June 18, 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.

    • Fix it, don't kill it says:

      It’s not about clinging to the past–it’s about throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is nothing stopping anyone from getting active to update standards and credentials for the degree. If we eliminate core preparations, accreditation, values, goals and objectives, we start to destroy everything librarians have ever worked for.

      Let’s join together and build a future, not destroy our foundation.

    • Mint Medley says:

      “It is complete and utter folly that the solution to librarian woes is to bring in more librarians.”

      Care to back up that assertion? Who would come in and fill the vacuum? An MBA with no understanding on how to run an organization without a profit model?

      We’ve seen what ineffective business people can do to organizations when they waltz in with no experience, no drive, and no ideas for how things should be run. He’s our president. Let’s not Trump the field of librarianship with more empty suits and Silicon Valley buzzwords. Let’s promote the already rich field of talent we have in librarianship and stop looking for outsiders to turn us into a public/corporate hybrid.

  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.]

    • Fix it, don't kill it says:

      It might help to look at this from the perspective of someone who made a significant investment in a degree from an ALA-accredited program after being told that ALA would constantly work to ensure that this was a meaningful professional credential.

    • Patricia Schuman says:

      Point of information— United for Libraries membership includes many librarians and library supporters.

  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.

  7. John DeSantis says:

    Thank you, John, for this timely and cogent editorial. I hope that all ALA members will vote in the upcoming election and speak out on this issue. Now more than ever it’s important for the association to reaffirm its professional values.

  8. Patricia Schuman says:

    Thank you John. ALA has been successfully led into the second decade of the 21st Century by Executive Directors who ensured that library values underly ALA’s programs and activities. We have many skilled experts working within ALA — managers, financial experts, public relations experts, editors and publishers. The ALA ED is the person who ensures that all of this works— and who represents librarianship to the world on a continuing basis. While finding the right librarian to fill this role from the hundreds of thousands among us will not be easy, it must be our goal. I urge all ALA members to Vote Librarian!

    Pat Schuman
    ALA Past President and Treasurer
    Lifetime Board Member, United for Libraries
    Honorary Member
    Founder, Neal – Schuman Publishers

  9. Diedre Conkling says:

    I really value my degree and the values, ethics, and tools that go with it. I also know that being a librarian is not the only value an individual would bring to the Executive Director position but a very important value. I suspect the most qualified person will be someone with the library degree and lots of other training and experience running large organizations. The most qualified value continuing to learn to do the best job they can. The core of that experience is the library degree.

    I am finding it interesting that people saying that requiring the library degree is discriminatory and not recognizing the value of others. At the same time they express a lack of appreciation for people who have been in ALA for many years. I hope they are investigating the individuals that are being labeled the “old guard.” If they are learning more they will find that many of these people have been the change makers in our association during the entire time they have been in ALA. I value their thoughts and vision.

  10. Diedre Conkling says:

    Actually, I meant to say agents of change, not change makers.

  11. No longer dues paying ALA bc of stuff like this says:

    As an MLIS-holding librarian who has worked for non-profit associations, exactly like ALA, for the past few years, it is extremely short-sighted to make the degree a requirement. Just because a CEO/ED does not have a degree does not mean they are not for the association’s mission.

    This is an association, not a library branch/system. An experienced individual with a CAE and MBA would be the perfect candidate.

    • Go ahead, withhold your ALA dues. Who are you going to whine to when the major advocate for library funding is cut off at the knees and your library is closed?

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