December 17, 2017

ALA President-Elect Loida García-Febo: Holding On To ALA’s Core Values

Voting for the American Library Association (ALA) 2018–19 presidential election closed on April 5, with Loida García-Febo winning the role of president-elect. A total of 9,123 ballots were cast among the candidates—García-Febo, Terri Grief, and Scott Walter—significantly down from last year’s 10,230.

García-Febo has worked as a librarian domestically and internationally, having begun her career at the University of Puerto Rico library and continuing as coordinator for special services, Queens Library, NY, from 2006–12. She is currently president of Information New Wave, an international nonprofit organization working to bring access to information to underserved populations.

A 2007 LJ Mover & Shaker, García-Febo also has a long history of service with library associations. In addition to serving on ALA Council since 2011 and a 2015–18 term on the ALA Executive Board, she sits on the governing board of IFLA (the International Federation of Library Associations) and served on the executive board of REFORMA (the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking), including a term as president from 2009–10. She is the recipient of the 2015 REFORMA Elizabeth Martinez Lifetime Achievement Award and was named a Notable Member of ALA’s International Relations Round Table, receiving the Elizabeth Futus Catalyst for Change Award in 2010. García-Febo was also awarded an ALA/IFLA Fellowship for the 2004 IFLA Congress, where she co-established the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group.

Library Journal caught up with García-Febo after the election to talk about her plans for advancing ALA’s mission.

LJ: As someone who already works actively within ALA, what was the campaign process like for you?

LGF: It was a unique opportunity. I’m very grateful to have had that experience, because I had conversations with ALA members from different types of libraries serving different communities. I learned so much—about different aspects of the professions, different libraries, different jobs done by librarians. I met members from California to Massachusetts, and in between. And really, I confirmed the great passion our members have for the profession and the communities they serve. And the support and help I received from my colleagues and friends in the profession was amazing. I treasure that.

Did that time change how you think about ALA and the presidency?

During the campaign we got a new [federal] administration, and I learned that ALA would have a new executive director. That strengthened my desire to advocate more for libraries.

How will you make that happen?

I’m [planning] to work more closely with the ALA divisions, round tables, ethnic affiliates, and all the different associations in a number of ways. One will be identify resources to develop guidelines, toolkits, and curricula to help [ALA] members provide information and services that will help address issues arising from the new administration. It’s important to understand that there will be patrons who need information in terms of immigration, travel, and other needs. This participatory approach could be applied to any further changes proposed by the current administration, so we can help our members understand how to better serve their communities and provide services.

We definitely need more collaboration and support to defend our core values. We already have excellent resources developed by different offices and divisions. It’s important that these resources are used to build capacity through educating our library and information workers. And we definitely need to use multiple platforms to reach our members and library advocates. I will seek to strengthen our relationship with the ALA chapters and COSLA [Chief Officers of State Library Agencies]. That’s very important—we need all the help we can muster.

I will also seek to build coalitions with different stakeholders, including NGOs. ALA has done a great job building coalitions and we can expand that. I think international organizations will definitely strengthen our efforts.

You have experience working with a lot of strong library organizations. How will that inform your work at the helm of ALA?

I’ve been tremendously fortunate to be able to work with a number of library organizations and associations. What I take from all of them, the common denominator, is the love [of serving] community—at IFLA with serving regions and countries, REFORMA serving Latinos and Spanish speakers, and of course at ALA with the different divisions and round tables serving different types of populations in academia, school libraries, public libraries, special libraries, and museums and archives.

For instance, in my work with the Intellectual Freedom Round Table promoting access to information and freedom of speech, those are things I bring with me into this role. And this is going to be key, really important in the work we do in these challenging times—holding onto our core values and knowing that ALA membership believes in that makes us powerful.

How will you help further ALA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiative?

My focus will be to support the recommendations from the ALA Task Force on EDI and implement them in the association offices, divisions, and round tables. It will be useful to review goals, strategies, and outcomes for diversity and inclusion periodically. We need to develop a strategy to mentor new members and insure inclusion of more members of underrepresented groups and communities.

I’ll work with the offices and divisions to pursue funding to support participation [of diverse members] at ALA meetings. I’d like to create continuing education for ALA members [on the topic of] diverse groups and how to build connections between people who are not like themselves.

What aspects of library education do you hope to focus on?

I have to commend the task force that has been working on the accreditation process. I understand there are some recommendations moving forward, and the work between ALA and ALISE has been commendable. I think it’s a great step for the association—it’s important for everybody to understand how the process goes, and what is expected.

In terms of the MLIS, there are some good steps [being] taken to enhance and enrich the work library schools are doing. I really think that we need to look into an interdisciplinary approach, and I’m very happy with the way library schools have started to move in that direction. There are things that we definitely need to bring into instruction. We need to know more about big data, advocacy, business [skills] for librarians, digital collections and services, what learning means in the 21st century. We need to think about how to get professional development to people who perhaps otherwise can’t get it. I think it’s important to think about sustainable ways of providing professional development, and I believe ALA can continue to contribute greatly to these conversations.

2016 saw ALA membership grow for the first time in nearly a decade. How can the organization continue the upward trend?

[Working] with new librarians is a passion of mine. There are some ways we can continue encouraging librarians to become members. I think it’s important for all librarians to think about the times we are living in, and how much more strong we are when we work together with an association like ALA—we can accomplish amazing things for libraries. Being part of an association that is the voice of libraries, and that also is the voice for those with no voice, is important in this time.

For those new to the profession, I will dare them to take action. I’m here to work with them to volunteer and show that passion that I’ve seen during my campaign, the heart they have for their communities. We need our members to stand together and defend libraries and the services we provide.

When you take office in 2018, you will be working with a relatively new executive director and director of the Washington Office. What do you hope to see in those new roles?

First of all, I want to say that I trust the work that the various search committees are doing, and I’m confident that the candidates will be excellent and will help to move ALA forward. That said, during my time on the IFLA governing board the past secretary general retired and there was a search process. We [now] have a new secretary general, and we have all worked as a great team with this person. The transparency that he has also brought into the association has been very important for all of us. So I think those are things that we need to look for: transparency, great communication, and knowing that we share the same goals—that is going to be really helpful for us to do what we need to do.

What would you like to say to ALA members?

I’m always here to provide information, to connect with members. They can connect with me on Twitter [@loidagarciafebo]—I’ll do my best to stay in communication through that medium.

I want to give a shout-out to my family because I learned from them that it’s important to be proud of where I come from and of my heritage. I do my best to honor that in the things I do. I really appreciate the uphill battles that everybody has. It’s my desire to work together with all to move the organization forward, but also to impact public policy that will benefit our libraries, the profession, and the communities we serve.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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