In a collection of old political campaign buttons I found a pink one with the number “321.8” across it in dark blue. The discovery triggered memories of activist times in librarianship four to five decades ago. In our view then, the Dewey number 321.8 was the classification for “participatory democracy,” the system of government in which our small cadre of librarians believed. We were one of dozens of groups that formed within the new Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association (ALA). We believed, as I still do, that good librarians are politically enmeshed in the larger national and international issues of war, peace, social justice, and the vital role of good government in human affairs. We even tried to convince our professional organizations publicly to support our positions and amplify our voice on these issues. Sometimes we were successful.
Activist librarian Zoia Markovna Horn died on July 12 at the age 96. She was famous for being the first U.S. librarian to be jailed for refusing to divulge information that violated professional principles of privacy and intellectual freedom. An activist member of the American Library Association (ALA) and a member and chair of its Intellectual Freedom Committee, Horn was jailed for 20 days for contempt after refusing to testify in the 1972 conspiracy trial of the “Harrisburg Seven.”
Although it is often perceived as interference, or “meddling,” the presumption of ownership by people who live in the jurisdiction of a local public library and their resulting strong opinions about how the place should operate are assets to be nurtured and treasured. Yes, the phenomenon regularly causes disputes about library policies and purposes and makes for controversial community debate. Indeed, library professionals and managers are frequently forced by public opinion, bolstered by media coverage, to operate libraries in ways quite different from their preferred practices.
Every library is unique. Despite all the decades of work trying to standardize library operations, systems, collection organization, buildings, human resource management, governance, and even collection development, each library still differs from every other library. While few librarians would argue that point, it is obvious that a great deal of effort has been expended to make the practice of librarianship more homogeneous.
For 101 years, Alberta’s Edmonton Public Library (EPL) has galvanized its ever-growing city. From its beginnings above a meat and liquor store in 1913 to its current configuration as a massive, team-driven enterprise, EPL has served as a pioneering gathering place, connecting people and expanding minds. In the process, it changed the parameters of what it means to be a public library and transformed itself. Having the spirit and creativity to do that meant taking risks, innovating, and embracing change. It made EPL a model for all public libraries and the winner of the 2014 Gale/Library Journal Library of the Year Award.
There are lots of reasons I don’t want to go to Orlando, FL, again to attend a conference of the American Library Association (ALA). Most are matters of personal comfort, cost, and convenience, so the good things I’d get from the conference outweigh those annoyances. In 2016, however, there is a compelling reason to stay away from Orlando, especially if you are a young African American.
It took me decades TRULY to understand the qualities that make for great leadership. I am still surprised at how slowly I realized that the key strengths of great leaders are not command, control, or management skills. A great leader must have the ability to spot and hire excellent people; build a passionate, committed team; liberate everyone on that team; and then trust them with the autonomy and authority to make decisions, innovate, and test their inspirations and ideas in practice.
The campaign to elect the 2015-2016 President of the American Library Association (ALA) ends this month. To help inform ALA members who haven’t yet voted, and to give other librarians some additional insight into key issues currently on the ALA agenda, LJ asked each of the candidates to respond to five questions. The candidates, Maggie Farrell, dean of libraries at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, and Sari Feldman, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library, Parma, Ohio, responded. (Full biographies of both candidates are available on the ALA Election Guide.)
The Wichita Public Library (WPL), KS, has become a coalition builder for larger community goals. WPL signed on as an early “vision partner” with Visioneering Wichita, whose goal is to develop a strategic plan, through extensive community engagement, for the whole Wichita metropolitan area. Over the decades, WPL had established a growing engagement with the city’s residents. The Visioneering Wichita process gave that long-standing community engagement specific goals and direction. This reenergized engagement won for Wichita and its library the 2014 LibraryAware Community Award.
Despite what appeared to be high registration for the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association (ALA) in Philadelphia this January, we heard low rumblings of discontent. These comments were usually voiced late in the night at the parties and barroom gatherings. Much said at such gatherings never moves into the formal deliberations of ALA legislation. That is too bad. Some of it deserves attention and might even help ALA remain as strong as it is today.