Letter to the Membership
U.S. public libraries continued to connect communities in the past year, providing essential resources for job-seekers, support for critical e-government services, and programs to promote financial literacy—all in the context of deep economic uncertainty.
Libraries continued serving their communities in other ways as well. Libraries were “life-savers” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, noted Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as she greeted ALA Annual Conference attendees via video. ALA has also worked to help libraries affected by disaster around the world. Immediately following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11, 2011, ALA set up a fund to take in donations on behalf of the Japan Library Association to help the destroyed libraries in northeastern Japan rebuild. ALA also continued its fundraising efforts for libraries in Haiti, reaching a milestone of $50,000. And the American Association of School Librarians announced the distribution of more than $1 million to school libraries affected by natural disasters through “Beyond Words: The Dollar General School Library Relief Fund.”
The Association continued to address its strategic goals in 2010-2011 by equipping and leading advocates for libraries, library issues, and the library profession. Under 2010–2011 President Roberta Stevens’s “Our Authors, Our Advocates” initiative, for example, 12 nationally known authors taped video public service announcements (PSAs) to increase support for libraries everywhere during a critical period of economic downturn. The effort served as a model for states and local communities to begin cultivating their own local authors and other celebrities as library advocates
At the national policy level, ALA monitored legislation such as the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (the PROTECT IP Act of 2011, or PIPA), which was introduced to crack down on rogue websites dedicated to the sale of infringing counterfeit goods. The ALA community’s specific concern was the bill’s potential impact on First Amendment rights. ALA’s Office of Government Relations and Office for Information Technology Policy continued to monitor copyright-related court cases that had the potential to affect libraries. And National Library Legislative Day, held May 9–10, drew 361 people from 47 states, plus 5,000 more who participated in Virtual Library Legislative Day.
ALA also continued to lead the way in the transformation of libraries and library services in an increasingly global digital information environment. The 2011 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study reported that virtually all public libraries—99 percent—now provide public access to computers and the Internet and that more than 87 percent provide technology training. Even amid the shifting winds of an economic storm, libraries continued to transform lives, adapting to and adopting new and emerging technologies, and experimenting with innovative and transformational ideas to provide services that empower patrons. The use of social media by libraries of all types increased dramatically, and the rapid growth of e-books stimulated increased demand for them in libraries—and increased controversy around licensing and pricing issues. An ALA-wide body, the Digital Content and Libraries Working Group, was created to develop strategy and policy, as well as provide advice to the ALA on a range of digital content issues; and Raphael joined about 50 other invitees and steering committee members for the initial discussion on the scope and content of the ambitious Digital Public Library of America project.
ALA also provides an environment in which all its members have the opportunity to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from engagement in the Association. The ALA–Allied Professional Association’s Certified Public Library Administrator Program grew to 133 candidates and 48 graduates from libraries small and large, and the Library Support Staff Certification Program had 188 candidates and six graduates. For library supporters, the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF) continued to promote ways in which libraries and Friends groups can attract Baby Boomer volunteers and to provide library promotional materials and PSAs, and ALA’s online “Advocacy University” provides information, courses, and tools to help library advocates make the case at the local level.
ALA also continued to promote excellence and diversity in the library field, in particular through its Spectrum Scholarship program. The 48 scholarships awarded in June brought the total number of Spectrum Scholarships awarded to more than 725. Support for scholarships came from individuals, organizations, and a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, ALA will offer a new round of Spectrum Doctoral Fellowships beginning in the fall of 2012. Also, in August 2010, the ALA Black Caucus hosted the 7th National Conference of African American Librarians in Birmingham, Alabama, under the theme “Bridging the Divide with Information Access, Activism, and Advocacy”; and last year the ALA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Round Table celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Book Awards.
ALA took a strong stand against the nascent trend toward privatization of libraries, forming a Task Force on Privatization to address the issue. ALA Editions issued Privatizing Libraries, which provides an overview of the issue; and leaders of the Public Library Association joined the ALA Committee on Library Advocacy’s Task Force on Privatization to create “Keeping Public Libraries Public: A Checklist for Communities Considering Privatization of Public Libraries,” a publication designed to help community leaders and librarians, trustees, Friends, and other library supporters address the issue of privatization and prepare for any discussions which might arise in their communities.
In the coming year, key initiatives will concentrate on two of ALA’s strategic priorities: advocacy and diversity.
The advocacy initiative, “Empowering Voices, Transforming Communities,” will focus on how we can engage our communities to speak out more effectively for libraries of all types, not just during times of crisis but year in and year out. Patty Wong, Yolo County (Calif.) library director, and Barbara Stripling, Professor of Practice at Syracuse University’s iSchool, are co-chairs of this advocacy initiative, which will build on the work of other ALA presidents. The ALA Office for Library Advocacy will help to coordinate these efforts.
For the diversity initiative, we plan to contribute to the current effort being led by ALA Past President Betty Turock to increase significantly Spectrum Scholarship funding and, in addition, to promote inclusiveness in our leadership development efforts. We want the leadership of our Association and our libraries to reflect the diversity of our membership. Recruitment is very important, but the effort will also engage the ALA Office for Diversity and several ALA member leaders who have been involved in diversity and inclusiveness work, both within ALA and in their employment We want to be sure that the library leaders of the future are as diverse as the communities we serve.
We are honored to lead ALA during this critical time for libraries, librarians, library workers, library supporters, and the communities we serve. We all have important work to do together because libraries are essential for learning and essential for life. With your help, we are optimistic that we can raise the standing of libraries of all types in their respective communities to even greater heights.
Keith Michael Fiels
ALA Executive Director