Midwinter Comments

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

Opening Comments

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!

Closing Comments

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.