills and develop a love of reading. Academic libraries support information and research needs, provide environments that support collaborative learning, and deliver resources to learners wherever they are. These libraries recognize the need for accountability, demonstrating the contributions they make to research, teaching, and the service missions of their institutions. When our formal education ends, we know that learning is not over. Libraries are essential in our democratic society, allowing all to be lifelong learners.
We can articulate compelling reasons why libraries are “essential for life”. Teaching information literacy skills must be available not only in formal educational settings. Technology changes so rapidly that an information literate individual today may not be so tomorrow. We have large numbers of people in our democracy who either finished their formal education years ago or who have never had adequate access to technology and information resources. In our communities, we see people of all ages and backgrounds who can only access information and technology through libraries that are open to them. Community colleges open opportunities for people changing careers. Libraries support the needs of recent immigrants and help them find ways to navigate life in their new homeland. Libraries support adult learners and improving their literacy. Libraries also serve as inviting and neutral centers in their communities, helping bring people together to address community needs and priorities.
The strategy. We must:
- intensify our efforts to encourage our users to tell their stories about the powerful role libraries have played in their lives. Friends-of-the-Library groups multiply each time economic downturns threaten large funding reductions. More and more, academic and school libraries also appreciate the multifaceted value of organized Friends groups. Federal librarians learned the value of rallying their users to fight for their libraries’ futures in the 1980s. We all know how a parent, teacher, student, community leader, or just ordinary resident can tell the library story vividly and dramatically to decision-makers. We need to do this year round, every year, not just when our funding is threatened;
- collaborate with the many natural allies in our communities. When libraries are truly threatened with losing funding, communities fight to save these essential services. Just look at what the “Spokane Moms” did in the state of Washington to save school libraries. There are other signs of hope, such as the election results in Ohio in November 2009, where many communities voted to increase support for libraries despite the dismal economy; and
- draw on community-related ALA resources. One such tremendous ALA resource is the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF), which has conducted library advocacy for many years. We have the opportunity to learn from ALTAFF members and to replicate their efforts across all types of libraries.
“Closing the deal.” We have been working through ALA, our state associations, our affiliates, and our own library communities to transform the way people think about the role of libraries at all stages of their lives. We have become better at telling our story and having our users tell their stories. But, we have not yet “closed the deal” in many of our library communities.
Margaret Mead’s well-known observation describes how we will succeed: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
As ALA president, I will work tirelessly with all of you to “close the deal”. Together we can move discussions at the national, state and local level to libraries being viewed as essential for learning and essential for life and advocate for the restoration and enhancement of library funding at all levels.
2. DIVERSITY AND INCLUSIVENESS.
The goal. We must continue to strengthen the future of library leadership, the library profession, and library services by significantly increasing recruitment and retention of a more diverse workforce, especially more people of color, minority cultures, those with disabilities, and young professionals, so that our library staffing at all levels, as well as collections and services, reflect the demographics of the communities and institutions we serve.
The strategy. We must:
- expand the concrete steps taken to recruit a more diverse workforce through initiatives such as the ALA Spectrum Scholarships and the support networks that have been built through Spectrum, the ethnic caucuses, round tables, and ALA units that focus on services to special populations;
- link our diversity efforts to ALA leadership development programs, including the Emerging Leaders program, the recently launched MentorConnect, and ALA division initiatives in the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA), the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), the Public Library Association (PLA), and others;
- pursue diversity, inclusiveness, and leadership development by building on each other’s work through collaborative efforts across many ALA constituencies and units; and
- include the populations we serve in formulating and implementing our plans. We know how to do this. We have professionals, such as those serving young adults, who recognized years ago that services would only be effective if teens were involved in developing the services. Let us take that lesson and apply it more broadly across the profession.
The Pledge. We have a long way to go before we will realize staffing that reflects the demographics of all our communities. I pledge to increase significantly the visibility and support for these efforts.
3. DEFENDING OUR CORE VALUES.
The Issues. As anyone who has been involved with intellectual freedom and privacy issues knows, some issues fade into the background, but later reappear in another form. Today, ALA and state associations are making great efforts to roll back provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, to protect First Amendment rights and privacy.
In addition, open access battles are being waged in a variety of areas, particularly in the academic community seeking open access to taxpayer-funded research; this battle is important for all types of libraries.
We must continue to be vigilant and watchful, for those who wish to restrict access to information remain unrelenting in their quest. People across this country and, indeed, around the world have witnessed the impact of ALA’s leadership in protecting intellectual freedom, privacy, and open access to information. We must continue to build coalitions with those individuals and institutions, both in the United States and globally, that believe in the fundamental right and value of the free flow of ideas and an individual’s right to privacy.
The Pledge. As ALA’s president, I pledge to defend vigorously intellectual freedom, the right to privacy, and open access to information.