The votes have been counted, and I came up just short in a very close race for ALA president. I am so grateful for all your support, and happy to have had so many of you working with me to press ALA to undertake the leadership role we need from it during challenging times! That call does not end with this election, and I hope that every one of you will continue working to move ALA forward. This is the work that needs doing, and we can still all work together to get it done. This is #OurALA; let's do some good!
Glad for the opportunity to share some thoughts on the importance of the Spectrum Scholars program, and the role of Spectrum Scholars as people who want to do the work that needs to be done in our professions and in our communities.
Find the post at: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/meet-candidate-scott-walter
I was excited to get a chance to do a Q & A with Hack Library School because that has been a great platform for important discussions (for LIS students and beyond) for years. You can read my thoughts about "The 'L' Word" in LIS education, and get some recommendations for webcomics you should be reading, but I also had some thoughts on the role of the ALA president (no matter who is elected next month) in the current political environment:
"The role the ALA president will play in working with state, national, and grassroots activists to resist an agenda anathema to our profession and to the core values of equity of access, diversity, social justice, and the public good, and in building coalitions of like-minded colleagues who share our commitments, is different from the role that he or she has played as an advocacy leader in the past. Whatever your vote in this election, the next ALA president must be held to a commitment to lead us in doing work that makes a difference in the world we find ourselves in now."
Find the post at: https://hacklibraryschool.com/2017/03/23/meet-scott/
Last week, I was asked to provide a blog post for the Sustainability Round Table blog with a focus on my thoughts on the ALA Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries. The post appeared on the blog this morning, but, unfortunately, without the final quarter of the post. As the complete post had not yet been made available on the Sustainability RT blog, I thought I would post it for you here. If you have any colleagues with an interest in sustainability who thought my blog post seemed to end . . . strangely, here's the original post.
[Note: The complete post is now available on the SustainRT blog. Thanks for the fix!]
Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts about the Sustainability RT and the importance of its work today.
I was a member of ALA Council in 2015 when we passed the “Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries,” and I was happy to support it. At the time, I associated the idea of sustainability in libraries with green building, sustainable business practices, and, maybe, the idea that our move to a greater and greater reliance on digital content and information technology might be contributing to concerns such as use of electricity, e-waste, etc. It is fair to say that my appreciation for the importance of this resolution was not as expansive as it is today, but, also to be fair, we are living in a different world.
To me, the heart of this resolution is the idea that “libraries are uniquely positioned and essential to build the capacity of the communities they serve to be sustainable, resilient, and regenerative,” and the need for libraries to play that role has never been as important as it is today. I think it is telling that the Sustainability Round Table clearly drew on this vision for the role of libraries in communities in its January 2017 statement about our current situation when it focused not just on the environmental impact of the directions signaled by the new Administration, but on the way librarians work with their communities “to build community resilience as we all face an uncertain future together.”
That future has only become more uncertain in the weeks since that statement was made, and, as I write this, the Trump Administration has just released a proposed budget that decimates our capacity, as a society, to support the arts, libraries, museums, public education, and the basic and applied science critical to a sustainable future. Librarians can, and must, not only model sustainable practices in their work, and provide the information services and educational programs that will help to spread broader awareness of how to pursue a sustainable future for one’s self and our planet, but we must radically expand our vision of the library’s role in building a resilient community, whether that community is a school, a town, a city, or a college. In a world where senior government officials question the scientific consensus around issues such as global warming and climate change, the mandate to expand our educational and advocacy role around sustainability is clear.
Here at home, we have a great example of a library making a commitment to sustainability in Chicago Public Library. In 2012, the Urban Libraries Council recognized the work that CPL had done to “[make] green routine,” in its buildings and its business practices. More recently, CPL has collaborated with Hive Chicago to promote “The Sustainability Hack” an education and outreach program aimed at young adults. What this tells us is that the library has powerful partners in the community who want to help us not only to pursue sustainability in our work, but to be part of broader discussions of how we promote a sustainability mindset among our kids and our communities. As an academic librarian, this points the way to new thinking about the “value of the academic library,” and the ways in which it can contribute to mission-centered commitments to sustainability, such as, in my case, the DePaul Sustainability Network (http://bit.ly/2nvSEsv).
There is one final lesson that I took from the sustainability resolution, and that is the importance of energizing the connection between ALA Chapters and Big ALA. The Council of the New York Library Association passed its resolution on sustainability in 2014, and the launch of the NYLA Sustainability Initiative is inspiring. Throughout this election, I have stressed the capacity that ALA has to energize a national, grassroots effort that engages our members at the local, state, and national levels, and the events of the past 7 weeks have only further demonstrated how important that is. Sustainability is one policy area where we have a great example of how that can be done, and we should build on it.
I have made a commitment throughout my campaign to focus our efforts as an Association on the critical challenges before us, and empower our Association and its members to play the leading role they must in defense of our core values, and our rights and responsibilities as information professionals and community members. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to learn more about me and about my candidacy at (walter4ala.org), and I would welcome your support.
There is important work for us to do, and, with your vote, we can do it together.
Library Journal invited ALA candidates to respond to a number of questions ahead of the election, and they gave us some good ones, e.g., "Are Libraries Neutral?" So, definitely look for the complete Q & A (now published). For now, my response to: "With school librarianship in peril in so many places, what is the role of the public library in preparing kids for college readiness?"
Find the interviews at: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2017/03/people/meet-the-candidates-ala-president-2018-19/#_
School libraries, public libraries, and academic libraries are all part of an interdependent learning ecosystem for K-12 students; each has a role to play in preparing students for college and for a life of informed citizenship. Too often, I have seen politicians (including those charged with the leadership of public schools) assume that a robust public library can take the place of a school library, and that leads us down a road detrimental to all. Public libraries have a critical role to play in providing services to children and young adults, and this may include providing support for teachers, coordinating homework help programs, and negotiating for access to digital content that K-12 students and teachers (and parents) can make use in support of teaching and learning. It may include the development of technology-enhanced spaces that encourage media content creation by teens, and it may include the delivery of programs and services that help tweens and teens navigate a complex digital environment as they craft the earliest versions of the digital identity. Academic libraries have a critical role to play in terms of community engagement efforts aimed at K-12 students and teachers, especially as secondary schools have moved into greater support for inquiry-based learning, extended research projects, maker spaces, use of social media, “Big Data,” etc. None of these, however, can take the place of a robust school library program with a professional school librarian in place to serve as an expert resource for students, an instructional collaborator with other teachers, and a building leader who can help to facilitate student access to that broader network of support that he or she should find in local public and academic libraries.
My "official" campaign statement has been published in the March/April issue of American Libraries. First drafted in early December, I'm sorry to say that the concerns I raised about threats to our core values and fundamental freedoms as library users and information professionals were, if anything, too tame. My opening remains true, though:
"This election takes place in the wake of one of the most unexpected turns in American politics in a century, and it has never been more important for us to stand together in defense of the values that bring us to our work."
I look forward to the opportunity to do that with you, together.
I just completed a Q & A for the Circulating Ideas podcast, and, while the responses were not scripted, I have a few notes that should reflect much of what you'll hear when the podcast comes out next month. Here's something close to what I said when asked the perennial opener, "Why do you want to be ALA President?"
When you put your name forward, whether as a candidate for a professional position, a service opportunity, or for ALA President, I think you do it because: 1) you believe the work is important; 2) you believe that you have the experience, the skills, the imagination, and the commitment to make a contribution to the good of the organization; and, 3) because you want to make a difference in your world.
I decided to run for ALA President because I believe the Association has a critical role to play in defense of freedom of speech, equity of access to information, social justice, and the public good, and because I believe that each of these currently faces challenges unprecedented in my lifetime. I believe that ALA has the potential to develop, sustain, and mobilize a powerful network of members at the local, state, and national levels, and a responsibility to do this work in collaboration with other associations and grassroots organizations in defense of our core values and the rights of library staff and library users.
Library advocacy, including advocacy for the rights of our staff and the people in our communities, looks different in 2017 than it did in 2016, and all signs suggest that this change trajectory will continue. In the weeks since Midwinter, we have seen challenge after challenge to our fundamental freedoms in terms of intellectual freedom, access to information and to information networks, to social institutions such as public schools, and to civil society, more broadly. ALA, as an Association, has started to react effectively to these challenges, and to position itself as an activist organization that will defend those rights. We saw that just this morning in ALA’s support for transgender students. But, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we need to ensure that ALA leadership remains committed to this path for the long haul. I believe it is doing this now, and I believe it will continue to do this under the leadership of president-elect Jim Neal, and I would be proud to have the opportunity to continue to build on that work, and to ensure that ALA is firmly established as a leader in defending our core values, the rights of the people in our communities, and the role of libraries as a public good and a bulwark of an informed democracy.
I have just completed another "virtual Q & A" with ALA candidates, this time with the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS). Here's a preview ahead of the publication of the full set in an upcoming ALCTS Newsletter.
Find the interview with all candidates at: http://www.ala.org/alctsnews/features/elections-2017-ala-pres-questions
Please discuss how your ALA goals and philosophy relate to ALCTS. How might ALCTS help facilitate achievement of those goals?
ALCTS, like other ALA units (including Chapters, Round Tables, and Affiliates), may be the primary ALA “home” for its members; ALCTS is the hub for expertise in its areas of concern as well as the resource on which its members depend for networking, professional development, and programs and publications that allow them to move the field forward. ALCTS members have been at the forefront of discussions about the future of libraries as they have provided leadership in areas such as collection development, access to content, and the description, discovery, and preservation of materials in an increasingly complex information environment. That expertise is crucial not only to the profession, but also to some of the goals I have noted above [in an earlier answer; stay tuned for the full version]. I can take two examples from my own life to illustrate the possibilities.
Over the past 5 years, I have been involved in the development of Chicago Collections, a unique consortium of libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and others in the cultural heritage and educational community across Chicago. Our first major project was the EXPLORE Chicago Collections digital portal (http://explore.chicagocollections.org), which provides unprecedented access to the collections and services of member organizations. EXPLORE is the hub around which public programs, reference and instructional services, and professional development opportunities for members have been build, and EXPLORE could not exist without the expertise of collection specialists and metadata specialists such as those found in ALCTS. I don’t have your expertise in these areas, but I imagine you appreciate even more than I do what it took to establish a single set of subject headings allowing for description and access to content from across 20+ organizations, including academic libraries, public libraries, special libraries, as well as art, historical, and natural history museums. EXPLORE is the foundation for meaningful collaboration across member institutions and across the City of Chicago, and it demonstrates the importance of ALCTS-type expertise for the future of libraries. It also demonstrates the ways in which ALCTS-type expertise is an essential complement to expertise we associate with other divisions, including LITA, ACRL, and PLA, and with the local focus we associate with chapters. To do the work that is ahead of us, this sort of collaboration is essential.
Another example of what ALCTS members can bring to the table is expertise that promotes the empowerment of marginalized communities. We have seen this in several “public engagement” projects that bring expertise in the organization, description, and preservation of information to individuals and community groups, but another local example of this for me has been the Read/Write Library, which is currently housed in the Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago. A recent profile (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/read-write-library-nell-taylor-neighborhoods/Content?oid=25001117) of this community library and the role it plays in the lives of its users noted the role of “radical catalogers” who helped to make sense of this grassroots collection and the way in which it could become the foundation for services emphasizing community empowerment. The ability to organize, describe, and provide access to content created by diverse communities is essential today, and that is where ALCTS members excel.
These are just two examples of the ways in which the expertise traditionally housed in ALCTS can be mobilized across the Association at a time when questions of how access to, and preservation of, information (in all formats) is the starting point for a suite of services designed to demonstrate the role that libraries play in the lives of individuals and communities today.
ALA candidates were invited by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association to engage in a "virtual Q&A." Their questions, like those posed earlier this month by EMIERT, highlight some important issue for the Association as we rise to the challenge of adopting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as a strategic area of concern. The complete BCALA Q&A is available here.
Earlier today, I was able to take part in the Virtual General Meeting for the ALA Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT). This is an area close to my heart, as many of you know, going back years to my work with multicultural student centers, campus-wide initiatives like Inclusive Illinois, and academic programs like Washington State's Future Teachers of Color. These were my "opening comments."
Thank you for offering us the opportunity to speak with you today, and to consider the critical role that libraries play in providing access to ethnic and multicultural materials, opportunities for students and professionals of color in our field, and in using the access to information, technology, and expertise that our libraries provide to empower marginalized communities, and communities that have come, over the past several weeks, to fear that they may be further marginalized. These are challenging times, but we have the tools we need to meet them, if we are true to the values of our profession and brave in speaking truth to power, even in the presence of “alternative facts.”
I know many of you from the work I have done over the past 20 years around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Before I was a librarian, I was a teacher and a teacher educator. Two of the formative experiences in my career came during that time, and they were both related to diversity and multiculturalism. As a graduate student in the Indiana University School of Education, I spent a year as a graduate assistant in the “Cultural Immersion Project,” in my case preparing student teachers to teach in native communities in the Navajo Nation. Later, as an LIS student, I developed information literacy partnerships with a Bridge program designed to promote student success among first-generation students at Indiana, many of whom were African-American or Hispanic. The role of the library in promoting academic success and, thus, social mobility for students from these communities was something I took to heart, and a commitment to that role has shaped work that I have done since with academic programs, student affairs programs, and community-based programs. Currently, this means working not only to ensure a diverse and multicultural collection at my library to support academic programs in critical ethnic studies, but with the Office of Multicultural Student Success to develop joint programs, the Career Center to introduce students of color to opportunities in our field, the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity to promote greater awareness of library resources and services, and K-12 schools in the very diverse City of Chicago to promote the academic success of all our children, including recent immigrants, undocumented students, and refugees. This is the work we have always needed to do, but in our “sanctuary city” of Chicago, it has never felt as critical as it has of late.
My goal for ALA is for our Association to take up the leading role that it must in protecting our core values in terms of freedom of speech, equity of access, and the fundamental belief that libraries are a force for good in our society. I would like to see the Association seek out new partnerships with local, state, and national associations that share these commitments with us, whether these are national associations like the ACLU or grassroots organizations springing up daily to help protect civil rights, privacy rights, and copyrights. ALA, with members committed at every level, has the potential to be a powerful force for good in our society, and to empower its members and their community partners with the tools they need to defend our core values and our rights as librarians and library users.
This work must begin now, and, with your support, I believe we can ensure that ALA remains a powerful voice in support of our diverse communities.
All 3 candidates for ALA President were asked to submit answers to a series of questions to be published in C&RL News, and these should appear, I believe, in the March issue. Here's a preview.
Note: there are 6 questions, in total, but I've picked a section from my "opening statement" to include here (pending any final editing for space).
"Let’s begin by acknowledging that higher education has been under pressure for years, and that my home state of Illinois is on the leading edge of this trend. Economic changes, demographics, and partisan politics have come together to present an unprecedented challenge to financial support for higher education, individual students, and our state library consortium. As challenging as our situation in higher education already was, this election takes place in the shadow of one of the most unexpected turns ever in American politics, and one that has already shown us how hard we must work in defense of free speech, copyright, an independent press, net neutrality, the needs of a diverse student body, etc. Many of us in ACRL built our lives in libraries around the idea of collaboration, and the need for a collaborative, action-oriented mindset has never been clearer. We have a renewed mandate to work with campus colleagues to promote information literacy, media literacy, and engaged citizenship, and to work alongside faculty, student, and community groups to advocate for our core values in support of institutional mission, especially as these align with our commitments to intellectual freedom, social justice, and the public good. We have not faced challenges like these in my lifetime, and ACRL members have much to contribute to the work ahead for ALA, our campuses, and our country.
I bring to ALA leadership over 20 years of experience working in higher education and collaborating with campus and community partners to design and deliver programs that make a difference in the things that matter to our librarians, faculty, staff, and students. I bring the passion and commitment to our field shared with many of you during a career that has allowed me to teach, write, and speak to local, state, national, and international audiences about the value of libraries. I bring the “bias toward action” that has allowed me to work in concert with many of you to bring changes to academic libraries, move discussions of the future of libraries forward, and make certain that libraries are seen as valued partners in all endeavors where we might have a role. Now is not a time to be timid in defense of higher education, libraries, or the fundamental liberties that both have always worked to ensure. You have never known me to be timid."
All 3 candidates for ALA President were asked to submit answers to a series of questions to be posted on the LITA blog, and these should be posted, in alphabetical order (my lifetime nemesis), by the end of the week. Here's a preview of my answers.
Note: there are 7 questions, in total, but I picked this one thinking about the recent debate regarding educational requirements for the position of Executive Director of the ALA:
Is ALA a place for MLS-degreed professionals who do not work in libraries? Should it be? Why, or why not?
"Of course it is. Next question?
Seriously, though, the ALA mission statement makes clear that the mission of the Association is to “to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship.” Since one may provide library and information services outside the framework of a library (and, in fact, this is far more the case than it was when this mission statement was first adopted), it stands to reason that anyone doing our work, in any context, should find a home and a network of colleagues in ALA.
The more difficult question that you did not ask is whether or not ALA is a place for people providing these services, and sharing our work both inside and outside of libraries, who do not hold an ALA-accredited degree. The answer to that question is also “Yes!” I once worked in an academic library where the AD for Facilities was a licensed architect, but not a librarian; I certainly think he would have found a home in the LLAMA Buildings and Equipment Section. Likewise, there are many academic librarians who find a home in the Society for College and University Planning, given how important libraries (and librarians) are to institutional planning efforts.
Our libraries have become the home for professionals from different backgrounds who come together to provide the highest quality collections, technology, resources, facilities, and services for our communities. If ALA is to be the home for all those whose work contributes directly to “the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services,” we need to welcome all who work in libraries, and to the benefit of library and information services, to the Association."
The complete interview is now available on the LITA Blog.
Today was the Candidates Forum at ALA Midwinter where we each got to introduce ourselves and our visions for ALA to the membership. The session was recorded and will be available on YouTube, but not until after conference. Here are the opening and closing comments I gave. The Q&A session will have to wait for YouTube, but you can get a flavor for some of the questions I've been asked by following my #alamw17 posts on Twitter.
View the complete video at: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=v0gBGWD-1Sw
Thank you for being here today, and thanks to everyone who marched today. My wife and daughter marched in Chicago; it wasn't the first time they've taken to the streets and it won't be the last.
I'm honored to be here with my fellow candidates, whose work I've admired as someone who knows what it means to commit your time, energy, and passion to the Association. I've been an ALA member for almost 20 years, working primarily in ACRL, but I've been able to extend my awareness of the broader ALA through service on Council, on Jim Neal's advisory committee, and as a school library advocate and LIS educator. But, I'm not here to talk about me, I'm here to talk about us.
Many of us made a choice as new professionals to become involved with ALA, and the work we did and the people we met made a real difference in our lives. ALA provided us with a network of colleagues when we were learning our craft, and a platform from which we could engage issues that made a difference in our work. With something as simple as a committee assignment, we began the membership journey and saw the benefit of our ALA involvement in the work we did at home. When I entered the field, engaged membership was the path toward professional development, leadership, and recognition for your work. All of that is still true, but the broader environment has changed. This was true before yesterday, and it was true before November, but, for me, the events of the last few months have made all the difference.
Tomorrow, we'll gather for a Town Hall focused on professional values and the ways in which this Association represents them and provides us with the tools we need to do the work that defends them. We gather in the opening days of a global political environment seemingly determined as never before to test our mettle as alllies, advocates of intellectual freedom, teachers of critical thinking, and champions of free speech. We come together sharing a fundamental commitment to the idea that the library is a force for good in our society, and eager to develop the skills, build the partnerships, and take the actions necessary to ensure this remains the case.
New partnerships, commitments to action, and opportunities for leadership have been foremost in my thinking about the future of ALA. Just this week, an article in The Nation introduced the challenges we may face in terms of freedom of speech, and identified some of the key players defending that freedom. We were not on their list. Even as we continue to build partnerships in the library, museum, and technology communities around issues of shared professional concern, we need to broaden our view to include other champions of free speech, freedom of inquiry, access to information, and freedom from surveillance. We need to work together at the grassroots to bring the power of library organizers to the work of community organizers. We need to take action.
In Chicago, I've seen organizers representing school librarians, teachers, principals, parents, and community members come together to move an agenda forward. We haven't won the day, but we are working together to turn the tide. This is just one battle in a much larger fight, but it illustrates the challenges and opportunities ahead of us in the coming years.
Were I coming to ALA as a member today, I would have to ask how it helps us to be ready for those fights. It's a new day and many of the things we care about, many of the people we care about, are at risk. How does ALA make a difference? How does ALA lead the way in positioning libraries to make a difference? How does ALA better prepare me to make a difference? I don't have the answers to give you today, but I know those are the questions.
ALA is a leader in discussing national policies, international agreements, and global issues, and we must continue to do that. But, I start every day thinking about what I can do to make a difference, and who my comrades will be in that work. I reflect on the words of DePaul's John Egan, who asked, "What are you doing for justice?" ALA can, and must, be a powerful voice for justice, and it must provide its members with the tools they need to take action and make a difference on issues that reflect their commitment to our core values.
That is the work that needs doing, and that is the work that we can do together at ALA, if we work together to make it our priority. I am honored to be here to ask you to make that commitment with me, excited for the opportunity to work together with you to make that commitment a reality, and ask for your vote in the upcoming election. Thank you!
Just this week, our Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, gave an interview to the New York Times, in which she reflected on the activist tradition in librarianship and the progressive politics inherent in a profession founded on a commitment to the expansion of literacy and access to information. This is the tradition that we need to embrace today.
Also this week, I had the opportunity to watch my daughter interview Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowski for the Chicago Metro History Fair. Schakowski began her political career as a consumer advocate. She took a personal concern about the food she was buying for her family and turned it into the movement that gave us expiration dates, nutritional labeling, and much of the consumer information that we now take for granted. A lifetime of service dedicated to the public good, and one that, as she put it, "all started in a supermarket." Who will we interview in 30 years who will say that her life of service "all started in a library"?
Whatever the outcome of this election, I hope the discussions we've started in our online communities and here at conference remind us of what both of these extraordinary women said this week. As a member, I need an Association that better prepares me to take action and to make a difference in my community. And my community, along with your communities and our fellow national associations, all benefit from an American Library Association that will stand up to what is coming and be bold in its commitments to democracy, equity, social justice, and the public good.
Again, I ask for your vote, and thank you for your time and questions.
Note: You'll notice that I don't give an overview of my CV in my comments, but those details are available elsewhere on this site, and in the speaker notes for this session in the ALA Midwinter Meeting Scheduler, and elsewhere online.
Prior to 2016, I associated the belief that “there are no facts” with Friedrich Nietzsche, who, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, repeatedly included this statement in his notebooks. But, Nietzschean thinking has taken on powerful new meaning in a world where “post-truth” is the word of the year, and a leading surrogate for the incoming President of the United States is comfortable asserting that “there is no such thing as facts anymore.” If there has ever been a time when our claim that information literacy is a life skill has been more important, I’d be hard-pressed to find it.
“Fake News,” as Center for Research Libraries president Bernie Reilly has recently said, “undermined informed discourse” in 2016 and may have affected the outcome of the presidential election. It is the responsibility of libraries, he continues, to support an informed electorate, and this must be a primary goal for our libraries and our American Library Association in the coming years. Just this week, we saw the terrifying consequences of “fake news,” as Edgar M. Welch threatened the customers and staff of a pizzeria in Washington, DC, with an assault rifle as he attempted to “investigate” claims spread through social media and other platforms about a supposed conspiracy to exploit children. Just last week, I was in a meeting with concerned parents and teachers in the Chicago Public Schools asking how to address the issues of information literacy, media literacy, and informed citizenship among a community of school children (and future voters) who are trying, unsuccessfully, to “Google their way to truth,” and whose access to needed instructional programming has been gutted by devastating reductions to the number of school librarians employed in our schools.
In the immediate aftermath of the DC incident, ASCLA Councilor Chris Corrigan asked ALA leaders to adopt the battle against misinformation and “fake news” as a strategic priority for the Association, and to seek out new partners among the librarians, journalism educators, research groups, and others who have identified this as critically important for the future of American democracy. In an earlier statement, APA President-Elect Jim Neal argued that, as members and as an Association, “[we] must forge radical new partnerships with the first amendment, civil rights, and technology communities to advance our information policy interests and our commitment to freedom, diversity and social justice.” There are already librarians working on establishing these partnerships, looking across school, public, and academic libraries, and developing resources like this “Fake News” resource guide from Indiana University East.
This is work that speaks to the very heart of the library role in society, and to issues that are relevant to ALA members as librarians, teachers, parents, and community members, regardless of their place of work. This is work that #OurALA can, and must, make a priority.
I am looking forward to seeing many of you at public events for ALA Candidates at the Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, including the Membership Information Session and the Candidates' Forum, both on Saturday afternoon. Typically, candidates for President also host a "meet and greet" reception at Midwinter, but I will likely forgo that because:
- these receptions cost a fair bit of money; and,
- I have decided not to fundraise for this campaign.
Read that last point again, I will not ask you to donate anything but your ideas, energy, and time to this campaign. That is because I believe that any ALA member should be able to aspire to run for a leadership position, and that these aspirations seem less realistic if one's campaign requires an investment of funds beyond those made available to all candidates through ALA ($1,000). More importantly, and especially now, I believe there are other causes more deserving than an ALA election of whatever financial support you can provide.
So, I will stand in the hallway and "meet and greet" with anyone who wants to talk, and I will be at our campaign table all weekend (and, yes, that's the contribution I will ask you to make, if you would like to join me), and I will visit any meeting at Midwinter that will have me, because meeting, greeting, and sharing ideas about what we want for the future of #OurALA is very important to me. But I won't ask you for money so that we can do all that in a room where there are also pricey cheese plates.
There are other causes that need and deserve your money more than I do. Many of those are ALA units that are doing great work with LIS students, junior colleagues, kids, and communities. Others are your local libraries and schools, or your museums or arts organizations. I am happy for your support, eager to hear your ideas, and very grateful for your time and energy and commitment to the work we do that makes a difference in the world, but give your money to others.
Barbara Kingsolver, author of Chicago Public Library's 2016 One Book One Chicago selection, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (among other works), recently published a piece in The Guardian that effectively articulated the way I have felt over the past few weeks. Discussing the political environment in which the United States now finds itself, Kingsolver suggests that "everything counts" if we are to be true to values such as intellectual freedom, equity and diversity, and open scientific inquiry. "With due respect for the colored ribbons we’ve worn for various solidarities," she writes, "our next step is to wear something on our sleeve that takes actual courage: our hearts." I agree.
Kingsolver goes on to articulate specific actions that professionals such as writers, film-makers, journalists, publishers, teachers, and scientists might take in this new environment. Journalists, for example, should "push back against every door that closes on freedom of information," and teachers should "explicitly help children of all kinds feel safe in [their] classrooms." One group of information professionals Kingsolver does not task, oddly enough, are librarians, even though we can (or should) stand at the of the discovery, evaluation, and dissemination of information, and at the intersection of the worlds of scholarly inquiry, information science, and teaching and learning. It is our responsibility to fill that gap and begin to articulate the specific roles that librarians and library staff, supported by the "oldest and largest library association in the world."
I'll give it a start, but articulating these roles and providing support for library workers and their allies in local communities who will play these roles on the ground is something we need to do together, and it's something I'm looking forward to talking about with you when we're talking about what we want, need, and expect from #OurALA now that we find ourselves in "new historical territory."
If we're librarians, we do everything we can to protect the core values of intellectual freedom and equity of access to information. We build libraries and library service programs that are centers for literacy education, hubs for local communities, and places where individuals in those communities are empowered. We make sure that our libraries are not simply safe spaces, but we actively collaborate with community partners to, as Sarah Houghton put it, stand up for the rights of the people in our diverse communities. We stand up for people, not just for principles, and not just for policies, but for people. We build communities of like-minded people who will join us in the work of safeguarding freedoms, supporting critical thinking across the spheres of information, media, and data literacy, and empowering marginalized communities to maintain their access to the democratic society that we still cherish.
What else do we do?
This is a question I plan to pose a lot in the coming months, and hope to talk with many of you about at the ALA Midwinter meeting or other events on my election schedule.
As some of you know, I started using the #OurALA tag after several days of tweeting under the less-happy #NotMyALA tag. The #NotMyALA discussion was an important one, not just because of the concerns it helped to raise about the ALA press releases speaking to an active interest in working with the incoming Trump Administration, but because of the broader questions that people like Emily Drabinski and Sarah Houghton raised about the nature of the work we do and the values that form the bedrock foundations of that work (you can find a good summary of that debate, along with links to posts by Drabinski and Houghton, in Rory Litwin's summary on the Library Juice blog). It is my hope that current ALA leaders, as well as candidates like me, were energized by the vision of our work and the way that ALA can support, magnify, and extend that work, that we saw in some of the #NotMyALA discussions, and that this energy will find its way into a new commitment to values-based leadership for change in the Association.
I believe that libraries are a force for good in our society, and that librarians and library workers do their best work, their most important work, when they start from the question of what can we do to make our communities stronger, and our world a better place? Let's start there, and then ask, how can #OurALA help us toward those goals? I look forward to hearing your answers to those questions, and hearing the questions that drive you.