February 17, 2018

Meet the Candidates: ALA President 2015-16

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 below. (Full biographies of both candidates are available on the ALA Election Guide.)

How would the results of your leadership as President of ALA differ from those of your opponent?
Maggie Farrell headshot

Maggie Farrell

Farrell: I am fortunate to have experiences advocating for libraries of all types: academic, public, governmental, and school libraries. In Wyoming, I work with legislators on funding that supports public and school libraries as well as academic libraries. My ability to build consensus from a variety of perspectives in a transparent and open environment are skills that ALA requires as we approach the next stage of our planning process. It is important that our agenda includes policies and practices that will make a positive impact on all types of libraries.

As ALA President, I would also bring extensive experience, knowledge, and the ability to collaboratively lead a complex organization. My service includes leadership in GODORT, International Relations Committee, ACRL Board, and ALA Council including serving as an at-large Councilor and recently as the ACRL Councilor. My experience provides an understanding of ALA from a variety of perspectives and appreciation for the broad contributions of ALA in our communities in advancing access to information and professional development. As co-chair of Traditional Cultural Expressions Task Force and the current chair of the Committee on Legislation, FDLP Task Force, I have demonstrated the ability to build consensus when there is a range of diverse, thoughtful, and passionate viewpoints. As ALA President, I will bring these skills to effectively lead ALA.

Sari Feldman headshot

Sari Feldman

Feldman: I am the candidate of collaboration. Whether it is the collaboration exercised in leading one of the nation’s busiest large urban library systems or the collaboration demonstrated through my effective work with Robert Wolven as the co-chair of the ALA Digital Content in Libraries Working Group (DCWG), I have unique leadership experiences that I will apply as president of ALA. When I am elected, I will be ready to use my collaborative skills to work across the divisions, roundtables, caucuses and offices of ALA to take action in three critical areas: engagement, innovation and inspiration. I have spent much of my campaign traveling to connect with ALA members and found that they are anxious for the Association to take action on the strategic plan and kitchen conversations. My strong relationships with national leaders and elected officials position me to effectively advocate on behalf of America’s libraries. I want to continue the work of current President Barbara Stripling and President-Elect Courtney Young to ensure that the consistent message of the Declaration for the Right to Libraries resonates at the highest levels: libraries are not optional, they are essential.

Recent discussions by the ALA Council and among members have focused on reorganizing ALA, including efforts to reduce the number of ALA units. Do you feel ALA needs a major reorganization or a revision of the relationship of ALA to its divisions and other units?
Farrell: As the leading and oldest library membership organization with approximately 57,000 members, it is not surprising that we have a complex and bureaucratic organization that has grown in a peripatetic manner. The next strategic plan must look at ALA’s organization drawing upon the experience and expertise of many of our divisions and roundtables who have recently reorganized. The primary task will be to define which responsibilities belong under the purview of ALA and those that are better managed by divisions and roundtables. The conversation must look at duplication and competition between ALA and its units. One of the most valuable attributes that our professional organization has to offer members is a wide range of opportunities to become involved and meet librarians and library workers with shared interests. Any changes to the organization must look at ways to eliminate bureaucracy while developing opportunities for people to meet, work on important issues, and make an impact on their profession. As ALA President, I will draw upon my experience in leading an ACRL workgroup that analyzed our committee structure reducing the number of committees but maintaining a focus and commitment to our strategic priorities. This experience combined with my facilitation skills will assist ALA for a difficult conversation about how we coordinate our work and support our members and profession. Feldman: Reorganization efforts tend to surface when organizational anxiety is heightened due to factors such as financial insecurity. Before reorganization in ALA or revisions to the division/unit relationships, we need to first address member engagement and financial stabilization. I understand and appreciate that ALA divisions and other units are concerned about their financial future and ability to retain membership. I support a strategic approach to action that helps members to see the value of ALA membership and become more actively engaged as library advocates. This will go a long way to membership recruitment and retention, which impacts the bottom line. My Engage/Innovate/Inspire platform aims to ensure a strong future for ALA through key areas of focus:

  • Enhance communication and diversity efforts to more fully engage our membership and advocate with local, state and national leaders.
  • Highlight best practices across the profession and leverage those innovations to create a best practice Association.
  • Invigorate leadership that builds and inspires those who can envision, design and implement a vital future for libraries and our Association.

Reorganization is a realistic option given our dramatically changing library landscape, but I believe we have more work to do before arriving at that conclusion.

ALA revenues are apparently insufficient to support all it does. How should ALA deal with this financial problem? Do you feel that ALA’s need for additional revenue will mean service and program decisions based primarily on potential revenue?

Farrell: ALA revenues are drawn from a variety of sources including dues, conferences, professional development, publishing, grants, and donations. Each revenue category needs to be examined as member dues alone are not sufficient to support our work. Our budget needs to be directly aligned with our strategic plan and priorities requiring difficult decisions as it might be necessary to reduce or eliminate some services if we are unable to afford them. We need clarity about which services or projects are subsidized and which activities should be cost recovery.

Librarians know how to do this—each member understands the struggles of their own library budget to meet demands which outpace their available resources. As ALA President, I will ask members to bring their creativity and innovation to bear on our discussions regarding increasing our membership, new sources of revenues, and prioritizing our expenditures. My OCLC and BCR Board experience demonstrates my expertise in not-for-profit financials. As ALA President, I would immediately work with the ALA Treasurer, Board, BARC, PBA, and ALA staff to develop a financial plan in conjunction with the ALA Strategic Plan ensuring that our revenues support the priorities as outlined by our members. As ALA President, I will lead the work to ensure that our members are engaged and value their membership.

Feldman: ALA currently faces many of the same budgetary issues that challenge libraries across the nation. At Cuyahoga County Public Library, we suffered a cumulative $20+ million budget loss over the past several years. Through sound financial planning, realignment of organizational priorities, and the creation of new revenue streams, I have led the system to ensure that we would not reduce hours or diminish our high quality of service. As ALA president, I would recommend a similar approach. First, I believe that ALA has an opportunity to build its endowment. I am eager to launch a plan to increase endowment funds by applying my effective fundraising skills. Second, my experience traveling and speaking on behalf of ALA internationally has helped me to recognize that a more global focus represents an untapped marketplace for ALA services and products. We have opportunity to further develop a global sales channel that can expand ALA’s library market to produce greater revenues. Finally, although ALA has significantly reduced annual expenditures, we must analyze those reductions against the needs and interests of the membership. Investment in membership engagement for the purpose of stabilizing decreasing membership rates may have a more significant positive budget impact than cutting costs alone.
What should ALA do about calls to relocate the 2016 Annual Conference away from Orlando or take other actions while there? Does ALA need to find a way to more carefully screen the selection of conference sites and to move the selection nearer to the dates of the conference?
Farrell: I commend BCALA and ALA leadership for identifying and discussing the concerns of our members. I also appreciate the other caucuses, GLBTRT, and SRRT for supporting BCALA and broadening the conversation to include additional issues regarding diversity and social justice. We need to listen and carefully consider concerns and issues by our members if we are to model an open and inclusive profession for our society.

The size and complexity of our conferences limit our convention venues and ability to schedule conferences in cities/states based on recent judicial and legislative practices. Given ALA’s values and social responsibility commitment, there are very few states or cities that would totally support our values. So our larger question is what kind of educational opportunities or conversations can we start that will help all of us better manage the difficulties of living or working in places that don’t always align with our values? Additional awareness and training for our members to model diversity in our association and libraries is required. ALA, working with the caucuses, should lead local conversations working with state and regional library entities regarding inclusion, equity, and diversity in our communities. This work should not be done just within our profession but as ALA President, I will encourage us to reach out to relevant stakeholders and organizations in order to have a broader influence on our society.

Feldman: I think ALA appropriately chose to remain in Orlando for the 2016 Conference with the condition that we engage our membership in discussion of the issues associated with the location and our values of diversity, equity and inclusion. In fact, I’m energized by the possibilities that those discussions represent. The ALA has done important work in addressing the concerns of the ethnic caucuses, and I support the joint statement recently issued by the presidents of AILA, APALA, BCALA, CALA, REFORMA, and ALA.

The Association must balance several critical factors as it chooses locations for future conferences. Based on my experience on the PLA board, I know that the best pricing comes from advanced location selection for the conference site. The challenge, of course, is anticipating the political and social climate that may become associated with a particular location when it is selected so far in advance. I believe strong due diligence screening of potential sites is critical and would support a review of the site selection criteria to ensure we more comprehensively address social issues in our decision-making process. I also believe that we cannot predict every eventuality and must be prepared (as we are in this instance) to open dialogue to educate and advocate the values that we support in our profession.

Do you feel ALA’s approach to the accreditation of LIS programs should continue on its current track, or should the ALA Committee on Accreditation adopt a more prescriptive approach to what an LIS curriculum should include?
Farrell: The ALA accreditation standards are under review and during the current comment period, ALA members have an opportunity to review and suggest changes regarding our LIS programs. Standards should be prescriptive—not an option but an expectation that standards will be met within the program without dictating the curriculum or the method. Concurrently, LIS programs require flexibility to quickly adapt to changes in our information society. This balance is possible through continued conversations between the COA and library programs. I like the proposed change to specifically focus on the core competencies without dictating a core curriculum, but emphasizing more outcomes and competencies. I also appreciate the changes in the curriculum regarding professional knowledge which is expanded providing more context for library schools in the development of their curriculum. As a practitioner, I would like to see more internships and practicums for our students especially for degree programs that are mostly or solely online. Combining theory and practice within library degree programs builds knowledge that prepares library students to quickly contribute to their libraries and ultimately to their communities. As ALA President, I will encourage accreditation discussions not occur in isolation but that LIS programs and library employers continue the conversation to balance practice and theory. Feldman: When we talk about accreditation and LIS programs, we are really talking about the value of a library degree in the job market. As an association, we must advocate on behalf of librarians and libraries to ensure that the MLIS is recognized as an essential degree for advancing library service. We also must ensure that libraries of all types have adequate funding to employ MLIS degreed staff. The rapid pace of change in our profession requires a more nimble approach to the LIS curriculum and a more prescriptive accreditation process would likely stifle innovation and creativity. It is more important for LIS programs to engage with the divisions, roundtables and caucuses to develop curricula that reflect new service priorities, create leadership ladders for individuals with an MLIS degree, foster professional innovation and advancement, and join in advocacy efforts to retain and grow professional status for all library staff.


John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.