The future of the American public library is taking shape. I see it in all kinds of libraries. The public, politicians, and local and national media are now noticing the relevance and central role of these libraries. These institutions are delivering a trusted set of up-to-date programs and services and that has earned a far more positive public and political reaction than the one enjoyed by most other agencies of the local, state, and federal governments.
My optimistic aging memory had me waiting for the economy to do what it used to do and recover enough so that the public and private nonprofit sectors by which most libraries are funded would catch up with the already recovered private sector. So I was a bit taken aback when Siobhan Reardon, the president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia and LJ’s 2015 Librarian of the Year, told me that wasn’t going to happen.
The American Library Association’s (ALA)Allied Professional Association (APA) recently sent a message to the members of the ALA Council and other “member leaders.” With the help of Al Kagan, who represents ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table on Council, we saw the message and were reminded that since APA’s founding in 2001, we have never fully understood what it is or does, whether it is a real association or just a tax dodge.
The beginning of each semester always rejuvenates me. There is nothing more stimulating than those first few sessions with a class of expectant students, arriving with their high energy, curiosity, and desire to participate and impress. My new class at Pratt Institute’s SILS came to New York from all over America and the world. The students range in age from their 20s to their 60s, which has so often been typical of my LIS classes. It is a great privilege and honor to work with them to try to answer the accursed questions that continue to plague our profession.
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.
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.