February 16, 2018

A Librarian Must Lead ALA: Be Sure You Vote in March | Blatant Berry

If this headline seems familiar, there’s a good reason: one year ago I said something very similar in “The Devalued MLIS.” At the time, I was addressing the upcoming vote of the American Library Association (ALA) Council on whether ALA should require candidates for its open executive director spot to hold a master’s degree in library science. Following a contentious debate at last year’s Midwinter, Council narrowly voted to require the credential. Yet one year later, we’re essentially back where we started. After the search committee declared a failed search this past fall, the Council voted to reverse its earlier decision, changing the degree from required to preferred by a 77 percent margin. (A report on the process was provided at the Council/Membership Information Session at Midwinter in Denver.)

A petition was posted to put a measure on ALA’s spring 2018 ballot to overturn the Council action and received enough signatures to do so (at least one percent of the voting membership). I was first summoned to this fight by longtime comrade in arms Pat Schuman, a former president of ALA. When I spoke with former ALA president Mitch Freedman, he saw the decision as part of the larger trend to remove the word library and convert our graduate programs to “iSchools” and ALA into the American Information Association. I urge all ALA members to vote to reverse the Council action and continue to require the MLIS.

It is impossible to understand why the organization’s leaders have chosen to remove the requirement that the new executive director (ED) hold an ALA-accredited master’s degree or a CAEP-accredited master’s degree with a specialty in school library media. Obviously, there are hundreds, indeed thousands, of qualified, competent, exceptional managers and leaders among the hundreds of thousands of credentialed librarians in the United States.

For nearly a century, every ALA ED has been a credentialed librarian. ALA has grown to its current strength, influence, and position of leadership with these individuals at the helm. There is no valid reason to change that requirement and a host of reasons not to. The move is incredibly destructive to ALA, library education, and all credentialed librarians in the country.

It is our professional duty to protect ALA from such actions and to elect leaders who understand why our libraries and our educational programs, accredited as they are by ALA, need our defense and constant vigilance to ensure they are not undermined.

It took our profession more than a century to get to this level of excellence and to build the organizations and educational institutions to support it. To put someone who is not a credentialed librarian in the post of ALA ED will set that work back decades. It will do great damage to our efforts to strengthen the position of librarians and libraries in our society. It has been a long, difficult road to make the practice of librarianship into a recognized profession, and it will take continued struggle to maintain that status.

To overturn the unconscionable Council action, 25 percent of ALA’s voting members, or about 11,975 people, must vote. A simple majority determines the outcome. So if you are a member in good standing, please do so. The ballot opens on Monday, March 12, and closes Wednesday, April 4. Results will be announced on April 11.

I hope ALA members will come out in sufficient numbers to reverse this choice. Even if they don’t, it is possible that ALA’s search leaders will appoint one of our great librarians to be ED. Such an appointment would do a lot to restore the standing of librarians, reaffirm the relevance of ALA, and undo the damage to library education.

I will, of course, continue to belong to the organization and work to foster it no matter who is appointed ED. If a credentialed librarian gets the post, I will work to support that individual with heartfelt enthusiasm and deeper effort.

This article was published in Library Journal's February 1, 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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.



  1. Candlelight Virgil says:

    This editorial is a naked attempt to cling to the past. The requirement of an MLS/MLIS hurts an organization that needs to look beyond its professional insecurities for leaders who bring different skillsets to our professional organization. It is not deprofessionalization to ensure that the association and the librarians who depend on it survive into the future. It is complete and utter folly that the solution to librarian woes is to bring in more librarians.

  2. Mark C Rosenzweig says:

    Thanks, John! When I was on Council I was a staunch advocate of the importance of librarian leadership for the organization which should be the primary advocate, not just for the institution of libraries, but for the profession of librarianship and those who profess it.

    • Mark C Rosenzweig says:

      I meant to add that I remain so. I hope the members will vote to assure that the leadership of ALA is represented by a fellow librarian who shares our training, our work expèrience and our values.

  3. It is mindblowing to me that SRRT, PLG, FTF, and other more liberal groups are wasting so much time on this, especially when it couldn’t be a less progressive idea. It seems a small number of very vocal people are pushing this, and they’re hijacking forums left and right in order to do so. Enough already. I don’t need twelve reminders a day from my children’s lit listserv, you know?

    People do realize it’s the American Library Association, not the American Librarian Association, right? That ALA represents many professions within library work, not just librarianship? That we have a full, equal division (UFL) for people who don’t even practice library work, but who are exceedingly knowledgeable and experienced advocates?

    This whole push is just another reminder from the old guard that non-librarians aren’t welcome in ALA. Well, in my ALA, all library workers and friends of libraries are. And I trust hiring committees to choose the best overall fits, not the best CVs.

    [Please notify if planning to reprint. Thanks.]

  4. “It is impossible to understand why the organization’s leaders have chosen to remove the requirement that the new executive director (ED) hold an ALA-accredited master’s degree or a CAEP-accredited master’s degree with a specialty in school library media.”

    If you can’t be bothered to try to understand the point of view of people you disagree with, why should they listen to your opinion? Many people have explained thier reasoning behind thier decision. You can certainly disagree, but with the organization split on the issue, you could at least try to understand rather than stooping to what is dismissal at best, condescension and paternalism at worst.

  5. Sara Dallas says:

    Mr. Berry – can you please tell us whether the President, General Manager, CIO, or the administrative leadership team at “Library Journal” have the MLS?

  6. Well said, sir. A LIBRARY association ought to be led by a librarian. That is, by one who knows the value of books and literature to a society. This is not to denigrate, or downplay the importance of information delivery, or the range of formats in which both pleasure and informative reading can be provided. The modern librarian understands the needs of the community and works to include all aspects of reading needs.

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