Letter to the Membership
In 2008–2009, libraries revealed the many ways they serve as first responders in times of economic crisis, providing critical services and resources to those in need. Even as libraries themselves faced budget cuts, layoffs, and closures, the use of their invaluable services surged, and libraries looked for new and creative ways to serve their communities.
Grassroots support for libraries seemed to grow with the increase in usage. In a noteworthy case, the New York Public Library successfully used an online fundraising campaign to win back $23 million in subsidies after the city initially planned to cut its support by $28 million. The advocacy campaign—which spread its message through the library’s website, Facebook, and other social networking sites, and a YouTube video featuring celebrities such as writer Amy Tan and actor Jeff Daniels—brought in $50,000 and calls to city representatives from some 30,000 residents.
In February, citizen support for libraries received a boost as the Association for Library Trustees and Advocates and Friends of Libraries U.S.A. officially joined forces to become the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations. This new ALA division will help trustees and Friends work together at the local, state, and national levels to effectively promote and advocate for libraries so that libraries may thrive even in times of economic distress.
ALA’s new @ your library website, which was launched during National Library Week in April 2009, further promotes the message that libraries are a valuable community resource. A two-year pilot project targeting families/children/teens and underserved populations such as recent immigrants and job seekers, the site offers information on topics of general interest to the public and uses interactive technology and social networking to stimulate library usage and to raise awareness of all types of libraries—public, school, academic, and special.
The explosion in the use of social networking sites, blogs, wikis, and digital content continued at ALA and in the library world, with Twitter at the top of the list of new ways to connect with members and patrons. ALA also offered Association-wide improvements, with a redesigned website launched in September 2008 and ALA Connect—which provides a virtual, collaborative space where members can engage in the Association’s work—launched in the spring.
2008–2009 ALA President James Rettig focused his presidential activities around “Creating Connections” and addressed three critical issues: advocacy, diversity, and member participation. Rettig, university librarian at the University of Richmond in Virginia, provided a variety of innovative opportunities for members to participate in ALA activities throughout his presidential year, including monthly online salons, virtual poster sessions, and the chance to ask questions of the next year’s ALA presidential candidates via YouTube. Other projects included the development of a “Craigslist” of opportunities intended to help members find their place in our complex, vibrant, and opportunity-rich Association, and a Career Connections member community in ALA Connect, where members can submit their resumes for others to review.
Rettig organized a panel discussion at the 2009 Midwinter Meeting titled “Building Statewide Coalitions for All Libraries During a Tough Economy,” which focused on the value of advocacy coalitions in times of economic downturn, and his President’s Program featured Dr. Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and author, who discussed how institutions such as libraries can transform and build communities that they serve. At the 2009 Annual Conference, 75 members participated an “unconference,” where participants could set their own agenda, and Rettig’s President’s Program featured Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, who spoke on the loss of access to government information.
In the coming year, we must call on the library community to do what it does best: to educate and inform and to disseminate the knowledge that the library is an indispensable institution, greatly in need of support. It is not enough to focus only on providing the vital services we offer. We must advocate for the value of our libraries by providing the resources, tools, and training that allow librarians and library supporters to better articulate what we already know is true—that libraries are the heart of all communities.
Key initiatives will address advocacy and literacy. A focus on “member-driven advocacy” content and training—for librarians, library staff, and supporters of all types of libraries—complements ALA’s existing efforts targeting local, state, and federal legislative advocacy. This front-line advocacy features a most critical emphasis on the competencies and content needed to advocate for the library and library needs within the library structure and within our respective communities—cities, counties, higher education environments, and schools/school districts. We will work to bring national attention to libraries and their role as literacy builders, engage library leaders everywhere to focus on current literacy best practices in building community, and develop programs that incorporate literacy partners to build a comprehensive advocacy for literacy movement.
Keith Michael Fiels
ALA Executive Director