The American Library Association (ALA) Presidential Candidates’ Forum, held Saturday evening, offered an opportunity for the four candidates running for the 2016–17 ALA presidency to present their platforms and answer audience questions. Candidates Joseph Janes, James LaRue, JP Porcaro, and Julie Todaro discussed their philosophies and history of service—both within and outside ALA—and answered questions on subjects ranging from their membership in ALA’s Freedom to Read Foundation to the relevance of current library education and job prospects for future librarians. Barbara Stripling, ALA president from 2013–14, moderated the forum.
LaRue and Todaro were nominated by the ALA nominating committee; Janes and Porcaro via petitions originated and signed by ALA members. The roster of candidates, announced in September 2014, offers a broad representation of service in the field, including public libraries, two- and four-year colleges, private consultancy, governmental organizations, and special interest groups.
Joseph Janes, associate professor and chair of the MLIS program at the University of Washington Information School, led off his platform description by wondering—non-rhetorically—where people would be without libraries, adding, “I want to tell that story.” Having served on numerous ALA committees, including the Office for information Technology Policy Advisory Committee and the Committee for Accreditation, and as an active member of several other ALA divisions, Janes hoped that he could find ways to build a strong consensus within the organization so that it could continue to serve the greater library populace. “I tire of people thinking we’re a luxury,” he stated. “I’m tired of people thinking we are nice. We are absolutely the most important part of any community. We are the most important profession in the world.”
James (Jamie) LaRue, CEO of LaRue & Associates and former director of the Douglas County (CO) Library System and Colorado Librarian of the year, as well as an LJ columnist on Self-Publishing and Libraries, has worked in all sectors of the library world: local, regional, statewide, and national. He has served on ALA’s Digital Content Working Group and OCLC’s executive council as well, and wants to see libraries at the heart of the digital publishing revolution, as community leaders, and as the public-facing experts on information policy. He also spoke strongly of advocating for libraries’ roles in creating lifelong learners, citing his own experiences as a child with his local bookmobile. “The purpose of ALA,” he said, is to try to pull everybody together around a few very simple and powerful things,” adding, “Librarians need to know how to talk to people who are not librarians.”
JP Porcaro is the librarian for acquisitions and technological discovery at the New Jersey City University Guarini Library, Jersey City, NJ, and a 2012 LJ Mover & Shaker. As the first Millennial to run for the office—he founded the popular Facebook group ALA Think Tank and created the ALA Games and Gaming Round Table—he expressed concern for the next generation of American voters, and the importance that libraries be part of their landscape. Porcaro’s responses to several questions clearly reflected the concerns of many librarians today; when asked about involvement in the Freedom to Read Foundation, he noted that “ALA is a very expensive thing to be involved in, and I can’t afford to join everything,” although his institution is a member. He wants to see an ALA that values diverse librarians at all levels, he told the room, and that listens to its members: “The best way to work with divisions [within ALA] is to find out what is important to them…and to just listen.” He added, “I don’t think what I’m doing is library work. It’s human work.”
Julie Todaro, dean of library services at Austin (TX) Community College, brings a career of service to her candidacy, including terms as president of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), president of the Texas Library Association, and chair of the Texas Council of Academic Libraries—and with this service ethic, an understanding of organizations such as ALA with many moving parts. ALA has done an extraordinary job promoting the value of libraries, she said, and now needs to do the same for librarians. “You can have the most beautiful library, the best access, the best service,” but without the people who make it happen, she explained, the library alone isn’t enough. As the only community college–affiliated candidate and a self-admitted multitasker, she expressed a strong commitment to service across the entire library spectrum—“and [the ALA presidency] is the bucket list of service.”
Voting will take place from March 24–May 1, online or via smartphone; individuals who are unable to vote online due to a disability, or who are without Internet access, can obtain a paper ballot by contacting ALA customer service. Only current ALA members in good standing as of January 31, 2015 are eligible to vote.
You can watch the entire proceedings below. For more in-depth coverage, look for LJ’s upcoming conversations with the individual candidates before the ballots open.